The Dogs of Gore: Brad Anderson’s Blood as a Modern Reimagining of Lewis Teague’s Cujo
Brad Anderson’s recent vampire film Blood (2022) and Lewis Teague’s adaptation of Stephen King’s tale of rabies gone amuck, Cujo (1983)—which celebrates its 40th anniversary this month—might appear dissimilar at first glance. However, both of their central protagonists are mothers caught in crises: Jess of Blood is a recovering addict embroiled in a bitter divorce; Donna of Cujo is trying to distance herself from an extramarital relationship with a man who becomes violent after she breaks off their affair. Each woman’s central concern throughout her story lies in saving her young son, and both movies prominently feature previously gentle canine companions that turn vicious. Despite their seemingly different premises, Blood’s similarity to Cujo in innumerable key scenes and resolution solidifies it as a reimagining of the 1983 horror classic.
Blood opens with an ominous overhead shot of a barren tree surrounded by a dark clearing in the middle of the woods. Very quickly, the scene shifts to a boy, Jess’s son Owen, playing catch with his golden retriever, Pippen. Soon, Owen and his sister Tyler stumble across the barren tree, and Pippen is immediately drawn to it, later breaking free of the family home and disappearing into the woods to visit it. When the family pet returns days later, it is visibly changed into an animal both aggressive and insidious. Similarly, Cujo opens with a wild rabbit being chased by Cujo, a Saint Bernard, across an open field and into the woods. When the rabbit disappears into a hollow log, Cujo sticks his snout inside, only to be attacked by a colony of bats, and over the course of a few days, displays textbook symptoms of rabies. Both films begin with relatively innocuous interactions that rapidly change into breeding grounds for evil, and each dog is innocently drawn to a tree and in turn, becomes the carrier of that evil.
Both films set the stage for unease when they establish false senses of danger. When Cujo’s young Tad goes to bed, the closet door in his room inexplicably opens, causing him to scream and prompting his father, Vic, to recite a mantra to him each evening to soothe his anxiety. Soon after Blood’s family of three moves into their new home, Owen and Tyler explore the grounds and Owen climbs to the top of a dilapidated barn and jumps from the window into a bale of hay, causing Jess to worry that he will get injured. Both movies also offer moments of false hope. When Donna manages to start her problematic Ford Pinto, it appears she and Tad will escape the empty mechanic’s home and its bloodthirsty canine, but as she stops to toss a final epithet at the animal, the car immediately stalls and dies, trapping them there. After Pippen’s attack, Owen lies dying in a hospital bed until he fortuitously drinks his bag of blood transfusion and springs back to life, fully healed. However, the recovery is only temporary, requiring Jess to constantly procure blood to keep her son alive.
At times, key scenes from Cujo reemerge in Blood like doppelgängers. When Pippen attacks Owen, the dog bites the boy repeatedly about the body and face until Jess grabs the only weapon available, a ceramic dog bowl, and hits Pippen with it to stop the assault. When Cujo attacks Tad through the open car window, Donna grabs the only weapon available, the window’s crank, and furiously rolls up the glass, choking the animal until it wriggles away. In another scene, Brett, Cujo’s teenage owner, searches a nearby foggy woods for his dog only to discover his pet snarling and growling at him. Similarly, when Pippen reappears after a number of days missing, Owen spots him standing at the edge of the nearby dark woods and rushes to greet him only to be violently attacked by the snarling, growling pet. Later in the film, when Owen and Tyler return to the barren tree in search of a cure, Owen lags behind, his face buried in the hood of his sweatshirt. When his sister calls to him, Owen lifts his head, and his eyes are dead, unblinking, his face expressionless with a mouth—quite unnervingly—oozing drool. This is a callback to Cujo’s climax when Tad, having collapsed from heat exhaustion, begins to hyperventilate in near seizure; his eyes fixed and almost entirely white, his face unresponsive, his mouth frozen. At both of these points, the boys are out of control, and their mothers are consumed with panic and worry at how to save them.
Where the films differ is in their sense of hope. While Donna waits for the opportunity to reach the house’s telephone and call for help, the barrier between Tad and her and the dog grows weaker, allowing Cujo to attack her, drawing blood. However, although Donna and Tad are trapped in the car and in constant danger from Cujo, there is always the possibility that someone will arrive and save them. For Jess, there is no possibility of rescue: Owen’s craving for blood grows steadily stronger until Jess must resort to kidnapping and holding a patient hostage to use as her son’s bank of sustenance. Her son’s consumption by the evil will not abate.
They say that mothers summon supernatural strength and courage to protect their young in times of calamity. Jess states, “You would do anything to save your child.” Eventually, both women do destroy the sources of the evil stalking their children: Donna stabs, then shoots Cujo, and Jess burns down the tree that infected her dog and consequently, her son. In both films, the mother protagonists are faced with insurmountable challenges but make the tough decisions required for the good of their offspring. Perhaps, then, Cujo, and its reimagining, Blood, are not about the chaos and destruction enacted by their dogs of gore but rather are about the women who overcome the odds to stop them.
Rebecca Rowland is an American short dark fiction author and the curator of seven horror anthologies, including the best-sellers American Cannibal and Unburied: A Collection of Queer Dark Fiction. She delights in creeping about Ginger Nuts of Horror partly because it’s the one place her hair is a camouflage instead of a signal fire. For links to her latest work and social media, or to make arrangements to send her a tasteful vodka and cheese plate, visit RowlandBooks.com.