The prevailing wisdom has always been that you should never ever ever kill a pet in a movie. You can kill all the people you want. Husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, neighbors, parents, soldiers, nuns. But kill the adorable dog or kitty cat, and you risk losing the audience. Of course, this means that filmmakers know they have a deadly weapon at their disposal to push our buttons. In this CHUD list, we’re going to take a look at cinema’s saddest, funniest, most messed up and most memorable pet deaths. Remember, we didn’t make these movies. We just work here.
18: That Ain’t No Ashtray, Martin Sheen!
Film: The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
Director: Nicolas Gessner
The Pet: Gordon, the hamster.
The Owner: Rynn Jacobs (Jodie Foster), the thirteen-year-old daughter of a semi-famous poet and single father.
The Context: This quiet Canadian thriller is something of a warped cousin to Home Alone. Rynn and her father leased a quaint home in a small country town so her father could concentrate on his writing. Yet, the old man never seems to be around whenever anyone comes looking for him. Rynn spends her time cooking, listening to classical music, playing with Gordon her hamster, cashing traveler’s checks, and spinning savvy lies to the various adults who come calling on the house. One of these adults is Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen), son of Rynn’s landlord and the town’s resident pedophile. Frank quite clearly wants inside Rynn’s training bra, and when his mother, Mrs. Hallet (Alexis Smith), mysteriously disappears after visiting Rynn, his visits become more frequent and more aggressive.
Off To the Big Pet Store in the Sky: One night, when Rynn is bonding with her new boyfriend Mario, a wannabe teenage magician played by Bad Ronald‘s Scott Jacoby, Frank Hallet arrives with some burning questions. When Rynn’s answers don’t satisfy him, Frank’s burning questions get rather literal. In an effort to motivate Rynn’s honesty, Frank takes Gordon the hamster from his cage – where he was minding his own business, burning off some calories on his exercise wheel – and then Frank puts out his mean ol’ cigarette on Gordon’s widdle face. Twice.
We did not have a strong connection with Gordon, so his untimely passing is far more disturbing than it is sad. The size difference between Frank and his victim is so extreme that Frank easily could have crushed Gordon and silenced him quickly. The casual malice displayed in jamming fire into a hamster’s face, for no reason other than to show “you mean business,” makes the moment particularly fucked up. The off-handed tone of the scene is twisted further when Frank tosses Gordon’s corpse into the fireplace, then has the gall to complain that Gordon bit him and asks for some disinfectant.
Explain This to the Humane Society: Cigarettes. You can put all the warning labels on the box that you want, but you can’t control who your pets are friends with, am I right? We tried to get him to quit, but Gordon was up to a pack a day. I guess he must have fallen asleep while smoking and, uh, rolled over onto the flame. With his face. He was a sound sleeper. Then he started running around and, I assume, falsely believed he could put out the fire with more fire, so he ran into fireplace.
– Josh Miller
17: Nothing Comes Between Besties!
Film: Single White Female (1992)
Director: Barbet Schroeder
The Pet: Buddy, the puppy.
The Owner: Allie (Bridget Fonda), an up-and-coming software designer, and Hedy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), her batshit and clingy roommate.
The Context: After discovering that her fiance Sam (Steven Weber) cheated on her, Allie finds herself in need of a roommate. Enter Hedy. At first things are okay, but Hedy rapidly becomes needy and obsessive. She erasing phone messages and steal apology letters from Sam, fearing that Sam will take Allie away from her. She even buys a puppy and pretends she rescued him, hoping that Allie and Hedy will bond over the shared ownership. It works; Allie falls in love with the puppy. But when Allie forgives Sam and he moves back into the apartment, Hedy starts getting extra kooky.
Off To the Big Pet Store in the Sky: Three’s a company, four’s a crowd, as they say, and unfortunately for huggable Buddy, he is much easier to get rid of than Sam. One morning, Hedy finds Sam repairing this hole in the apartment balcony…
He becomes distracted by the breakfast Hedy cooks for him, and forgets to resume his work. Then, when Sam and Allie leave the apartment, Hedy eyeballs Buddy with serious intent. She has discovered a way to make Sam look bad, and rid herself of the needy puppy she never actually cared about in the first place. When Allie returns, she discovers this tragic scene below:
You feel pretty terrible, which, of course, is the whole idea. Hedy does a lot of uncool things in the movie, but this takes the cake. And it is only made worse by the fact that we never saw exactly what happened, thus leaving our imaginations to paint Hedy however villainous we can in our frustration and anger. When the shit finally hits the fan in the climax, and Allie and Hedy go toe-to-toe, it is for Buddy that we want vengeance above all else.
Explain This to the Humane Society: Buddy didn’t leave a note, but it seems pretty clear that this was a suicide, don’t you think? He had been depressed lately about his potty-training problems, and last night he kept placing his toys in my lap. At first I thought he wanted to play, but now looking back I realize he was giving away all his possessions. I should have seen the warning signs.
Bonus: Despite no credit being given, 2011’s The Roommate is a note-for-note PG-13 remake of Single White Female with Minka Kelly in the heroine role, Leighton Meester as the batshit roomie, Steven Weber’s part split into two different characters embodying his positive and negative traits, and an adorable kitten named Cuddles replacing Buddy the adorable puppy. Instead of heaving Cuddles to its doom, the poor little guy actually suffers a much worse fate in Meester’s hands when she warms him up in the worst way imaginable inside a laundromat dryer. I’m assuming she had been watching Apt Pupil for inspiration, but the dorm wouldn’t allow them to keep toaster ovens in their room. So she had to improvise.
– Josh Miller