Kino Lorber Studio Classics takes a bite out of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with their two-disc release of Stephen King’s Cujo. Lewis Teague’s classic 80s horror flick was terrifying in its day and still has plenty of rabid teeth in its quest to deliver unrelenting terror. Now on 4K UHD, the film features an excellent Dolby Vision transfer, solid audio, and hours of new and archival bonus features for fans to chew on. Recommended
From clowns to grocery shopping to scenic mountain hotels, Stephen King has managed to terrify readers and film fans in any number of ways for decades. King has always had a knack for taking something everyday and innocent and turning it into a terrifying ordeal. In the case of Cujo, Man’s Best Friend becomes a mother and child’s worst nightmare. Lewis Teague’s adaptation may feel a little uneven as you wait for the titular rabid beast to take his first bite, but once the terror starts, it’s intense and horrifying.
The Trentons appear to be just like any other upper-middle-class family. Father Vic (Daniel Hugh Kelly) is a successful Ad-man with a big cereal company account. Wife Donna (Dee Wallace), is a loving mother. Son Tad (Danny Pintauro) is your average playful little boy. But appearances are deceiving. Vic’s job is on the line. Donna is having an affair with local hunk Steve (Wallace’s real-life late husband Christopher Stone). With everything going on, their cars keep breaking down. Now with Vic out of town, Donna takes her clunker car to see the best mechanic in town, Joe Chamber (Ed Lauter). Only they don’t expect to meet Joe’s bloody, disfigured, and frothingly rabid St. Bernard Cujo stalking the grounds.
Growing up in the 80s, Stephen King was an integral part of my horror upbringing. You had to live under a rock to not know about his books or movies. Part of my rental store ritual was to check out the excellent horror selection at my local shop and see what I could slip into the stack of tapes. I never could sneak that oversized plastic box past my mom, but eventually, I did get to see Cujo on television and even edited for content, that titular rabid dog was terrifying.
It didn’t help at the time we had a springer that had severe behavior issues because of rampant over-breeding. Seeing a dog terrorize a family trapped in their car with a dog in the room that I never knew when or if it’d try to take a bite outta me was not an easy experience. To that end, I do have to cop to a measure of nostalgic appreciation for this film. While it flies pretty close to the book, I can’t deny it’s a bit on the uneven side. Outside of a brief opening with Cujo chasing a rabbit, we never see the dog “normal” so you’re always just waiting for that first bite. And that chomp is a long time coming. I appreciate the time we spend with the Trentons so we get to know and like Father, Mother, and Son, but it leaves a lot of weight for the back end of the film to deliver the appropriate terror quota.
Thankfully, once the title character goes full rabid unstoppable monster the film delivers what it set out for. While the dog in of itself is a giant frothing bloody monster, it’s Dee Wallace and Danny Pintauro that sell the terror. Dee Wallace is an OG scream queen and has had plenty of experience being terrorized by any number of creatures when she wasn’t playing mom to an alien visitor, but it’s Danny Pintauro who wins the hour. His portrayal of a scared-out-of-his-mind kid was already deeply unsettling when I saw it as a kid, but as a Dad to a little boy of my own, it hits a lot harder now.
While I still favor the book, this film is an effective horror excursion. When you read early Stephen King books you can always tell when he was going through some serious personal shit and Cujo is no exception there. For how that book ended compared to the film, you can tell King was working through something pretty damned dark. It’s not perfect but Teague delivered an effective adaptation that I’m glad to see hasn’t been remade - yet. It’s been a fun 40 years of terror with this particular Cujo. While I don't think it's the best King film ever, I do feel it's a great creepy show well worth discovering if you've never seen it.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray
Stephen King’s Cujo celebrates its 40th Anniversary in style with a brand new two-disc 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The 4K of the film is pressed on a BD-100 disc with a BD-50 taking on the 1080p and the bulk of bonus features. The discs are housed in a standard two-disc case with identical slipcover artwork. In an era of new art, I’m glad KLSC kept that classic bloody white picket fence!
Reportedly sourced from a new 4K scan of the original 35mm negative, I have to give full props to KLSC for delivering one hell of a 1.85:1 2160p Dolby Vision transfer! Cujo hasn’t exactly had a stellar home video release over the years (at least domestically) with only alright DVDs and middling to decent Blu-ray releases from Lionsgate and Olive respectfully. Here we see a fresh scan allowing a full appreciation of the film’s visuals. Even with the use of diffusion for a more dream-like appearance, the improvement in details and clean lines is notable. Film grain is also much cleaner and sharper without the gauzy appearance of past discs.
The Dolby Vision HDR grade is also an excellent upgrade for color depth, black levels, and white balance. The film always had a warm golden tone to it, I got to see an archival 35mm print a few years back so it’s nice to see there wasn’t any color revisionism to this presentation. That golden tone is retained, but it allows for true reds and blues to come through. Red especially gets extra TLC given it’s a horror film. Black levels are deep and inky with nice shadow gradience. Whites are bright and bold without serious or unintentional blooming. Start to finish a lovely restoration and 4K disc.
For this release of Cujo KLSC sticks to their tried and true of offering a DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 audio option. Now the Lionsgate release had a 5.1 track, but I haven’t owned that disc in years to offer up a comparison, while the Olive disc had a middling DTS-HD Mono track. Strictly speaking for what’s here, I enjoyed the 5.1 track. It’s not overly aggressive and the surround elements aren’t always prominent, especially during quiet conversational moments, but there’s enough activity to keep them present. The last half of the film sees a lot more of the full surround experience once that dog starts attacking windows and the Charles Bernstein score really kicks in. Dialog is clean and clear throughout without issue. Levels are spot on without the need for keeping a thumb on the volume. I didn’t spend a lot of time with the 2.0 track, playing back a few scenes it sounded mostly fine but it’s definitely a downmix from the 5.1 and not a 2.0 mono track. So on that scale stick to the 5.1. I know purists out there will ache for the original mono, but this is still a terrific mix and works well for the film without sounding like a POS revisionist track.
On the bonus features side, this is pretty well the mother load of new and archival extra features. Kicking things off, there are three audio commentary tracks, the two archival Teague tracks with a new one from author Lee Gambin which is a great listen as he pulls a lot of detail from his book into the commentary. Then we get a cast and crew roundtable, archival making-of, and tons of cast and crew interviews from the Eureka! Blu-ray disc (which I never saw because I didn’t import it). You have almost four-and-a-half hours of great content before the commentaries ahead of you - so take a bite and dig in!
4K UHD Disc
Yeah, there are better 1980s Stephen King movies out there that probably hold up a bit better, but I’ve always had a fond fuzzy spot for Cujo. The book is definitely better, but the film is frightening in its own right with Dee Wallace and little Danny Pintauro delivering terrific terrified performances. Kino Lorber Studio Classics lets Cujo take a chew up 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a truly fantastic 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray transfer. The 5.1 audio mix is a great accent but not having the original mono track is a bummer that may put off a few collectors out there. However, this set is stacked for bonus features with several hours of excellent content to devour. Just in time for the Halloween season - Recommended
Order your copy of Cujo on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray