Fido finds his way into a lot of horror films. With a friendly wag of the tail, a silver-screen canine can win the audience over, as viewers tend to feel sympathy for a dog in danger or joy when one plays the hero. Likewise, when a pet is hurt or killed, it can emphasize the horror of a situation or the depravity of the villain. Sometimes that's just effective storytelling on the filmmaker's part. Just as often it's a cheap, manipulative ploy. Did we also mention that cinematic family pets don't require the lengthy exposition that sympathetic human characters do?
If you enjoy scary movies but prefer to avoid feeling terrible because someone's pet was killed, even a fictional one, these 10 films amp up the scares while leaving our furry friends happy and safe. Keep in mind this list may contain spoilers, particularly on the matter of whether or not the dog dies. And since we're equal opportunity animal lovers, we're including cats, too.
In this '80s classic, Billy Peltzer and the town of Kingston Falls are beset by a marauding band of bizarre reptilian-type creatures called gremlins, which morph out of seemingly harmless, furry creatures called Mogwai when fed after midnight. While it's filled with dark humor, there's no doubt that "Gremlins" is a horror movie – the gremlins are murderous monsters that kill several humans in brutal, grotesque ways. Peltzer's dog Barney, however, survives the mayhem.
Barney seems to be in jeopardy from the opening scene, when mean Mrs. Deagle threatens to kill the friendly, but clumsy mutt for breaking her imported ceramic snowman. In fact, when Barney is later found strung up in a tangle of Christmas lights, Peltzer assumes it was Deagle (Nope, gremlins!). Despite appearing to be in some discomfort, Peltzer untangles Barney, and his dog is fine. Peltzer's dad then takes the pooch away for most of the movie. He returns for the climactic scene in a department store but is never in any serious danger. We see Barney hanging out with the Peltzers at the movie's end.
Two Movies in the 'Friday the 13th' Series
Hockey-masked murder freak Jason Voorhees isn't known for his gentle side, but on at least two separate occasions a dog has crossed Voorhees' path and lived to bark about it. In 1981's "Friday the 13th Part 2," camp counselor Terry has a dog named Muffin. Muffin is seen running into Voorhees out in the woods. Later, the counselors find the corpse of an animal and assume it must be Muffin. But it must have been some other animal, which we'll assume died of natural causes after a long and fulfilling life, because at the movie's end, we see Muffin reunited with her camp counselor friends.
Another dog, this one named Toby, plays a somewhat prominent role in "Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan." Toby escapes several close encounters with death, including a sinking boat and some trigger-happy crooks. After several hours on the mean streets of New York City, Toby turns up for the denouement.
Does Voorhees have a soft spot for dogs? An oft-repeated story suggests that Kane Hodder, then stunt-man/actor who portrayed the horror icon for most of the series, refused to do a scene where Voorhees kicks a dog.
If you were a kid in the '80s, chances are you were terrified by the movie "Poltergeist." After all, it had a PG rating, so it was fine for parents to take their kids to see it, right? Luckily, we all survived the closet monster, evil tree, a TV portal to another dimension and even that guy tearing his own face off in the mirror. And so did the dog!
The Freeling family moves into a brand-new housing development that just happens to be built on an old graveyard. The family dog, E-Buzz (alternately spelled E. Buzz) is around for most of their supernatural adventures. The demonic forces in the Freeling home are pretty focused on humans, though. E-Buzz is never harmed and travels with the family when they flee to a hotel.
Of course, Carol Anne's pet bird Tweety didn't fare so well.
'Hellboy' and 'Hellboy II: The Golden Army'
A massive, red-horned demon summoned to Earth by Nazi occultists in the middle of World War II sounds like the most heinous villain the world has ever known. It's actually just Hellboy, a cigar-smoking, gun-toting, nearly immortal supernatural creature who investigates paranormal problems around the globe. And he really likes cats. (Yeah, we're aware that some of you might not consider "Hellboy" horror, but his love of felines pushed him onto this list.)
Guillermo del Toro's "Hellboy" movies are modern masterpieces of practical makeup and special effects (there's plenty of CGI there, too, but a whole lot of actors in amazing foam-latex costumes steal the scenes). One of the small ways del Toro deviated from Mike Mignola's original Hellboy comics was to give Hellboy an odd quirk. The demon keeps a lot of cats in his BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, for Hellboy uninitiates) apartment and devotedly cares for them. Despite some explosive action occurring near them, none of the cats ever appear in jeopardy in either film.
As for any mice or rats who might have once lived in BPRD headquarters, who can say?
'Dawn of the Dead'
In the 2004 remake of George Romero's classic zombie apocalypse gore fest, a band of survivors holes up in a shopping mall besieged by the living dead. Chips the dog appears about halfway through the movie, when the survivors find him in an underground parking garage. He ends up driving a major part of the plot when everyone realizes the zombies ignore dogs and only attack humans. They send Chips on a mission to deliver food to their friend Andy in another building, but the zombies gain entrance through the dog door and attack Andy. One of the survivors, Nicole, has become very attached to Chips, so she uses a truck to attempt a rescue. This drives the rest of the team to rescue Nicole in turn.
