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13 Rabid Facts About Cujo

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It may have temporarily given Saint Bernards a bad name, but this 1983 thriller is still fondly remembered by many horror fans for its relentless suspense and impressively trained stunt dogs. Here are 13 facts about Cujo that you can really sink your teeth into.

1. STEPHEN KING CAN BARELY REMEMBER WRITING THE ORIGINAL NOVEL.

The story of Cujo began in the summer of 1977. At the time, King was living in Bridgton, Maine with his wife, Tabitha. When his motorcycle broke down one day, he took it to a backwoods mechanic who owned what King calls “the biggest Saint Bernard I ever saw in my life.” Four years later, the master of horror published Cujo. A grim masterpiece, the book was written during a tumultuous chapter in its author’s life. During the 1980s, King struggled with alcohol and drug addictions—which spiraled out of control until his family staged an intervention.

In the year 2000, he opened up about the ordeal in his now-classic memoir On Writing. Before his loved ones confronted him, King admitted, he was “drinking a case of sixteen-ounce tallboys a night.” That experience robbed the novelist of some memories he’d like to have back. “[There’s] one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing at all. I don’t say that with pride or shame, only with a vague sense of sorrow and loss,” King revealed. “I like that book. I wish I could remember enjoying the good parts as I put them down on the page.”

2. DOG TRAINER KARL MILLER BEGGED A PRODUCER TO CHANGE CUJO’S BREED.

“There are no Saint Bernards who are trained,” Miller noted during pre-production. In the DVD documentary Dog Days: The Making of Cujo, producer Daniel H. Blatt reveals that Miller was hesitant about the prospect of working with this difficult breed in the film. In a conversation with Blatt, the animal handler asked “Why don’t you use a different kind of dog? I have lots of Dobermans and things like that that are trained.” Obviously, the producer wasn’t sold.

3. KING LOBBIED TO HAVE LEWIS TEAGUE DIRECT THE MOVIE.

As a horror movie buff, King really appreciated the unique directing style Teague exhibited in the 1980 creature feature Alligator. So when Taft International picked up the film rights to Cujo, he suggested that they hire Teague to take the helm. Instead, the studio chose veteran director Peter Medak. However, a few days after principal photography started, Medak left the project due to creative differences with Blatt. Teague was then brought in as a replacement.  

4. THE TITLE CHARACTER WAS PLAYED BY MULTIPLE CANINES (AND SOME MAN-MADE STUNT DOUBLES).

How many live Saint Bernards were used in the filming of Cujo? “Everybody says a different number,” observes Dee Wallace, who portrayed Donna Trenton. In various interviews, members of the cast and crew have claimed that Cujo relied on the services of anywhere from five to 13 individual dogs that all received specialized training.

“Each dog had a different talent,” Teague said at the 2014 Monster Mania Convention in southern New Jersey. For example, one pooch would bark on command in front of the camera. Another was taught to run along pre-determined routes. There were also certain moments—such as the shot where Cujo rams his head into a car door—that called for a synthetic canine. “We had a man in a dog suit, we had a mechanical dog, and we had as a backup a dog suit we could put on a Labrador retriever, which we never actually used,” Teague says.

5. TEAGUE CHOSE TO OMIT THE BOOK’S SUPERNATURAL UNDERTONES.

The novel implies that Cujo himself might be the reincarnation of a human serial killer. It also hints at the possibility of an otherworldly force lurking in Tad’s closet, which would help explain his recurring nightmares. During the DVD commentary, Teague says that he’d toyed with the latter concept. “We actually experimented with having special effects that showed something did exist… in the closet and Tad wasn’t just imagining things,” reveals the director. Specifically, in this deleted footage, the boy’s toys and coat hangers merge together into a frightening, monster-like shape. “But it didn’t work, on film it was hokey,” Teague claims.

6. CHILLY TEMPERATURES MADE FOR AN UNCOMFORTABLE SHOOT.

Although the story takes place in coastal Maine during an oppressively hot summer, Cujo was shot in northern California over the months of October, November, and December, 1982. Of course, this part of the country isn’t noted for its balmy winters. Wallace says that in many scenes, she and Danny Pintauro (Tad Trenton) “were freezing to death… They had to put a heater in the car for us during the production because we were freezing.”

