Cujo, Stephen King’s tale of a dog made murderous by rabies, ends in a much different, darker way on the page than on the movie screen. While King’s work often involves a supernatural element, in Cujo‘s case, the scenario at the center is not at all impossible to imagine happening in real life. St. Bernards are large, powerful dogs, but thankfully, the breed as a whole tends to be gentle giants, although who raises them obviously plays a factor into their behavior.
Dogs also can indeed get rabies via a bite from another animal, and the rabies virus is truly terrifying, and could definitely render a once loving pooch into a violent, unpredictable creature. It can also do the same to human beings. Once rabies takes hold, the prognosis of anyone or anything affected is bleak. In many ways, Cujo is also one of King’s sadder stories, especially in the book, which actually features passages told from Cujo’s point of view.
Cujo isn’t evil, and all he ever wanted to do was be a good dog, and please his master. Unfortunately, a rabid bat changed his destiny for the worse, and by extension, the fate of Donna Trenton (played in the film by Dee Wallace) and her young son Tad (Danny Pintauro). Cujo‘s ending on film is pretty harrowing, but on the page it’s even worse.
The meat of Cujo‘s plot focuses on Donna and Tad being trapped inside their broken down car, after going to the home of Cujo’s owner for repairs. Cujo is fully under the influence of rabies by then, and has already killed two people. He later kills the town sheriff, George Bannerman. Donna and Tad can’t drive away, and they can’t leave the car due to the imminent mortal danger posed by Cujo. However, they can’t stay in the car forever either, as it’s a hot summer day, and they have no water on hand. Donna is eventually able to temporarily overtake Cujo, and ends up shooting him with a shotgun. Tad is on the verge of death due to dehydration, but Donna is able to revive him. The two are then reunited with their husband/father.
It’s a bittersweet ending overall, but more happy than sad, since Donna had no choice but to protect herself and her son by taking Cujo out. In Stephen King’s book though, Donna manages to kill Cujo, but not before Tad dies of a combination of dehydration and heatstroke. She also contacts rabies herself in the process, but is able to get treatment quick enough to recover. Still, losing Tad means her life will never truly be the same, and it’s one of King’s sadder conclusions. Adding to the sadness of the reader, a postscript reinforces that everything Cujo did was beyond his control, and he just wanted to be a good dog. When Stephen King wants to make his constant readers cry, he can damn sure pull it off.
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