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4K UHD Review: Kino Lorber’s Cujo (KL Studio Classics) 


Cujo celebrates its 40th anniversary in style with a stacked 4K UHD edition with a new 4K scan from the Original Camera Negative + filled with special features courtesy of Kino Lorber. 


The Film 

When I was a kid (around 8 or 9) I thought that Cujo was an entirely different film.  I blame the film Moving Violations and its reference to Cujo during a specific scene with a group of trained killer junkyard Dobermans.  After seeing that film I thought that Cujo was a Doberman.  When I saw Trapped (a truly great film about a man stuck in a department store with six Dobermans trying to kill him) late at night, as 8-year or 9-year old’s do when they’re watching something that they’re not supposed to, I thought it was Cujo.  Imagine my surprise during the DVD era when excitedly purchased the film and saw it begin as a family chamber drama about infidelity – and also disappointment that the Cujo of Cujo was a St. Bernard.  

That disappointment took a very long time to wash away.  It did eventually wash away to see what Cujo is.  A lean and mean, claustrophobic adaptation of one of Stephen King’s most harrowing novels.  Director Lewis Teague manages to take the basic components and create a film that isn’t as bloated as King’s original novel (a book filled with King/Castlerock lore including strong ties to The Dead Zone) but manages to maintain most of the effective horror.  

The film’s biggest asset is star Dee Wallace.  Wallace’s Donna isn’t a superhero or action star in waiting.  The performance leans into the wife/mother qualities effectively creating an effective layer of terror that most films of this ilk don’t tread in.  That fragile quality plays throughout the film once Donna and her son Tad (Danny Pinaturo) are trapped in their Pinto with Cujo circling effectively Jaws with Paws.  That simple choice creates tension every time Cujo attempts to get into the car it could effectively be the last time Donna breathes.  It’s something of an egoless choice from Wallace that helps elevate the film and its set pieces.  

We all know how Cujo will end but it’s a credit to King, Teague, and Wallace that it’s so tension-filled throughout.  

The Transfer

The all-new HDR/Dolby Vision Master – From a 4K Scan of the 35mm Original Camera Negative is a beautiful representation of the 40-year-old film.  The transfer is a sharp handsome representation of the 35mm image shot by Jan De Bont.  The HDR/Dolby Vision encoding creates a darker glowingly beautiful image.  Compared to the previous US edition of Cujo Blu-ray it’s no comparison at all.  The image has verbose contrast levels that just by comparison the level of details in the blacks just is not present on the previous Blu-rays (including the Eureka disc release a few years back, which this reviewer also looked at).  The black levels are excellent never heading into the dreaded crushed blacks. Kino Lorber continues to create masterful new 4K UHDs from new OCN masters.  

The Extras

They include the following; 

  • 2007 Audio Commentary by Director Lewis Teague 
  • 2013 Audio Commentary by Director Lewis Teague 
  • 2019 Audio Commentary by Lee Gambin, Author of Nope, Nothing Wrong Here: The Making of CUJO 
  • CUJO Revisited
  • Dog Days: The Making of CUJO 
  • Interview with Dee Wallace 
  • Interview with Composer Charles Bernstein 
  • Interview with Stuntman Gary Morgan 
  • Interview with Stuntwoman Jean Coulter 
  • Interview with Casting Director Marcia Ross 
  • Interview with Visual Effects Artist Kathie Lawrence 
  • Interview with Special Effects Designer Robert Clark 
  • Interview with Dog Trainer Teresa Miller 
  • 3 Radio Spots 
  • 3 TV Spots 
  • Theatrical Trailer 

The first Audio Commentary track is from 2007 by Director Lewis Teague opens the track by admitting it was his favorite of his filmography.  Some of the details discussed include his being allowed to shoot second unit AFTER production during post-production; the second unit he shot with Jan De Bont; a detailed discussion throughout of the work and collaboration he did with Jan De Bont; how he got the assignment because of Stephen King – which is a larger conversation of how he lost it and regained it; a discussion about working with John Sayles on Alligator and how that informed his work on Cujo and Sayles’s theories; a sex scene that was cut after test screenings – and how that informed on the style of the film; a discussion about how he approached replacing key figures as he was brought on a few days into production, replacing Peter Medak (but he never names him); bringing in Neil Travis after the initial editor’s cut was not satisfying; the development and changes made from the Novel to bring the film to the screen; a discussion about working with animal trainer Karl Miller – larger discussion of the various techniques they used to create the character of Cujo in the film; a great conversation about what a Unit Production Manager does and why they are important to a production; and much more.  Teague delivers an old-school informative technical commentary track on the making and creating of this film.  

The second Audio Commentary track is from 2013 by Director Lewis Teague and is moderated by Jeff McKay opens with Teague’s thoughts on producer Dan Blatt.  Some of the other details include a discussion about Stephen King and the novel the film is based on – and his book On Writing; the changes Stephen King made in his screenplay adaptation; the hiring of Jan De Bont and what he brought to the production; the contributions of Peter Medak – who as hired to direct the film and was let go two days into production; a remake that he was asked to direct – and his response; shooting in Northern California for Maine; the work of editor Neil Travis and what he brought to the film; the schedule and days for the production – how it worked with his skill sets that he acquired from his Roger Corman days; how that translated to pushing department heads hard – including various anecdotes about this, including a great Roger Corman impersonation; the test screening process the film went through – what the learned during that process and how it helped the film; the rumor of a theatrical cut vs “director’s cut”; what was shot on location as opposed to what was shot on a set/in studio; how he convinced Dan Blatt to allow him to do Second Unit Photography during post-production; the rewriting did during the production and what was changed; working with Danny Pintauro; how he constructed the set pieces and scares in the film; how he kept the film visually interesting for an extended period of time where Donna and Tad were stuck in the Pinto; and much more.  Teague and McKay deliver another informative commentary track.  There is a bit of crossover with stories/anecdotes from the 2007 track but there is a lot more conversation about Teague replacing Medak and what they meant for the production. 

The final Audio Commentary track is from 2019 by Lee Gambin, Author of Nope, Nothing Wrong Here: The Making of CUJO begins with this is his favorite film.  Some of the details include the work of Composer Charles Bernstein; the work here and in other films of animal trainer Karl Miller; his personal feelings about the book by Stephen King that the film is based on; the original opening for the film – as written by Stephen King in his screenplay – which leads to the various screenplay from different screenwriters and what they brought to the different scripts; the various tangents within the book that are a part of the film; the work of Dee Wallace – including a few anecdotes about her outside of the film and her career; the work of Jan De Bont – including a discussion of his work from the film Roar; how they achieved the “rabid” look for Cujo; a larger discussion of the various set pieces, action scenes, and stunts – how they were achieved; a discussion of the casting process – including the importance of casting Tad the main child lead; a discussion of the various deleted scenes from the film; a discussion of the various actors in the film and a bit of career and personal history for each; references from his various books that he’s written as they relate to this film; and much more.  Gambin’s track is an informational and entertaining discussion of the film both from a production and critical viewpoint.  

CUJO Revisited (21:40) – is a never-before-seen 2014 Roundtable discussion with Stars Dee Wallace, Danny Pintauro, Daniel Hugh Kelly; and Director Lewis Teague. Some of the details from the roundtable are how Teague got the job – thanks in part to Stephen King; the casting of the film – how Teague wasn’t involved; how they approached the film in the way that fear permeates a family once divorce enters into the equation; Pintauro’s first viewing of the film; the collaboration between Wallace and Pintauro – including a few great anecdotes from the production; filming the various scenes with Cujo and the stunt work; Kelly’s reactions to seeing Cujo for the first time; and much more.  This roundtable interview is quite fun and informative with the subjects trading stories/anecdotes.  

Dog Days: The Making of CUJO (42:48) – this archival three-part making-of featurette covers everything from the inception of the idea for what would become Stephen King’s novel to pre-production and development to the production of the film to the post-production/editing and release/reputation of the film.  Some of the details include the original darker ending of the novel; the hiring of Lewis Teague then being fired and then after the other director was fired being rehired; the original script – written by Stephen King; the rewriting and production writing done with Teague was brought on board; the casting of Danny Pintauro; the difficulty the production had with the various dogs they used to achieve the shots and elaborate setups for the film; the work and collaboration between Teague and cinematographer Jan De Bont; the work that De Bont did with the Pinto to achieve the claustrophobic look of the film; the relationship built between Wallace and Pintauro; the reasons why they shot the final confrontation between Cujo and Donna; the reasons why Stephen King changed the ending in the script – and why it’s the only book he wanted to rewrite; the problems with the first cut and editor of the film – switching to Neil Travis; how they approached the editing of the film; the score and compositions by Charles Bernstein and his inspirations; and much more.  Featuring comments by director Lewis Teague, stars Dee Wallace, Danny Pintauro, cinematographer Jan De Bont, editor Neil Travis, Composer Charles Bernstein, and many more.  

