Who: Director Lewis Teague, fresh off the satirical horror of Alligator and the Death Wish-y Fighting Back; Stephen King in his early days as a frequent muse for horror cinema; Dee Wallace, clearly looking for something a little bit different than E.T.

What: One of the finest "nature strikes back" horror flicks, thanks mainly to an effectively simple approach and a fair amount of time spent crafting low-key characters we actually care about. The tale of a St. Bernard gone horribly rabid works as both a surface-level scare-tale and a surprisingly effective character study. In other words: 45 minutes of solid set-up, and then 45 minutes of deliciously sustained mayhem.

When: August, 1983. It played against films like The Star Chamber, Risky Business, and The Man Who Wasn't There. Final box office tally: $21.1 million.

Where: Places in California with strange names like Mendocino and Petaluma.

Why: Because King adaptations like Carrie, The Shining, Creepshow, and (on TV) Salem's Lot were doing very fine business, and Warner Bros. found themselves at the right place at the right time.

The Good: The effects, the editing techniques, the cinematography, and the trainers required to bring a horribly violent canine to life. The truly excellent performances by Dee Wallace and little Danny Pintauro. Also, the sneaky score and the deliberate pacing. It's been a long while since I'd last seen Cujo and I'm really pleased with how much I re-enjoyed it tonight.

The Bad: Dog-lovers may find this stuff too hard to handle. That's probably a compliment to the flick, though.

The Ugly: Poor ol' bat-bitten Cujo is a pretty impressive "villain," all things considered. Some of the battles between Dee and the dog are brutally effective, and Teague does a fine job of tweaking his audience: obviously we want Mama and Baby to survive the vicious dog attack -- but he also knows we sorta sympathize with the unhappy pup.

The Verdict: I can see why Stephen King regards Cujo as one of his favorite adaptations. It still holds up damn well. (Bonus: The Lionsgate DVD (standard or blu-ray) comes with a great three-part retrospective piece and a very solid director's commentary.)

categories Reviews, Horror