Picks and Pans Review: Cujo

updated 09/05/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/05/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

As films of unrelenting, throat-tightening terror go, this one makes The Birds seem like a mere gathering of friends of a feather. It makes Jaws seem like a movie about a mischievous fish. Taken from Stephen King's novel of the same title, Cujo is all the more remarkable because the menace involved is a Saint Bernard, one of those big cuddly, lovable pooches who wouldn't hurt a flea and would walk a thousand miles through a blizzard to bring you a keglet of brandy. The catch is that rabies has turned this Saint Bernard into a fearsome monster. Most of the movie takes place in and around a disabled car inside which the dog has besieged Dee Wallace, best known as E.T.'s adopted mom, and Danny Pintauro, 6, whose performance as Wallace's son is astonishingly mature. The car has broken down in a run-down, deserted mechanic's yard, and director Lewis Teague succeeds in building up a mood of claustrophobia and mounting panic as the heat and fear escalate inside the car. That Wallace has been having an affair with a local carpenter, played by her real-life husband, Christopher Stone, adds some metaphysical overtones: Are she and her son being punished somehow for her guilt? The common, familiar nature of the setting, the people, the dog, the emotions make it easy to become involved in this grueling but engrossing kind of entertainment. The film is rated R, and despite its 6-year-old star, no one under 10 should be allowed to see it. (R)

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