This discomfort was exacerbated by the fact that the script called for both actors to wear very little clothing in all of the Pinto sequences. Low temperatures even marred some of the indoor scenes. Case in point: During the climax, Donna douses Tad with what appears to be cold tap water. But actually, Wallace used warm water to keep her young co-star from getting too chilly. 

7. ONE DOG HOSPITALIZED WALLACE’S STUNTWOMAN.  

In a discussion panel at the Monster Mania con, Teague and Wallace discussed a gruesome on-set injury. The incident occurred during the big attack scene that sees Cujo tackling Donna. When certain shots were deemed too dangerous for Wallace, the decision was made to intercut footage of her stuntwoman, Jean Coulter. Acting alongside the double was a trained dog named Cubby, who’d been taught to lurch forward whenever Coulter lunged towards him. Together, the two nailed an important shot on the very first take. Unfortunately, though, the situation was about to go downhill in a hurry.

“We [heard] ‘Cut! We got it!’” Wallace remembered. At that point, Coulter shouted “Yeah!” In her excitement, she suddenly jerked forward. Big mistake. “The dog lunged… and bit off the end of her nose,” Wallace said. Coulter was rushed to a hospital, where doctors reattached the lobbed-off nasal flesh. By the way, this wasn’t the first time she’d been injured or otherwise harmed during a shoot: On the set of Jaws 2 (1978), Coulter lost her eyelashes and brows when a flare gun mishap set her wig ablaze.  

8. THE SAINT BERNARDS WERE CONSTANTLY WAGGING THEIR TAILS.

Don’t let their big proportions scare you: In real life, Saint Bernards are famously friendly dogs—and the ones that appeared in Cujo were no different. “We had to literally tie their tails down [with fishing wire] because they would wag them,” Wallace remembers. “It was a big game for them!”

9. WALLACE FOUGHT TO KEEP A POWERFUL LINE OF DIALOGUE.  

Late in the film, an inconsolable Tad starts hollering for his father until Donna finally snaps and screams “Alright, I’ll get your daddy!” at the top of her lungs. The take that we see in the movie almost ended up on the cutting room floor. When Dan Blatt saw this footage, he approached Wallace and wondered aloud if the actress’ tone might cause the audience to turn against her character. “Every parent everywhere in the world will identify with that reaction,” Wallace countered. “Let’s have the balls to go with it.” Hearing this, Blatt relented and the take was incorporated into the final version of the film.  

10. KING APPROVED OF THE MOVIE’S HAPPY ENDING.

SPOILER ALERT: The Cujo novel ends with a devastating twist. In the book, an anguished Donna kills her canine oppressor moments before she’s rescued by her husband, Vic. Only then does she learn that little Tad—having succumbed to prolonged trauma and dehydration—has perished in the back seat of their Pinto. But in the movie version, Tad lives. It was a change that Taft International insisted upon, and King completely understood the studio’s rationale. As the novelist told Cinefantastique magazine, “Films exist on a much more emotional level. It’s all happening right in front of you.” Negative reactions to the final pages of his novel might also help explain why he was so willing to let the filmmakers cook up a happier ending. When the Cujo novel was released, King informed the cast and crew that he’d “never gotten more hate mail” than he did after killing off Tad Trenton.

11. AFTER PRODUCTION ENDED, WALLACE WAS TREATED FOR EXHAUSTION.

It’s no secret that King was greatly disappointed by Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic take on his classic novel, The Shining. On the other hand, he very much enjoyed what Teague and company did with Cujo. The author’s even written that Dee Wallace deserved an Oscar nomination for her “absolutely terrific” performance as Donna. For the record, Wallace cites Cujo as her favorite of all the movies she’s worked on. Yet, the lead role took a massive toll on her health.

