Why Cujo Still Frightens Audiences

Josh Fletcher hails from NYC where he can often be found lurking the streets as an amateur horror film maker. When he doesn’t have a camera in hand you can finding him blogging about movies and sports.


Stephen King is considered by many to be a master of horror, and for good reason. Through countless stories, King has summoned dread like few others have been able to, and many of his works have translated to the big screen quite effectively. Cujo, while not as well regarded as other King horror adaptations such as The Shining or Salem’s Lot, this tale of a dog gone bad continues to resonate with viewers over thirty years after its release, by providing a uniquely chilling experience.

Directed by Lewis Teague, who also helmed another King adaptation, 1985’s Cat’s Eye (does he like cats and dogs?), Cujo is the story of a lovable St. Bernard who is bitten by a rabid bat and becomes a ravaging monster, proceeding to menace a mother and her son. Reviews weren’t that enthusiastic upon release. Janet Maslin of the New York Times did, however, offer some positive feedback. “‘Cujo’ is by no means a horror classic, but it’s suspenseful and scary.” Maslin continued, “Be warned: If you find yourself too caught up in ‘Cujo’ you’ll have a hard time looking your own pooch in the eye.”


That last line is a big reason why Cujo endures as a horror film. Audiences love being scared, but it can be difficult to convey the horror of things like ghosts and vampires, which are supernatural entities. However, the idea of something common, like a dog, going berserk and becoming a monster is much more plausible. True horror comes from relatability, and while most people watching Cujo won’t be able to relate to the story of a dog gone mad to the point that Cujo goes to, it seems within the realm of possibility. It is also why I think it is one of the weirder horror movies of the 80s.

Not only that but dogs are primarily seen as heroic. You think of icons like Lassie and Rin Tin Tin who came to the aid of humans and provided utmost loyalty. To turn that idea on its head and show audiences a dog that wants to attack and kill humans is startling. Not to mention that St. Bernard’s are typically seen as one of the most docile breeds of dogs.


Given how much people love dogs, it’s not a surprise that Cujo continues to scare. If you are planning on getting a dog of your own soon, congratulations. You might just want to choose another scary movie besides “Cujo” for an evening viewing with your new canine friend.