A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Cujo is a 1983 horror movie based on a Stephen King novel about a St. Bernard that turns into a vicious killer after getting bitten by a bat and turning rabid. Expect more than the occasional blood and gore; a discovered dead body of one of Cujo's victims, and the severe emotional trauma a mother and young son endure while stuck in a Ford Pinto that won't start on an empty farmhouse while a vicious rabid dog tries to kill them, make this best for older teens and adults. Aside from the psychological and physical shock and trauma these characters go through, the movie's subplot, in which a woman is trying to end an extramarital affair before her husband finds out, might not be terribly interesting for those who want less of a slow buildup of tension and more dog attacks. There is occasional profanity, including use of "f--k" during a climactic scene. A man is drunk at the dinner table; there are implications that he's abusive to both his wife and child. There's also a scene in which the "other man" makes unwanted sexual advances toward the woman.
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What's the story?
While in pursuit of a rabbit, a St. Bernard named Cujo is bitten by a bat. Cujo lives on a farm owned by the Camber family, who live several miles out of town. Meanwhile, in the nearest town, Donna (Dee Wallace) and Vic (Daniel Hugh Kelly) are contending with both their young son Tad's (Danny Pintauro) fear of the dark and the monsters he believes lurk in his closet as well as their own failing marriage when it comes to light that Donna has been having an affair with Vic's best friend. While Vic leaves town for work, Donna needs to get her car repaired, so she and Tad drive out of town to the Cambers', where the father works as a mechanic. But when they get there, they discover all is not well. The farmhouse is empty, and Cujo is lurking around, attacking Donna and Tad any time they dare set foot outside the broken vehicle. As the water runs scarce, and the heat of the closed-up car in the middle of summer exhausts them, Donna must find a way to stop Cujo as Tad grows increasingly traumatized.
Is it any good?
While not as gory as most modern horror movies, this '80s classic is still too scary for most kids. In the vast pantheon of movies adapted from the works of Stephen King, there is the great (The Shining, Stand by Me) and the not-so-great (Maximum Overdrive, remakes of Carrie). CUJO is somewhere in the middle. It's not a masterpiece by any stretch, but it isn't horrible either. If not for the performances of Dee Wallace and young Danny Pintauro (whose emotional and physical trauma conveyed in the midst of Cujo's attacks is genuinely more frightening than the actual dog), this would most certainly be just another dated 1980s horror movie with cheesy synth background music and typical stock rural characters whom you suspect don't have much longer to live.
One can't help but wonder how much scarier it would be -- the dog attacks, the creepy old farmhouse, the tension of waiting in the car while the rabid dog lurks -- had it been shot in black and white instead of color. One also can't help but wonder why the husband of the movie gets to drive around in a candy-apple red Jaguar convertible while the wife is stuck with a beige/off-white Ford Pinto hatchback. Be that as it may, with the right attitude -- and assuming you're not too much of a dog person -- Cujo is a sufficiently entertaining horror movie for older teens and adults.
Talk to your kids about ...
Parents can talk about the horror movie violence in Cujo. How does this movie show killing, blood, and gore, and how does it show the physical and psychological impacts on the characters fighting to stay alive?
Some horror movies, like Cujo, take a long time to build up the tension before the scary moments happen. Others go almost immediately to the blood and gore. Which do you prefer, and why? What are examples of both kinds of approaches?
Why do you think horror movies have such timeless appeal? Why do people find entertainment value out of being frightened or watching people getting killed in gruesome ways?
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