Interview with Dee Wallace (41:34) – this archival interview with the star is an in-depth look at Wallace’s experience with making Cujo. Some of the details include her thoughts about Peter Medak and the work he did before he was let go; working with Lewis Teague after Medak was let go; working with Daniel Hugh Kelly, Danny Pintauro, and her husband Christopher Stone – and various interesting anecdotes for each; her thoughts on playing what some would consider the ultimate Mom in Speilberg’s ET;  comparing mother roles in both films and if things would have changed after becoming a mother; a great story from Joe Dante’s The Howling; and much more. 

Interview with Composer Charles Bernstein (35:37) – this archival interview with the Composer begins with how he came up with the opening five minutes of the score.  Some of the details include the way he developed the themes for Cujo; his part in the creation of the iconic title cards; his thoughts on collaborating with the sound department on Cujo; the recording of the score itself – and the technical details of how it works with the musicians and budgetary issues; working with producer Dan Blatt; composing in the horror genre and the specific eccentricities; working and collaborating with Lewis Teague; and much more. 

Interview with Stuntman Gary Morgan (26:11) – this archival interview with Morgan begins with the fact that he is the “animal guy” aka stuntman in a suit.  Some of the details include how he got the job on Cujo; working with Animal Trainer Karl Miller – including a great and hilarious anecdote about how Miller got the dogs to react; working in the suit and the difficulties with the suit itself; working with director Lewis Teague; working with actor Dee Wallace; getting his start in stunts – including a great story about his parents; the non-working animatronic dog – including a few great anecdotes about it; and much more. 

Interview with Stuntwoman Jean Coulter (21:09) – this archival interview with Coulter begins with how she got the job, very simply.  Some of the details include her various pieces of training as a stunt performer; working with Animal Trainer Karl Miller – which was very serious for her; working with Lewis Teague; working with Dee Wallace; working with the various dogs; working with Gary Morgan – as he was the primary stunt performer with the “dog suit”; and much more.  

Interview with Casting Director Marcia Ross (20:03) – this archival interview with casting director Ross begins with how she began in Hollywood and her first casting assignments with Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort and 48HRS and how she got the assignment on Cujo.  Some of the details include her familiarity with the Novel before getting the assignment; her thoughts on working with director Peter Medak during the casting process; meeting Sara Jessica Parker after she brought her brother to an audition; how Dee Wallace was cast; the casting process finding Ted the role that eventually went to Danny Pintauro; the casting of the various supporting roles like Daniel Hugh Kelly, Christopher Stone, Billy Jayne, Mills Watson, Ed Lauter and others; the difference between NY based actors and LA Based actors; and much more.  

Interview with Visual Effects Artist Kathie Lawrence (13:55) – this archival interview with Lawrence begins with how she got the job.  Some of the other details include her work in pre-production with the dogs and trainer Karl Miller; the details of her job and responsibilities to create various set pieces and the requirements; the various details that went into making the suits they created – including materials, the process, etc.; and much more.  

Interview with Special Effects Designer Robert Clark (12:50) – this archival interview with Clark begins with how he got the job from FX Supervisor Peter Nolan.  Some of the details include his work with the dogs and trainer Karl Miller; the details of his job and responsibilities to create various set pieces and the requirements; the various details that went into making the suits they created – including materials, the process, etc.; and much more.  Note that this feels like a companion piece to Lawrence’s interview and there is a lot of overlap.  However, it should be noted that we rarely get FX Designers as interviews and their answers and information are different enough that both are well worth your time.  

Interview with Dog Trainer Teresa Miller (28:14) – this archival interview with Teresa Miller begins with Miller’s memories about her father Karl Miller – finding the five St. Bernards, the car parts (like doors), and bats – which he would train and begin the process.  Some of the other details include her lack of knowledge of the original source material; how her father approached the work/training with the animals in both Cujo and other projects; the challenges that Cujo approached with the dog breed and her father’s concerns; a wonderful conversation about his work on the Beethoven series; how they prepared the dogs physically, so they did not get hurt; her time with the St. Bernard’s and living with them as pre-production and production continued on with the film; the challenges that her father faced during the production – including a detail description of what they used to give the dogs the “rabies look”; and much more.  

Radio Spots (1:36) –3 30-second radio spots that play against a production still featuring Dee Wallace.  

TV Spots (2:17) – featuring 3 TV spots of varying quality. 

Rounding out the special features are trailers for Cujo (1:47), Misery (2:22), Needful Things (2:01) 

The Final Thought 

Cujo has been given the deluxe treatment for its 40th Anniversary.  A new 4K Scan, and great special features make this one of the best 2023 releases.  HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATIONS!!! 

Kino Lorber’s 4K UHD Edition of Cujo is out now.

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