Despite being in serious jeopardy (along with everyone else), Chips is never harmed by any zombies and accompanies the survivors on all their travels after they find him. He's with them at the film's end, on the boat. The credits sequences suggest he runs off on an island overrun by zombies, who will presumably ignore him.
'The Lost Boys'
If it's movie night and the first thing that pops into your head is, "I want to a watch a super '80s horror movie. A movie that's as '80s as an '80s movie can get," then "The Lost Boys" should definitely be on your list. It's about a gang of sexy vampires in a California town going up against the Coreys (Feldman and Haim). The only thing more '80s would be a Rubik's Cube wearing leg warmers while voting for Ronald Reagan.
You'd think the teen heartthrobs would be the heroes of the movie, but it's actually Nanook, a husky of some kind, who gets the big vampire kill shot against a wounded vampire who still poses a serious threat. Nanook uses a flying leap to knock the vamp into a bathtub full of holy water.
Nanook proves how useful a loyal canine companion can be when you're up against vampires. He frequently alerts his pals to the presence of vamps and can tell when a human has been transformed into a vampire.
As Edgar Frog (Feldman) notes in the movie to Sam Emerson (Haim), "Your dog knows flesh-eaters when he smells 'em!"
'Alien' and 'Aliens'
These two films essentially define the sci-fi/horror genre. A race of incredibly lethal aliens stows away onboard a spaceship, resulting in a brutal struggle for survival. Only warrant officer Ellen Ripley makes it out alive. Oh, and Jones the cat.
Jones is the spaceship Nostromo's "ship's cat," and spends the movie hiding in various dark, dank corridors and occasionally jumping out and scaring the crew. In fact, Jones is responsible for what is probably the best-known, "Oh, it's just the cat" jump scare in horror history.
While Jones has some close encounters with the alien in the first film, it never attacks him directly. Ripley tucks Jones into her cryosleep chamber at the film's end. This gives Jones the distinction of most likely being the longest-lived pet in film history -- he and Ripley are in suspended animation for 57 years before being picked up by a salvage crew. They're both sent to a space station orbiting Earth, where Jones presumably lived out his days (Ripley soon left on another mission, and the length of her cryosleep certainly exceeded Jones' natural life span).
If you're really interested in the story of Jones the cat, you can even read about the events aboard the Nostromo from his point of view!
This is a hidden gem of a horror film, a 2009 movie (also from director Joe Dante of "Gremlins") that captures the feel of the great '80s PG-13 horror movies. There's innocence and terror as the main characters (all kids) find a mysterious trapdoor covering a hole with no discernible bottom.
It takes the kids a while to figure out the hole is bad news, but their dog Charlie knows right away. This sets up some goofy, kid-style double entendres like, "Charlie doesn't like your hole very much." Unlocking the hole unleashes some kind of horrific entity, but Charlie is never harmed. Like many supporting actors, he doesn't appear on-screen in the second half of the movie, so we can assume he got bored with the trapdoor and went off to do more sensible dog things, like digging his own holes and napping.
This 1979 movie is based on a book that supposedly tells the true story of the Lutz family and the horrific paranormal experiences they endure after moving into a house where brutal murders had occurred. It's since been revealed that the Lutz story was a hoax, albeit a successful one considering the money made from book and film rights.
The details of the Amityville haunting are countless and lurid, but what we really care about is Harry the dog. Did the demon/Native American spirits involved do him any harm? He certainly seems disturbed by the hidden room the family uncovers in the basement, cowering and refusing to go near it. But when the haunting gets to be too much and the Lutz family flees at the end of the movie, Harry is with them, safe and sound.
"Mama" is a pretty unusual ghost story about a pair of feral girls who were raised by a ghost. When they're rescued, Mama the ghost comes a-haunting to find them. The household Mama moves into is populated by the girls' uncle, his girlfriend and a dachshund named Handsome.
Not only is Handsome not harmed by Mama, he actually seems eager to see her and runs toward her with his tail wagging when she appears. That might be a first for ghost-dog interactions. At some point in the movie, Handsome just sort of stops appearing any more, but this seems more likely to be sloppy plotting than any act of malevolence toward Handsome.
There's a hunting dog that also suffers no harm in "Mama," but Handsome is definitely the star power here.
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Author's Note: 10 Scary Movies Where the Pets Don't Die
As an avid horror fan and devoted dog lover, this was pretty much the best assignment ever. It's really funny how much more disturbing we find animal deaths in movies than human deaths. In a movie where something like 20 people are horribly murdered ("Friday the 13th VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan"), we fixate on Toby the dog. I really do think most dog deaths in movies are cheap, manipulative ploys.
- Davis, Lauren. "Read Alien, retold from the cat's perspective." Io9. June 28, 2012. (July 31, 2014) http://io9.com/5880158/read-alien-retold-from-the-cats-perspective
- IMDb. "Kane Hodder: Biography." (July 31, 2014) http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0387987/bio
- Radford, Benjamin. "The Amityville Horror." Snopes.com. April 15, 2005. (July 31, 2014) http://www.snopes.com/horrors/ghosts/amityville.asp