Cujo : The dog is not the monster

I am on a Stephen King marathon it seems.

Unlike Pet Sematary, I did not remember Cujo the movie. I knew the basic premise. So it was about a rabid Saint Bernard dog wrecking havoc. The earlier book gave me a nice glimpse into King’s writing technique – that his novels weren’t just your run of the mill horror story, but they provided a unique point of view, a subjective analysis of human psyche and character that was often very sad and cruel. In Cujo, King is in his familiarity, and the story is again in Maine, where he lived a great deal. Castle Rock was a quiet neighborhood, so close yet so away from the business of New York or Boston or other big cities. Life here was on a different tone, often rolling off to borderline out of sync with the civilization that ran on steroids. Hence the story of a rabid dog that may have been a normal story in the cities turns out to be a vicious chapter in the town’s history.

Stephen King was in the peak of his drunken-abusiveness when he wrote Cujo, and he has largely admitted that he doesn’t remember the book. I think that factored in building the bleak spine of the story, a rigmarole that is relationship – be it between a married couple, or between parents and kids, or even between a child and a dog, and between a dog and his keepers, represented here with excruciating detail. It is beautifully summated in the ending quotes where King narrates:

“It would perhaps not be amiss to point out that he had always tried to be a good dog. He had tried to do all the things his MAN and his WOMAN, and most of all his BOY, had asked or expected of him. He would have died for them, if that had been required. He had never wanted to kill anybody. He had been struck by something, possibly destiny, or fate, or only a degenerative nerve disease called rabies. Free will was not a factor.”

Indeed free will forms a great part of this story. A woman’s free will to speak up against an abusive marriage, another’s free will to choose her path amidst a tumbling relationship and the mid life crisis – to a man’s free will to save a marriage, to a vindictive ejaculation of another man in a fit of rage, ending up to the dog’s fate of being a slave to the will of a disease, an abomination that took control of him, the mind’s forces are characters of their own in Cujo. Stephen King goes one up when he introduces Cujo as a perspective and not a third-person character, something that completely changes the way the novel reads, and it is fantastic. The gradual degeneration of his mind is almost as deplorable as the crumbling relationships around him, and the fogginess in his brain, the sharp pains in his mind and body, the slow, screaming death of his self-conscience except the blurry notions of MAN, WOMAN and BOY are eerily similar to the blurred lines of a human mind as it struggles to distinguish good from the bad. The ending is hence not surprising at all, knowing King would have liked it to end it that way, and it shows in a way that the dog was just at a bad place at a bad time, just like the Trentons, just like the Cambers, just like Sheriff Bannermann.

So this is a sad story, but why does it rank as horror? Writhing inside the story of a dog gone bad is the unnerving undertale of a monster, something that lurks inside a kid’s closet, often manifesting itself with glowing eyes piercing through the clot of darkness, prying open the door ever so slightly. Is it the dementia that was brought by Frank Dodd the serial killer? Did he never die? King never really divulges into that, and his intentional omission gives Cujo the novel a supernatural chill that elevates it from a regular tale of a rabid dog rampaging around a quiet town.

In the end, Cujo is a read that requires a little patience since it takes time to enter the world of Castle Rock. Once you enter, there is no turning back. The second half is a rabid page-turner (no pun intended). Stephen King’s Cujo is at its best when the Saint Bernard is on its paws, lunging at unsuspecting human beings, tearing them apart. It is also at is worst when Cujo is on his paws, lumbering around like a lifeless husk, too fragmented, too hurt to think, too restless to die. In a way Cujo represents excessive alcoholism of King, a story returned from the otherwise inaccessible, fucked up places in the corner of his mind.

Recommended.

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Stephen King’s Pet Sematary : Foray into the world of primal horror

I vaguely remember the movie ‘Pet Sematary’ that played in HBO back in the days. HBO was particularly kind to it, showing it as a part of their horror weekends, or just randomly airing it to the unsuspecting kid who was recently introduced to the world of foreign movies. The odd spelling caught my eye first, but that wasn’t the reason I had let it creep inside that foggy corner of my mind where creatures of the imagination lurked : the premise was utterly vile.

When I finally decided to read Stephen King, there were many choices in front of me, and most of them came from my viewing of their movie adaptations. ‘Cujo’, ‘Carrie’ and ‘IT’ were instant to-reads, recommended even by the bibliophile friends, but as I was surfing through the entire collection, that buried adolescence thought resurfaced though the quagmire like a Wendigo and commanded that I opened its grave first.

And like a servant of its will, I bought this book and started to read.

This book is much, much scarier than the movie (as almost always), and I am amazed because I know the plot. I know what happens, what is going to happen, yet the way Stephen builds up the ante is unlike anyone else. Being a big fan of Lovecraftian horror stories and their almost absurd way of spreading the veil of mystery, I was immediately taken aback by how leisurely the story started – like it was nothing at all, like King was just narrating a man in midway of his career in the most boring way possible – crafty, yet drab.

There are some highs in that flat narration, the slow raise of hair around your neck when you feel something is not right, but then they are quickly drowned in the problems of the modern life. The real fun however starts after the second half when the story deviously tricks you into falling into a bog of primal forces. Then you are not Jud Crandall – the voice of reason, not the road that kills, not Rachel Creed who is too scarred for her own good, not little Ellie, not Gage, not even Victor ‘Paxcow’ Pascow who has risen from the dead as a sentry, a warning between the worlds of the living and the dead. This is the Pet Sematary I remember from my childhood days, the bone chilling surrender to a power that is ancient and primal yet very much alive in today’s world, the one that is shapeless and formless yet at times manifests itself like a cat, or a child.

Pet Sematary makes you Louis Creed, a man slowly spiraling into madness from the sane world, and that is scarier than anything else.

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