Cujo was first published in 1981, and there are more than a few connections to King’s immediately previous work, The Dead Zone, especially the “haunting” by Frank Dodd, the now-dead serial killer. Cujo won the British Fantasy Award in 1982. It’s considered a cornerstone of the whole Castle Rock mythology, and a major reference point for the Castle Rock TV series, where it’s mentioned over and over again.
“Cujo” himself was named after a then-notorious terrorist, one of the leaders of the Symbionese Liberation Army that had kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst a few years earlier. A good 9% of you even remember that. Kind of ironic that the rabid dog is better remembered by most than the fearsome figure who inspired the name.
And there’s so much more in this surprisingly sturdy thriller …
The film version of Cujo premiered pretty quickly after the book was published – 1983. It was directed by Lewis Teague and starred Dee Wallace Stone and Daniel Hugh Kelly, along with a host of great 80’s character actors like Ed Lauter and Jerry Hardin. Dee Wallace was fresh off her performance as The Mom in Stephen Spielberg’s E.T.; she would go on to become one of the first of the totally legit “scream queens” of her generation, with memorable roles in The Hills Have Eyes, The Howling, and Critters. She’s still working today; in fact, she’s featured in the new Rob Zombie horror flick, 3 from Hell. Hugh Daniel Kelly had just spent a few years as a leading heart-throb on the daytime soap opera Ryan’s Hope; he’d follow up Cujo with a few years in a Steven J. Cannel action series, Hardcastle and McCormick. Another show almost nobody remembers. Anyway, Kelly is still around as well, doing the occasional single-episode guest starring role on TV. The horrible whiney kid was played by Danny Pintauro, who almost immediately went on to play Judith Light’s son on Who’s the Boss, where we watched him grow up. He was one of the first young actors to come out as gay, and (apparently) happily left the biz shortly after his TV series ended. And Wallace’s lover in the film version was played by her real-life husband Chris Stone, a handsome actor she worked with often until his untimely death from a heart attack a few years ago.
You can get the book in paper and e-form on Amazon right here. The movie isn’t currently on Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, or Shudder, but you can rent it for as little as $2.99 here on Amazon, and weirdly, the audio book narrated by Lorna Raver that we talk about is no longer available through Audible or, apparently, anywhere else at least not as of October 2018. Hmm. We leave you to your own devices. Literally.
Couple of interesting side-points: Cujo was supposed to be directed by slightly avant-garde director Peter Medak, who made The Ruling Class and Romeo is Bleeding, but he and his cinematographer had a falling-out with Warner Bros just a few days before shooting was scheduled to begin. WB brought in Lewis Teague as a replacement, a solid worker for guys like Roger Corman. Ultimately, he became best known for this, King’s Cat’s Eye a few years after this (which I’m sure we’ll get to eventually), and the action-comedy Romancing the Stone. His cinematographer on Cujo, Jan deBont, went even higher. A few years after Cujo he would direct many highly successful action pictures, including Speed, Twister, the remake of The Haunting, and Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life.
My favorite bit: a few years after that, Sun Pictures announced they were developing an “alternative” version – something called C.U.J.O.: Canine Unit Joint Operations. King called the idea “diseased,” and it was never heard from again. It’s also kind’a funny that one of the more popular cybersecurity programs, to protect your home from folks eavesdropping on your internet habits, is called CUJO. After all, who doesn’t want a crazy-vicious e-dog protecting your browsing history?