It’s a horror staple for a psycho killer to be waiting in the backseat of a car for his unsuspecting female victim. She thinks the car is a safe haven—a getaway vehicle. Instead, it’s where she’s most vulnerable. But what if the killer is on the outside of the car??? It’s been known to happen…
As a child, Penny was in a horrible accident that took the life of her mother. Now she can’t even go near a car. But her psychologist, played by Mimi Rogers, has a brilliant plan to help Penny face her fear head-on (collision?). Force the bitch into a car and drive for miles into isolated winding mountain roads!
You know it can’t be good when Penny has to make a pukestop at a roadside gas station attended by the bald creepy dude from the original The Hills Have Eyes! But his is just a cameo to draw horror fans, because that’s the last you see of him.
Once back on the road, Penny seems to be doing okay…until Mimi hits a hitchhiker in the dark! The creepy hooded figure is not hurt, and Mimi feels obliged to give him a ride. Penny starts to have anxiety attacks about the man sitting in the backseat. I thought she was afraid of cars, not hitchhikers.
The hitchhiker pulls some creepy shit, they drop him off, and Mimi floors the gas to get the hell away from him. But that bitch Penny decides it’s time for another pukestop! WTF? Roll down the damn window and heave on-the-go! Instead, they stop, discover their tire has been punctured, Mimi pulls out puncturing object and…sssssssssssss. Dumb bitch! Now they’re stuck. Penny doesn’t want to get back in the car. Mimi forces the bitch back in the car. Cell phones are getting no service. So Mimi sets off down the road on foot to try to get a signal.
To recap. Your patient is terrified of cars and your tire has been punctured by the creepy hitchhiker who directed you to the middle of nowhere. So lets put her back in the car and leave her alone. Well, Penny gets the last laugh Mimi. Yet Penny still leaves the car to go find Mimi when she doesn’t return.
Shit happens, Penny is knocked out, and when she wakes up, she’s trapped in the car between a bunch of trees—with Mimi’s dead body in the driver’s seat. Yes, Mimi Rogers spends the majority of this film playing a corpse. Her portrayal is dead-on. And actually, the chick who plays Penny does a great job as well. You really feel her panic and the claustrophobia. This hitchhiker totally fucks with her head. It’s actually quite an entertaining psychological torture film.
But of course, that fear of having almost an entire film take place in a car means the need for outside influences. Personally, I would have preferred the film had been a little shorter. Instead, two hicks are introduced, one young and cute, the other the big bearded guy who used to appear occasionally as a tool guy on Home Improvement. See what’s happening here? The film has thrown in disposable characters to give us a body count.
Before you know it, there are dead bodies all around Penny’s car. This opportunity is used to create Argento red lighting…with blood poured all over the car windows so the moonlight beams through a sheet of it before hitting Penny’s face. From this point on, the tension is escalated, and Penny isn’t even safe in the car….
For a change of pace, the evil outside the car in this creepy film is supernatural. The beautiful Emily Blunt plays a college student who accepts a ride home during the holidays with a geeky-cute guy. Emily is a real bitch to the dude at first, and it’s kind of sad, because you can tell all he wants is a little love. Or does he have something more sinister up his sleeve when he turns onto an obviously unfrequented road in the snowy mountains, claiming it’s a shortcut?
As the two argue over the change in route, they almost get into an accident with an oncoming car. They crash into a snow bank, the other car…disappears. And you’re not going to believe this: there’s no cell phone reception. The two are trapped. But they are not alone.
While this girl-stuck-in-a-car movie is again a little too long, relying often on dialogue filler, it is one (wind) chilling film. Eerie figures walk by outside the car windows in the blustery darkness. There are mute priests in long black garb and a man who walks past the car looking like something from Silent Hill. When Emily chases after him and turns him around, it’s a total “Thanks for the ride lady!” flashback. The geeky-cute dude discovers a scary little shack in the woods that holds some clues to this ghostly mystery…as does a fricking piece of newspaper Emily uses to block a gap in a car window that won’t close. Where did this decades old newspaper come from??? Eh, I can forgive, because this film really is frightening, with some good jump scares as well.
Aside from being too long, only a few other parts are kind of lame. There’s a slimy snake/eel thing falling from a ghost’s mouth, which feels like a forced gross out that isn’t in keeping with the tone of the rest of the film. And then there’s a really ridiculous sequence involving Emily climbing up a telephone pole to try to use it to call for help. It seems like a desperate attempt to get the plot to the place the filmmakers need it to be.
In the end, the unfolding of Emily’s escape from the car is noticeably similar to Penny Dreadful’s….
The girl-stuck-in-a-car movie by which I measure all others. The movie that should have launched a major career for ‘E.T.’s mom.’ Dee Wallace-Stone gives the performance of her life in this film, bringing her terror to an emotional level so genuine you could feel yourself in that car going through that atrocity yourself.
Dee plays an unhappy Maine housewife who, as a sort of karmic punishment for her affair with the local stud (played by her actual husband Chris Stone—with whom she also starred in The Howling and who played Jaime’s boyfriend in the last season of The Bionic Woman), gets trapped by a rabid St. Bernard in a Pinto with Pintauro. Danny Pintauro, that is. The kid who was so clearly gay even as a kid on Who’s The Boss? (and whose acting chops could rival the likes of D.J. on Roseanne) was actually fantastic in this movie at the age of about 6-years-old. So what happened? Or did they just terrify this child so much that all his hysterical crying was real?
This film has a good deal of characterization before the true terror begins. We see the contrast between a local low-income family (the ones who own Cujo) and a well-off family from the city who have moved to Maine, leaving Dee alone (and lonely) in a big house with her little boy while her sexy hubby is working at a big time ad agency in the city. That’s why she has the affair. But, the depth of devotion she brings to her role as a mother and wife who knows she fucked up and regrets and is feeling remorse over it is crucial to us rooting for her and sympathizing when she faces the horror of Cujo.
Everything about this film is pretty much perfect, bringing Stephen King’s written monster to life. Dee and Danny end up at an isolated location in the country with no way out through a simple and believable chain of events. The setting and cinematic directing firmly establish just how fucked and alone they are. You feel the claustrophobia of being trapped in that car in the scorching summer sun with no water and barely a window cracked—and no cell phone, since it is 1983. And while you can imagine the horror of being held hostage by a snarling, foaming rabid dog, you actually feel somewhat sad for the once loveable family pet. And did I mention Dee? Hers is the ultimate portrayal of a girl-stuck-in-a-car at the mercy of a dark and vicious monster.
Last but not least, Cujo has some important 80s touches (aside from E.T.’s mom and the gay kid from Who’s The Boss?). Little Danny has one of the coolest Pac Man lunch boxes ever!!! And the kid who plays Cujo’s owner is the scene-stealing brother from Just One of the Guys, who also played Blanche’s smart ass grandson in one of the early episodes of The Golden Girls. Yes, I am indeed ending a blog post about horror movies involving women stuck in cars with a reference to The Golden Girls.