Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Cujo (1983)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Cujo (1983)

Amongst the slew of Stephen King film adaptations that were released in the 80s was the film version of his fantastic 1981 novel, Cujo.

Cujo is the St Bernard dog who is bit by a rabid bat whilst he chases a rabbit. Slowly but surely he transforms from a loveable family dog into a slobbering, rabid killer.

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There’s so much to love about the 1983 film that was based on one of King’s best books. Firstly, if Dee Wallace Stone is starring in a film, in my book, it instantly gets an extra star as her acting chops are superb. Her use of method acting especially within the horror movies she has starred in works very well indeed, even if the boring film purists would say that such a technique wouldn’t work with such a genre. As someone on the set of The Howling said ‘She actually believed that werewolves existed for the duration of her working on the movie!’ Which is exactly why she’s such a kick-ass actress. And her turn within Cujo is no different. Here she plays Donna Trenton, a woman who is having an affair with her high school old flame behind her advertising husband’s back.

Which brings us onto another reason why Cujo works so well. The film is faithful to the book (except for one MASSIVE plot point and I won’t be saying what it is. You need to watch this movie and read the book. You’ll thank me for this) and so King’s fantastic character arcs and the turmoil of their lives aren’t smoothed over or written out completely for this screen adaptation. And so we get adultery, domestic violence, alcoholism and someone’s career dying a death (in stark contrast to the 80’s Yuppie dream depicted in the adverts of the time).

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We also get an extraordinary sequence involving Donna’s son going to bed and the nightmarish circumstances that surround such an event. This sequence is like a Siouxsie and the Banshees song made flesh. It’s exquisite. Kudos to director Lewis Teague, although the entire film is testament to his directorial genius.

And then we get the sequence based solely in their malfunctioning car as Donna and her son are held under siege in their vehicle by the rabid dog. Not since The Texas Chain Saw Massacre have we as an audience experienced the sticky, clammy suffocation of such stifling weather conditions as Donna has to think of how to get out of this situation as her son starts to experience the effects of dehydration. These scenes are worth the price of admission alone. We see Donna go from rationally trying to get out of this nightmare to becoming a fearless warrior as her maternal instincts kick in and she is prepared to do anything to save her son.

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In fact, one of the things that amazes me the most about Cujo is how Wallace Stone didn’t get at least an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal. Yes, her performance is that good. In fact, I feel that within the sub-genre of Stephen Kind adaptations, Cujo is criminally underrated. It’s time for a proper reappraisal.

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Review- The Running Man (1987)

Review- The Running Man (1987)
So I reinvestigated The Running Man last night. The last time I had watched it was in the 80’s on VHS. I remember it as not being one of Arnie’s best efforts.
On watching it now I found some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen from Arnie (which is REALLY saying something), hamfisted attempts at social commentary and more cheesiness than an Edam factory.
But maybe these aren’t criticisms because IT WORKED!
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It’s a fun movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s also aged very well indeed with great special effects that look great as they pumped megabucks into the production. You get what you pay for (Yes, I’m thinking of you Escape From LA).
In fact, there was more than a passing nod to Escape From New York and They Live (but not as good as either).
I also love that it takes place in 2017. Their predictions as to life in the future are unerringly accurate (Alexa, booking a holiday through a screen, differing views being punishable by law…)
Also, we get a great supporting cast, fantastic source material and solid direction by Paul Michael Glaser. And I had forgotten about the iconic Harold Faltermeyer score.
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I’m so glad I rewatched this noisy wild ride of a film.
4 stars out of 5

31 Days of Halloween- Day 11- Misery (1990)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 11- Misery (1990)

World-famous author Paul Sheldon crashes his car whilst driving in a blizzard but is rescued by nurse and super-fan Annie Wilkes who has read everything he’s ever published as well as reading and viewing every interview he’s ever given. Sheldon finds himself trapped with multiple injuries including compound fractures to his legs meaning that he is immobile and dependent on Wilkes to care for him. She also tells him that the telephone lines are down and roads closed, both of which are lies. Things take a darker turn still when Wilkes goes and buys the latest book by Sheldon which has just been published (yes the road to town has mysteriously been reopened but there’s no mention of Wilkes taking Paul to a local hospital) only to discover that her favourite character Misery has died during childbirth. Wilkes isn’t happy about this. This is bad news for Sheldon.