“I don’t think I’ve ever done anything as emotionally and physically taxing as that film,” she says. “On the set… they picked me up at 5 AM every morning and I was lucky to get home by 8 PM,” Wallace explains. And as if this wasn’t fatiguing enough, the intense nature of her scenes sent a near-constant supply of adrenaline coursing through the actress’s body. Consequently, Wallace spent three weeks being treated for exhaustion after Cujo wrapped.

12. CUJO AND BEETHOVEN (1992) EMPLOYED THE SAME DOG TRAINER.  

“When Cujo came out, I wasn’t exactly the most popular dog trainer in the world among Saint Bernard owners,” Miller told the Los Angeles Times. In 1992 however, he redeemed himself in their eyes by lending his talents to a more upbeat Saint Bernard flick called Beethoven. To find the perfect dog for that anarchic family comedy, Lewis auditioned roughly two dozen different specimens before selecting a big male named Kris, who ended up starring in both Beethoven and its 1993 sequel, Beethoven’s 2nd.

13. CUJO’S DIRECTOR DIDN’T GRADUATE FROM FILM SCHOOL UNTIL 2016.

Teague had dropped out of New York University in 1963. “At the end of my second year at NYU… I accidentally took a film production class, loved it, got hit by a bolt of lightning,” he explains in the above clip. “I knew [that was] what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.” Eager to pursue his newfound passion, Teague put together a short film titled It’s About This Carpenter. In turn, that little picture earned him a scholarship at Universal Studios, along with a director’s contract.

Upon arriving at their Los Angeles facility, he dropped out of NYU altogether and started executing various jobs in the film industry. By the early 2000s, Teague had directed several films, including The Jewel of the Nile, Cat’s Eye, and—of course—Cujo. The filmmaker recently went back to NYU, where he finally earned his bachelor’s degree in 2016 at the age of 78.

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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10 Hush-Hush Facts About L.A. Confidential
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On this day 20 years ago, a rising star director, a writer who thought he’d never get the gig, and a remarkable cast got together to make a film about the corrupt underbelly of 1950s Los Angeles, and the men and women who littered its landscape. This was L.A. Confidential, a film so complex that its creator (legendary crime writer James Ellroy) thought it was “unadaptable.” In the end, it was one of the most acclaimed movies of the 1990s, a film noir classic that made its leading actors into even bigger stars, and which remains an instantly watchable masterpiece to this day. Here are 10 facts about how it got made.

1. THE SCRIPTING PROCESS WAS TOUGH.

Writer-director Curtis Hanson had been a longtime James Ellroy fan when he finally read L.A. Confidential, and the characters in that particular Ellroy novel really spoke to him, so he began working on a script. Meanwhile, Brian Helgeland—originally contracted to write an unproduced Viking film for Warner Bros.—was also a huge Ellroy fan, and lobbied hard for the studio to give him the scripting job. When he learned that Hanson already had it, the two met, and bonded over their mutual admiration of Ellroy’s prose. Their passion for the material was clear, but it took two years to get the script done, with a number of obstacles.

"He would turn down other jobs; I would be doing drafts for free,” Helgeland said. “Whenever there was a day when I didn't want to get up anymore, Curtis tipped the bed and rolled me out on the floor."

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY INTENDED AS A MINISERIES.

When executive producer David Wolper first read Ellroy’s novel, he saw the dense, complex story as the perfect fodder for a television miniseries, and was promptly turned down by all the major networks at the time.

3. JAMES ELLROY DIDN’T THINK THE BOOK COULD BE ADAPTED.

Though Wolper was intrigued by the idea of telling the story onscreen, Ellroy and his agent laughed at the thought. The author felt his massive book would never fit on any screen.

“It was big, it was bad, it was bereft of sympathetic characters,” Ellroy said. “It was unconstrainable, uncontainable, and unadaptable.”

4. CURTIS HANSON SOLD THE FILM WITH CLASSIC LOS ANGELES IMAGES.

To get the film made, Hanson had to convince New Regency Pictures head Arnon Milchan that it was worth producing. To do this, he essentially put together a collage of classic Los Angeles imagery, from memorable locations to movie stars, including the famous image of Robert Mitchum leaving jail after his arrest for using marijuana.

"Now you've seen the image of L.A. that was sold to get everybody to come here. Let's peel back the image and see where our characters live,” Hanson said.

