"Cujo" is a Classic Horror Masterpiece!


Stephen King is one of the world's great storytellers with over 350 million copies of his books in print, not to mention about 75 movies based on his books and short stories.  Some of the earlier movies that came out in the 80s are now being remade and updated for the modern era.  Most notably “It” from 2017 and “Pet Cemetery” which will come out in 2019.

“Cujo” is one of the greats and an icon of horror, similar to that of “Jaws”.  It’s the story of a big lumbering St. Bernard who is bitten by a rabid bat and turns in a slobbering, bloodthirsty beast.  Dee Wallace plays Donna, a wife, and mother, who must save herself and young son Tad from Cujo with only their tiny Ford Pinto to protect them.  She gives a miraculous performance full of emotion and determination that gives her character some real depth and dimension.  Although she is far from the perfect wife as she has been having an affair with a close family friend, Steve, played by her real-life husband Christopher Stone.  Her onscreen husband Vic is an advertising executive who drives a hot little red sports car, while she gets the trashy, broken down Pinto.  He does, however, seem to be a relatively good guy and a loving father to Tad.  Tad, their five-year-old son, is also well played by Danny Pintauro.  

“Cujo” spends a good amount of time building its characters and creating a compelling drama that makes the latter half of the film even more terrifying.  When Donna’s infidelity is revealed to her husband, he takes off on a business trip leaving her and Tad to bring the Pinto up to the mechanic shop.  They barely make it to the dusty and remote shop when the car finally dies.  The Camber family owns the joint is nowhere to be found, although a side story about the family explain where they are.  Cujo is the only one present and he is not looking very good as the rabies are taking full effect.  Director Lewis Teague mentioned that they used 11 different St. Bernards along with a mechanical head and a man in a dog suit to fully realize the character.  Cujo has already torn apart a Camber family friend when Donna and Tad come rolling in.  They are introduced to Cujo in a very well earned jump scare as he ferociously attacks the car.   The two of them are now prisoners in the claustrophobic confines of the Pinto.  They wait and hope for someone to come by and save them but as night falls so does their hope of rescue.  In today's world, a person would just pop out their cell phone and boom problem solved.  The invention and proliferation of smartphones have almost single-handedly killed off the horror movie.  It becomes more and more difficult to explain them away, but hopefully, this will lead to better stories and newer ways to scare people.

A few days into their showdown with Cujo, the hot summer sun beating down on them, Donna decides to make a run for the house and the phone.  This is a total failure as Cujo is always waiting, always ready to attack.  Donna is bitten and scratched, Cujo even manages to get inside the car.  Tad is balled up and crying in the back, it’s a pretty intense scene.  She eventually kicks him out and they are back to where they were before, only bitten and defeated.  Her husband Vic has been trying to reach her for days but has gotten no answer.  A bit worried he contacts the police who go to their house to find that their bedroom has been ransacked by Steve.  An officer then goes up to the mechanic shop to check things out only to meet his end at the jaws of Cujo.  All this in full view of Donna and Tad.  Tad then starts having some serious medical issues, Donna can't wait any longer and makes a second attempt for the house and this time with the help of a baseball bat is successful.  Tad is unconscious and she vigorously tries to revive him and brings him back to life.  This is a major departure from the book where it actually dies.  As with most horror films, Cujo does give us one last scare until he is finally put down.  “Cujo” is one of the more well known and terrifying of King’s adaptations and I’m sure a remake is in its future somewhere down the line.

"Fright Night" is a Magical 80s Horror Classic!

"Fright Night (1985)"

“Fright Night” is an absolute classic of 80s horror that spawned many imitators as well as a remake in 2011.  The original film stars William Ragsdale as Charley Brewster, a suburban teenager who becomes suspicious of a new neighbor.  This mysterious person is Jerry Dandridge, played by Chris Sarandon, a tall dark and handsome man.  Charley and his girlfriend Amy, played by Amanda Bearse, are fooling around one night while watching the TV show “Fright Night” and its’ host Peter Vincent who is played wonderfully by Roddy McDowell.  Vincent is an Elvira type character who was known for playing a vampire hunter in old horror movies and now plays host to vampire films.  When Charley notices movers in the middle of the night carrying a coffin into the house next door he becomes more interested in that than possibly having sex with Amy.