Misery explores the obsessive, irrational fan devotion that was explored in very different circumstances in Scorsese’s meisterwerk The King of Comedy, a film that bombed at the box office whilst Misery was a huge hit but is inferior in comparison. Oh, the irony.

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The dangerous side of fandom. The King Of Comedy (a much better film)

Before seeing Misery for the first time I had read and thoroughly enjoyed Stephen King’s masterful novel of the same name. The film adaptation feels like the finer nuances of the novel have been erased to make a big-screen shocker that contains great performances by Kathy Bates (Wilkes) and James Caan (Sheldon) with Paul’s literary agent being portrayed effortlessly by the ever divine Lauren Bacall.

But the film also feels like some kind of TV movie that lacks not just the depth of King’s novel but also the cinematic grandeur that might have been envisaged and realised by another director other than Rob Reiner.

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Misery feels like an attempt to hit big at the box office by creating two-dimensional characters and cheap shocks rather than delivering anything with real intelligence. And it worked. Misery brought in the money and earned Bates an Oscar. But watch Misery next to other, better King adaptations such as The Shining and Carrie and you’ll see what I mean. There’s no comparison.

Grade- C

Review- Children of the Corn (1984)

Review- Children of the Corn (1984)

I first saw Children of the Corn when it was first shown on UK TV in the mid 80’s. The following day it would appear that most of my school friends had seen the movie too as we all recalled the events of the film in grisly and lurid detail.

On watching the film again recently I can say that it holds up very well indeed. The plot involves two characters called Vicky and Burt taking a roadtrip and happening upon a small Nebraska town called Gatlin. A major red flag goes up when the couple notice that on approaching the town the radio now only plays content that appears to be Baptist ‘fire and brimstone’ style sermons.

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What Burt and Vicky don’t know is that three years earlier the town’s adultfolk had been slaughtered on the wishes of 13 year old Isaac who has set up his own religious sect with ‘He Who Walks Behind The Rows’ as their god, the rows being the huge cornfield which is central to Gatlin. A failed harvest had prompted the uprising with Isaac asserting that his new god needs human sacrifices to be appeased and so that there are bountiful harvests as a result. Young child Job wasn’t involved as his father didn’t like Isaac and so wasn’t allowed to go to a gathering organised by Isaac for all of the town’s children. Job’s sister Sarah also wasn’t there as she was severely ill with a fever. She is shown to have some kind of psychic powers and depicts what she sees from the future in the pictures she draws.

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Things go from bad to worse for the adult couple who have now stumbled across the town which has been run by Isaac and his henchman deputy Malachi for three years now. When they hear about the adult trespassers they demand for them to be captured and then sacrificed to their cornrows deity. Poor Burt and Vicky. They discover Job and his sister who assist them in not becoming human sacrifices.

This film has a great premise which is based on a short story by Master of Horror Stephen King. The film also taps into one of the last taboos especially in film which is that of the killer child. And here we have scores of them. The milleu of the religious sect and the small details connected to this like the children being made to change their names to more biblical monikers also adds to the utterly sinister tone of the film. It also shows what can go wrong when a setback or downturn of fortunes can be taken as an opportunity by a charismatic person with sinister motives to come to prominence and give the downtrodden and disillusioned someone to believe in even though he/she is up to no good.

The opening scene takes place in a diner in which the children present (after being given the nod by Isaac) poison and violently slaughter the adults in attendance. I remember being utterly shocked by this scene in particular when I first saw the film and I can reliably report that it’s hasn’t lost any of it’s power to shock decades later.

But this isn’t the only sequence which has the power not just to shock but also to worm it’s way inside your head. The sequence in which Vicky is placed on a cross with it then being hoisted up, the shot showing the weapons hanging from the hands of the children as they descent on a house which has one of the couple in it and the gruesome scene in the church as we see what happens to the children who come of age are such examples.

