While you might not think it given the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' long history of ignoring the horror genre, Stephen King adaptations have gotten a surprising amount of Oscar love over the years. The seminal film in the canon, Brian De Palma's Carrie, saw Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie nominated in the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories, respectively. Kathy Bates won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Annie Wilkes in Rob Reiner's Misery, and Frank Darabont's The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile together earned eleven nominations.
If Stephen King had his way, however, there would be another performance to highlight in that impressive legacy: the turn by Dee Wallace in Lewis Teague's Cujo.
Stephen King has long been a vocal fan of the 1983 film, which was only the fifth Hollywood adaptation of his work, and as the film gets closer and closer to its 40th anniversary his praise continues. The author was recently a guest on The Kingcast (where he announced the title and subject of a new novel he's written), and it was during a discussion about underrated adaptations that the author found opportunity to sing the praises of Dee Wallace's Cujo turn. Said King,
In Cujo, Dee Wallace plays Donna Trenton a married mother of a young son who, at the start of the story, sees her relationship with her husband, Vic (Daniel Hugh Kelly), get dealt a crushing blow when he discovers that she has been having an affair. While their marriage is in trouble, he goes on a trip with his business partner to try and save their ad company, and she goes on what she thinks is a quick errand with her boy to get the family car fixed.
What starts as an emotional drama transforms into a monster movie, as Donna discovers that the massive St. Bernard at the auto garage has contracted rabies, and she and her son are trapped in their broken Ford Pinto in the middle of a heat wave.
Dee Wallace does deliver a phenomenal performance in Cujo, and it's in many ways her performance that makes the movie work as well as it does. The filmmaking techniques and animal wrangling skills used to bring the titular canine to life are brilliant and horrifying, but it's Wallace's performance that truly sells the terror.
In the 1983 Academy Awards race, the nominations for Best Actress went to Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger for Terms of Endearment, Julie Walters for Educating Rita, Meryl Streep for Silkwood, and Jane Alexander for Testament (it was MacLaine who walked away from Oscar night with trophy in hand). Stephen King is of the opinion that Dee Wallace gave a performance better than any of them in Cujo, but believes that the older voting body making all the big calls overlooked the movie because of its genre. King elaborated,
Dee Wallace's turn was one of blood, sweat, and tears, and at one point she was even bitten on the face by one of the dogs used during the production and required eight stitches. It was an eventful production behind a great movie, and you can read about its full history from my Adapting Stephen King column about it.
For those of you who are now either curious about Dee Wallace's performance or wish to watch her work again, the film is widely available to watch online. Subscribers to Hulu (opens in new tab) and Epix will presently find Cujo as part of their respective catalogues, and the movie is also available to rent and purchase digitally from online outlets including Amazon (opens in new tab), Google (opens in new tab), Vudu (opens in new tab), and Apple (opens in new tab).
Thankfully, there isn't a remake of Cujo currently in the works, but you can keep track of all developing movie and television projects via our Upcoming Stephen King guide.
NJ native who calls LA home; lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran; endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.
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