Milchan was sold.

5. KEVIN SPACEY WAS ON HANSON’S WISH LIST FOR YEARS.

Though the other stars of the film were largely discoveries of the moment, Kevin Spacey was apparently someone Hanson wanted to work with for years. Spacey described Hanson as a director “who’d been trying for years and years and years to get me cast in films he made, and the studio always rejected me.” After Spacey won an Oscar for The Usual Suspects, Hanson called the actor and said “I think I’ve got the role, and I think they’re not gonna say no this time.”

6. SPACEY’S CHARACTER IS BASED ON DEAN MARTIN.

Warner Bros.

Though he cast relative unknowns in Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, Hanson wanted an American movie star for the role of Jack Vincennes, and decided on Kevin Spacey. In an effort to convince Spacey to take the role, Hanson invited him to dine at L.A.’s famous Formosa Cafe (where scenes in the film are actually set). While at the cafe, Spacey asked a vital question:

“If it was really 1952, and you were really making this movie, who would you cast as Jack Vincennes? And [Hanson] said ‘Dean Martin.’”

At that point, Spacey looked up at the gallery of movie star photos which line the cafe, and realized Martin’s photo was right above him.

“To this day, I don’t know whether he sat us in that booth on purpose, but there was Dino looking down at me,” Spacey said.

After his meeting with Hanson, Spacey watched Martin’s performances in Some Came Running (1958) and Rio Bravo (1959), and realized that both films featured characters who mask vulnerability with a layer of cool. That was the genesis of Jack Vincennes.

7. HANSON CHOSE MUCH OF THE MUSIC BEFORE FILMING.

To help set the tone for his period drama, Hanson began selecting music of the early 1950s even before filming began, so he could play it on set as the actors went to work. Among his most interesting choices: When Jack Vincennes sits in a bar, staring at the money he’s just been bribed with, Dean Martin’s “Powder Your Face With Sunshine (Smile! Smile! Smile!)” plays, a reference to both the character’s melancholy, and to Spacey and Hanson’s decision to base the character on Martin.

8. THE CINEMATOGRAPHY WAS INSPIRED BY ROBERT FRANK PHOTOGRAPHS.

To emphasize realism and period accuracy, cinematographer Dante Spinotti thought less about the moving image, and more about still photographs. In particular, he used photographer Robert Frank’s 1958 collection "The Americans" as a tool, and relied less on artificial light and more on environmental light sources like desk lamps.

"I tried to compose shots as if I were using a still camera,” Spinotti said. “I was constantly asking myself, 'Where would I be if I were holding a Leica?' This is one reason I suggested shooting in the Super 35 widescreen format; I wanted to use spherical lenses, which for me have a look and feel similar to still-photo work.”

9. THE FINAL STORY TWIST IS NOT IN THE BOOK.

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[SPOILER ALERT] In the film, Jack Vincennes, Ed Exley, and Bud White are all chasing a mysterious crime lord known as “Rollo Tomasi,” who turns out to be their own LAPD colleague, Dudley Smith (James Cromwell). Though Vincennes, Exley, and White are all native to Ellroy’s novel, the Tomasi name is entirely an invention of the film.

10. ELLROY APPROVED OF THE MOVIE.

To adapt L.A. Confidential for the screen, Hanson and Helgeland condensed Ellroy’s original novel, boiling the story down to a three-person narrative and ditching other subplots so they could get to the heart of the three cops at the center of the movie. Ellroy, in the end, was pleased with their choices.

“They preserved the basic integrity of the book and its main theme, which is that everything in Los Angeles during this era of boosterism and yahooism was two-sided and two-faced and put out for cosmetic purposes,” Ellroy said. “The script is very much about the [characters'] evolution as men and their lives of duress. Brian and Curtis took a work of fiction that had eight plotlines, reduced those to three, and retained the dramatic force of three men working out their destiny. I've long held that hard-boiled crime fiction is the history of bad white men doing bad things in the name of authority. They stated that case plain.”

Additional Sources:
Inside the Actors Studio: Kevin Spacey (2000)

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