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The casting of the movie is also excellent with Sarah Hamilton as Vicky and Peter Horton as Burt. But the attention to detail regarding the casting of the children is just as impressive. The casting of the freakishly sinister Isaac and his horrifyingly hillbilly deputy Malachi are inspired. In fact, it seems they cast every child with unconventional and unique looks.

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Another great quality that the film possesses is whether He Who Walks Behind The Rows is actually a real supernatural force or just completely fabricated by Isaac.

There are also some 80’s visual effects in the film which are still extremely pleasing to the eye and have aged very well indeed.

In fact the same can be said about the whole film. In lesser hands, this could have aged terribly and been forgotten about. Instead we get a film where thought and innovation were used to fully bring to life King’s great plot idea and which still has it’s own rabid fanbase. However the film still doesn’t get enough praise or recognition when films are talked about which were adapted from King’s novels. This is a real shame. Maybe this will change.

***and a half out of *****

Day 21- 31 Days of Halloween- Cujo (1983)

Day 21- 31 Days of Halloween- Cujo (1983)

Adapted from Stephen King’s best-selling novel, Cujo tells the story of a rabid St Bernard dog terrorising and besieging a mother and her son in their broken down car.

This is a wonderful film, not just because of the car/dog storyline but also because of the rich characterisation (a trademark of King’s) which builds up to this scenario. Thank God for horror films that feature characters that are fully fleshed out, realistic and relatable to the audience. And an audience that the filmmakers warrant with having a modicum of intelligence. Thankfully the filmmakers had the good sense to carry over the nuance and eye for detail contained in the film’s source material and not dilute or erase it upon it’s transfer to the big screen.

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The original UK cinema poster

The movie is invested in portraying realistically flawed and multi-faceted characters and showing just how dark and dysfunctional life is for these players. Just as Donna’s husband Vic has created the advertising campaign for a cereal that is later found to have made several young children up and down the country vomit profusely, this is a perceptive peek into the whole ethos of the film. The professor in the commercial eats some of the cereal before showing the bowl’s contents to the audience and exclaiming ‘Nothing wrong here!’ This is a sarcastic and caustic comment on the artificial and ‘too good to be true’ world portrayed in the media (and particularly advertising) and the reality of the characters in the movie.

If the characters in the movie existed within the unreality of a commercial, Donna Trenton (the ever brilliant Dee Wallace-Stone) would be happily married, Charity Camber wouldn’t be in a violent relationship with her garage owner husband Joe and Vic’s advertising campaign would be a roaring success for a cereal that was rigourously tested before it went on sale.

But the film is only interested in depicting the reality for these characters without the sugar coating. Therefore, Donna’s marriage seems completely loveless to her to such an extent that she is having an affair with her high school ex-boyfriend Steve, Charity is trapped in an abusive marriage to her pig of a husband and Vic’s career might be in pieces after such an epic (and very public) fail regarding the cereal hes created a nationwide campaign for.

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A marriage on the rocks

But the movie is also about escape. Charity announces to Joe that she has won the lottery and wants to use the $5k prize to go away with their son to visit her sister. We see her taking clothes and photos for her trip and it’s suggested that this will be a permanent departure rather than just a week away. She seems to pack in a hurry so that her escape isn’t discovered by Joe.

Donna comes to the realisation that she wants to work at her marriage and goes to break the news to Steve that she intends on not continuing with their affair. It’s when Steve races outside to try to talk Donna round that Vic rides by and sees the two of them together. Steve then goes full-on Cluster B throughout the rest of the movie, firstly seemingly trying to violently sexually assault Donna in her kitchen (thankfully Vic comes in at that moment whereby Donna confirms that she has been having an affair to him) and then trashing her family home whilst she is at the garage being held hostage by Cujo.