“Fright Night” has that perfect balance of humor and horror.  Charley is an extremely likable and relatable teenager and has an obnoxious but funny best friend nicknamed Evil Ed.  Charley becomes obsessed with watching Jerry’s house and when he gets busted for peeping their little cat and mouse game begins and lasts throughout the movie.  Jerry likes his apples for some reason and only comes out a night for more substantial meals (if you know what I mean).  He has a male roommate named Billy who acts as a sort of servant who looks after the house in the daytime.  The same night Charley is busted, he then sees Billy taking a body bag out of the house and loading into a car.  He’s finally seen enough and calls the cops.  But who is going to believe a crazy kid, right?  And Vampires?  Charley is made to look foolish and Jerry starts to seek revenge and starts becoming a terrible menace in his life.  Even playing up his charms to his mother.  Jerry really is a terrifying character even though his name is Jerry, I mean come on Jerry the Vampire?  Charley then looks to Evil Ed for help who gives him a few pointers and a cross.  Shortly after though Ed is paid a visit by Jerry and needless to say, Charley needs to find a new best friend.  

Charley and Amy then get the idea to recruit Peter Vincent, who better right?  Although we find out he is just a washed up actor who doesn’t even believe in vampires.  After working on him for a while Peter agrees to at least meet with Jerry to prove to the kids that he is not a vampire at all.  All is good until Peter drops a mirror only to find that Jerry doesn’t have a reflection.  This is where shit starts to get real.  After a few scenes of some seriously intense staring, Amy is glamoured by Jerry and becomes his slave.  It is now up to Charley and Vincent to take down Jerry, just like one of Vincent’s old movie roles.  The final battles are fun, scary, and a little weird, which is great.  The effects are awesome and to plug in a cheesy cliche, it’s quite the wild ride.  “Fright Night” captures this magic that can’t quite be described.  For me, it’s probably a big dose of sentimentality since it was part of my childhood horror movie experiences, but even if you’re seeing it for the first time it is hard not to like it.  

Cheesy Horror/Comedy "House" should be Homeless


While the 1980s were a golden age for horror films, they weren’t all great and several were actually pretty bad.  Fresh off directing “Friday the 13th II and III” director Steve Miner’s next film was the horror/comedy “House”.  It was also produced by Sean S. Cunningham the creator of “Friday the 13th”.  Composer Harry Manfredini, who found fame with the “Friday” films, also scored “House”.  A lot of great people came together for this film only to churn a huge turd.

Our main character Roger Cobb is played by William Katt, who previously played Tommy Ross in “Carrie”.  He’s a struggling writer of horror novels whose life has fallen in the crapper.  His son disappeared a few years back, his wife has left him and he’s having issues with his new book.  He then gets a call that the Aunt who helped raise him has killed herself.  She leaves behind a large house that Roger decides is the perfect place to get going on his new book about his experiences in Vietnam.  I can remember “House” being in heavy rotation on HBO and Showtime back in the late 80s.  My 10-year-old self thought this was pretty cool and scary, but like a lot of movies rewatching it 30 years later, it is a completely different experience.  I can’t remember if it was originally supposed to be so comedic but seeing it now everything comes off as ridiculous and cheesy.  Although so many people from the “Friday” movies worked on this film it is really missing special effects guru Tom Savini.  The monsters in “House” are terrible, nothing but stuntmen in cheap latex suits, like a bad “Godzilla” movie.  No blood or gore of any kind and not the least bit scary.

There is an interesting story buried here somewhere though.  Although words like PTSD were not used back in the 80s with Vietnam vets, Roger is suffering from it big time.  A lot of guilt and regret about his wartime experiences are brought up in a number of flashbacks.  These scenes also suffer greatly from cheap set design and just bad filmmaking.  Roger’s friend Big Ben was captured by the enemy and tortured for weeks before being killed.  Ben begged for Roger to kill him after he was injured by he refused.  All of the ghosts and monsters that Roger encounters in the house could be a manifestation of his anger and guilt, but it doesn’t come off that way.  George Wendt, from the hit 80s show “Cheers”, plays Rogers extremely intrusive and annoying neighbor Harold tries to turn this move into a buddy film.  In my mind, the film hits every wrong note and certainly doesn’t hold up to the passage of time.  It did quite well in its time at the box office making almost 20 million dollars on a 3 million budget.  It might have some sentimental value for some but it's not something I will return to again.