Cujo is general considered one of the finest adaptations of Stephen King’s work. Centering on a rabid dog who terrorise a mother and son during a scorching summer on a barn it has become a cult classic among horror fans.
We spoke to Author Lee Gambin about his book which details the film’s production back in 1983.
When did you first consider doing a book about Cujo?
I’ve always loved the film – I feel it’s a completely over looked Stephen King adaptation, and also one of the best. When I worked on my book on eco-horror movies, of course I discussed dog-centric horror and CUJO was one of the core films examined. Some time later, I thought a monograph on this film would be great because the film is so rich in complexity and yet comes across as a very simple, straight forward story.
There are so many excellent elements: “woman in the storm”, domestic unrest, the Three Days of Darkness and so much more, plus the film called for some incredible animal action, so I thought it would make a great book on both a critical front and a production history perspective.
What are your first recollections of seeing the film?
I was a kid and addicted to horror movies. I saw it very young and there were certain scenes that always stood out. One being the sequence where Brett Camber finds Cujo in the fog, and feeling for the poor dog. And how his sad expression, confused by the onset of rabies, was a combination of “stay away” and “I don’t want to hurt you”. Beautiful stuff.
What sets Cujo apart as a King film adaptation?
I think it is lean and solid. There is no fat on it whatsoever. I love what Barbara Turner did with the novel and it would have been interesting to see what she would have done with the DEAD ZONE connection, however, when Lewis Teague came on board and hired Don Carlos Dunaway, the script became even more trim and does wonders with the story. I feel that this one, CARRIE, CHRISTINE and THE DEAD ZONE are perfect examples of great filmic adaptations of King’s novels.
What did you think of Dee Wallace’s performance in the film?
Magnificent. She is the soul of the film. Her performance is Oscar worthy and if there was a revisionist take on who should have been nominated for Best Actress that year, she would definitely be up there. Critics and academics as well as King himself have said this.
Who was the hardest person to track down to talk to about the film?
Good question….I guess there were a few people I had to really get into bloodhound mode to track down, but for the most part, everyone was so helpful that one person lead to the other! I really wish Barbara Turner was still alive when I started the book. She sadly passed a month before I set down to write it.
How do you think the film compares to the book?
Films and books are COMPLETELY different animals, so to compare them is silly. However, of course, the novel has a few elements that the film drops and for correct reasons: the subplot with Charity and Brett making their new life work in Connecticut, the link to Frank Dodd from THE DEAD ZONE and of course the death of Tad.
What was the most interesting anecdote you found out while researching the film?
So many! One of them probably being how the dogs were trained and also in my research of animal training in film how different people worked different methods of getting their animals to work. For instance how Karl Lewis MIller used voice commands and toys whereas someone like Carl Spitz (who worked with Terry the Terrier from THE WIZARD OF OZ etc) solely used hand gestures.
Is Cujo your favourite Stephen King film?
One of them, for sure. SALEM’S LOT is another all time favorite.
How did the writing experience compare for you to the making of Christine?
CHRISTINE was far more smooth. CUJO was a great time, absolutely, nothing compares to it, but CHRISTINE seemed a lot smoother and faster.
Nope, Nothing Wrong Here: The Making of Cujo by Lee Gambin is available now