DogActors.com note: The novel and movie do not portray Saint Bernards in an accurate manner and both make it clear that Cujo is infected with rabies, which any mammal can get and will cause chaotic and aggressive behavior. Saint Bernards are typically affectionate and loyal. Typically the largest threats to people from the breed is their large size, clumsiness, and a high chance of a wet and slobbery kiss.
The 1981 novel by Stephen King, “Cujo” and the 1983 movie based on the novel and with the same name is about a Saint Bernard. Despite the love the family has for their dog, they never got it vaccinated against rabies. There is a lot of tension in the family (abusive husband / father) and by chance, the wife (Charity played by Kaiulani Lee) wins the lottery and convinces the husband to allow her to take their son (Brett – played by Billy Jayne) to her sister’s house in Connecticut. During this time Cujo gets infected with the rabies virus (he got his head stuck and was bitten by an infected bat) and after they leave starts to aggressively attack and kill people. During the rampage, Donna Trenton (played by Dee Wallace) and her son, Tad (played by Danny Pintauro) are trapped in their car and the story centers around them and their struggle to escape.
There is no official reason (stated) why Stephen King chose to use a Saint Bernard for Cujo, most likely due to their large size and possibly because of their typical temperament (loyal and affectionate) to show that a disease like rabies can turn the most loving animal into a terror. Typically Saint Bernards are a lowyal and loving companion and were originally used as guardian dogs for livestock in the Swiss Alps but also used as herding dogs, draft dogs (due to their large size and strength), hunting dogs, and search & rescue dogs.
Some fun facts about the filming:
- Five Saint Bernard dogs were used in the filming (hence why it looks like he goes from a long coat to a short coat quite often), a mechanical head, and an actor in a dog costume.
- To make the dogs attack the car they had the dog’s favorite toys in the car so they would try to get them – this also included taunting them with the toys to get him to jump to the windows.
- To give him a rabid look, they used a mixture of egg whites and sugar. This caused a lot of problems because the dogs constantly liked off the “makeup” (who wouldn’t – it’s the basic of egg nog!)
- In very few scenes they used a rottweiller because they couldn’t get the St Bernard to look “mean enough”.
- Every “attack” scene with Cujo was actually play to the dog and they always had to find a way to lower the dog’s tail (tied etc.) so it wouldn’t look like play.
Glen Garner (who also worked in the TV series Punky Brewster and the movie Beethoven the 2nd) and Jackie Martin (who also worked in the movies The Burbs, Disney’s 1991 adaptation of White Fang, and Eight Below) are credited for being the “animal handlers” on the set and Karl Lewis Miller (who also worked in The Nutty Professor, K-911, and the Beethoven trilogy) is credited for being the animal action.