“Over. Done with. Gone.”
I’m probably aging myself, but I like histrionics. I like a woman in peril who goes through all sorts of hell to wind up overcoming the odds. Maybe I’m naive but I like to imagine these little moments contribute to a greater whole that will one day topple the patriarchy. The power of representation. Women are stronger than men - they have to be. To me, this is the great triumph of 1980s horror films - women always come out on top, even if they have to battle a feral dog.
Imagine, if you will, a live-action Disney cartoon shot by Jan De Bont. A bunny rabbit is frolicking gaily through the forest as the camera pans out to reveal a beautiful Saint Bernard playing with her. Butterflies are flying, hummingbirds are flapping their gossamer wings in the meadow and everything is peaceful. Without warning, our happy puppy is attacked mercilessly by vicious, pestilence spreading Vampire Bats! This is the story of Cujo.
Across town, a little gay boy (Danny Pintauro) is trying to go to sleep but can’t stop from pretending to be all the grande dames in British literature and playing out elaborate scenes whereing there are terrible monsters in his closet. His mom, Dee Wallace (formerly Stone), is over it. She has herself embroiled in a bit of a Harold Pinter situation, fucking the neighborhood handyman behind her loving husband's back and she has no time for gay nonsense - not today.
Mom knows that Danny loves his dad much more than he loves her and she’s looking for a way out! She never really wanted this family or this life that she finds herself stuck in. I mean, I get it - the whole notion of marriage is a scam, but they also have a six-bedroom home overlooking the ocean. Dee’s husband has a sick body, he makes good money, he’s a wonderful father, and her son delivers line readings as though they are all original thoughts! It could be worse, but some women just love to self-sabotage.
Much to Danny’s disappointment, Dee finally drives her husband away and the two of them are left alone together with their broken down Chevette. My mom was always dragging my gay ass on errands with her as a kid. Usually I’d wind up in the back seat talking to myself or singing show-tunes with the windows rolled up for hours at a time until I finally passed out while she exchanged stockings or got her nails done. Dee Wallace (formerly Stone) is much the same.
Meanwhile, that lovable Saint Bernard, Cujo, lives with the white trash family from The Prince of Tides. They’re too preoccupied skinning animals and drinking Mountain Dew and covering up a generations worth of domestic abuse trauma to realize that their dog is now covered in open sores and dripping with novelty machine slime. Cujo has himself a case of the rage and Dee Wallace and Danny are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Way to make good choices, Dee Wallace (formerly Stone)!
Cujo is basically a queer Cassavetes movie. By today’s standards, it’s an art film, taking its time to establish character and location. By making us care about these people and the minutiae of their domestic lives, Cujo is actually scary and unexpected when it becomes a horror movie - uueer histrionics as seen through the lens of a little gay boy.
Danny Pintauro is not an actor. Danny Pintauro believes without any question in his mind or heart that the mangy dog outside their car is going to kill him and his mother. It’s electrifying to watch. Danny Pintauro becomes so unhinged, so hysterical that he brings Dee Wallace and the entire film to a level of genius seldom seen before or since.
Dee's suburban ennui transforms into something primal and raw as she fights for a life that she once took for granted. Cujo saw what was going on with Final Girls in films like Friday the 13th and it raised the stakes - nothing is more primal than a mother protecting her child. Despite the ludicrous nature of a monster Saint Bernard, this movie is tight and right. It hits emotional peaks that we wouldn’t expect from a low-budget Stephen King short story adaptation - thus overdelivering and if overdelivering isn’t a queer concept, you obviously don’t know my dog.
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