Celebrating 40 Years Of Cujo With Eight Fascinating Facts

The early 1980s were a golden era of horror. It served as the first wave of the American slasher craze and made rock stars out of the FX teams responsible for creating some of the most inventive kills to date. It was also when feature-length Stephen King adaptations were a huge draw for horror fans, and one of the most traumatizing was the tale of a mother and son trapped inside a brokedown car with a rabid Saint Bernard watching their every move. August 12th marks the 40th anniversary of Lewis Teague’s intense thriller, Cujo, and we celebrate with eight fascinating facts surrounding the film.

German movie poster.

Stephen King’s film adaptations began in 1976, when his first published novel, Carrie, received the Silver Screen treatment when acclaimed director Brian De Palma (Scarface, Dressed to Kill) brought audiences a harrowing look at the isolated and troubled young woman harboring incredible abilities. Only a few years later in 1983, horror fans were treated to a triple helping of feature-length King adaptations – Cujo, The Dead Zone, and Christine. Lewis Teague’s Cujo premiered on August 12th, with David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone following suit on October 21st, and finally John Carpenter’s Christine on December 9th. 

Prior to Cujo, director Lewis Teague headed another horror flick featuring a “beast.” In 1980, he sat in the Director’s Chair for the beloved independent nature run amok title Alligator, which was written by John Sayles – another talented individual who helped pen films like Pirahna, The Howling, and Eight Men Out in addition to a prolific career as an author and director. Teague’s work on Alligator earned him the gig on Cujo

Dee Wallace, Gary Morgan, and Lewis Teague on the set of Cujo.

Cujo was the fourth highest-grossing horror film of 1983. It took in an estimated $21 million at the domestic box office on a $6 million budget. Guess who took the number one spot? Don’t you dare forget the power of the Jaws franchise paired with a 3D gimmick. You’re gosh darn right JAWS 3D came in big that year. 

It’s interesting to note that according to the American Library Association, between the years 1990 and 1999, the novel Cujo was among one of the top 50 books banned and/or contested in the United States. In the midst of this ridiculousness, the film found its way on VHS in 1994 and then eventually on DVD in 2001. In October of 2023, Kino Lorber is slated to release a 40th anniversary 4K Blu-ray crammed with interviews and commentaries paired with a brand spanking new restoration from the original camera negative. Get your paws on it HERE

Upcoming Kino Lorber anniversary Blu-ray.

Most of us will agree that Dee Wallace is a National Treasure. If you grew up in the 80s, she may have become your surrogate television mother as you munched on Reese’s Pieces and watched E.T. for the hundredth time. But eventually, as a horror fan, she became a woman of a different caliber, especially after experiencing films such as The Hills Have Eyes, The Howling, Critters, and of course, Cujo

Portraying Donna Trenton, Wallace shakes us to the core as she attempts to navigate a sweltering nightmare (which in reality was some seriously frigid temps) in her piece of shit broke down Ford Pinto that just so happens to be targeted by a large, rabid St. Bernard all while trying to save her young son, Tad. Cujo is a true chamber piece of horror that wouldn’t work without the complete dedication on Dee Wallace’s part. Homegirl went through literal Hell to deliver astonishingly real reactions – reactions only a true mother could emulate. She has said in the past that it was her most difficult role, but that she is very proud of her performance in Cujo. Wallace is quoted, “You know, how far can you break down? When do you break down? How do you break down? It was just relentless. At the end of it, they treated me for exhaustion for three weeks afterwards. I’m still on adrenal supplements because I just blew out all my adrenals! People don’t understand that when an actor goes through any kind of emotional stuff, your body chemically goes through it exactly like you were in fight-or-flight in your life. I was in maximum fight-or-flight for weeks.”

She’s something truly special and so is her presence on Cujo. It’s so special that Stephen King himself has said that it is his favorite performance from any actor in any one of his adaptations – even exceeding the Oscar-winning role of Annie Wilkes, courtesy of Kathy Bates in Misery. Dee Wallace exudes not only next-level acting chops, but a sensitivity that is uncommon and I implore fellow fans to seek her out at a convention if given the chance. 

Original Cujo promo material featuring Dee Wallace.

Despite the fact Cujo is supposed to be a rabid and deranged dog, the five Saint Bernards used for the film were very friendly – sometimes too friendly – with their tails wagging excitedly during takes. A disguised menacing Rottweiler, a mechanical mutt, as well as stuntman Gary Morgan in a dog suit, were also utilized to achieve dramatic shots of a ferocious, out-of-control canine. 

Cujo was the first film to use the fictional small Maine town of Castle Rock, created by, of course, Stephen King. Four other movies have also used Castle Rock as their backdrop – Stand By Me, The Dark Half, Needful Things, and the other 1983 release, The Dead Zone

In 2017, film historian and writer Lee Gambin wrote Nope, Nothing Wrong Here: The Making of Cujo, a well-researched account of the film’s production. Its 545 pages are packed with hundreds of behind-the-scene photos, interviews with cast and crew, and more. 

Help celebrate the film’s anniversary by giving it a watch! Cujo is currently streaming on Max, Amazon, and Hulu.

About Danni Winn

Check Also

Fantastic Fest 2023: Interview With Donna Slash, Star Of ‘Kill Dolly Kill’

Note: This piece was written during the 2023 SGA-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the …