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The ‘other man’- Steve Kemp

I love that Donna is shown to have some kind of psychic ability or finely tuned intuition. When she first sees Charity sat performing chores in the foreground of the garage her heart goes out to her as if she feels some of the pain that she experiences in her everyday life and purposely goes out of her way to speak to her. Likewise, when Donna sees Cujo for the first time before he’s turned into a rabid killer and is still a lovable St Bernard (albeit with a bite on his nose) shes still unsure and weary of him as if she foresees the horror to come.

Cujo the dog could be seen as a Return of the Repressed, a reminder of the brutal reality of life, a hurdle for Donna to overcome so that she can truly cherish the great things that make up her life and work on the areas (e.g. her marriage) which require more work. In fact, it’s when her son Tad is in a critical condition that her fighting spirit couples with her strong maternal instinct and she decides to become proactive even if it means risking her own life. It’s at this point that she leaves the car, grabs the baseball bat that shes noticed is on the ground and fights back. Cujo being a domestic animal turned rabid could be seen as a manifestation of Donna’s domestic sphere that has been turned upside down by her affair and that she now has to fight to mend and resolve her own situation.

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Donna prepares for a home run

Up until the book and movie of Cujo came out the St Bernard dog was either seen as cuddly or as a dog traditionally utilised as a helper (they are well known for their strong sense of smell and brute force which made them perfect for finding and rescuing those stranded in snowbound conditions) only makes it’s transformation even more extreme and subversive. Sharks were seen as killing machines and predators even before the novel and movie of Jaws were released.

The book differs from the novel is some key ways. I’m not going to go into the main way that they are different as I don’t want to ruin either experience for horror fans but I can understand why the filmmakers chose to conclude the film differently. If the film was ended the same way as the book the entire audience would have been alienated. Thats not to diss the conclusion of the book in any way. But seeing certain events unfurl before your eyes is very different to reading them off the page. Apparently King agreed and said that if he could rewrite any ending to one of his novels it would be Cujo and that it would resemble the film’s ending.

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I find Cujo to be a terrific work. Whenever Dee Wallace-Stone is in a film you know it’s going to be something special. She gives one of her best performances in this film and exhibits a range that is nothing less than astonishing. Her transition from mother and wife into a survivor who is literally fighting for her life and the life of her child is utterly believable and exquisitely acted. It’s another example of the reality portrayed in the film that a character who is seen as flawed and human can also be the main character and ultimately the hero of the piece.

It’s also worth noting that the film portrays the heat and airless conditions in the car in which they are stranded in perfectly and yet apparently the film was shot in winter and it was freezing!

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There are uniformly brilliant performances in the film. There needs to be special mentions to Danny Pintauro as Tad and Kaiulani Lee as Charity. Also, it’s great to see Dee’s late husband Christopher Stone as a such a dark character.

Lewis Teague’s direction is kinetic rather than static which helps the film move along greatly especially with the storyline that involves the dog keeping Donna and Tad in the car. It would have been very easy to have this sequence make the film drag through flat, uninspired direction in a scenario that revolves around one setting. Instead, Teague keeps the camera moving especially in an extraordinary scene whereby Donna ventures out of the car and is promptly attacked. To show her mental state after her attack the camera starts to move in 360 degree arcs. An ambitious idea in a cramped environment like the inside of a car. It works beautifully.

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Donna ventures out of the car. And instantly regrets it.

Donna really suffers in this film which is another nod to the reality of the movie as opposed to other more glossy motion pictures. There is much in common with Donna’s character at the end of the movie and Marilyn Burns at the end of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Both have been thoroughly bloodied, battered and bruised on their individual trips to hell in their respective journeys. TCM and Cujo would make a great double-bill with both being claustrophobic horror films depicting mid-summer madness.

Yet another recommendation for the film was that good ol’ Siskel and Ebert hated it! The kings of the backhanded compliment called the film ‘dumb’, ‘flimsy’ and ‘dreadful’. However, King himself called the movie ‘terrific’. High praise indeed.

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Can your pussy do the dog? No but my St Bernard can do the can-can

I think Cujo is massively underrated and one of the best horror movies of the 80’s.

5 out of 5 stars