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.
8: Maxed Out.
Film: Man’s Best Friend (1993)
Director: John Lafia
The Pet: EMAX 3000 (aka, Max), a homicidal, savage, yet lovably antiheroic genetically-modified Tibetan mastiff.
The Owner: Initially, nefarious renegade zoologist Dr. Jarret (Lance Henriksen) and his unethical house of horrors, until he’s rescued by unwavering TV newswoman Lori Tanner (Ally Sheedy).
The Context: Over at EMAX Research, evil Dr. Jarret—who isn’t actually a doctor because his license was revoked for his trusted brand of vivisection and genetic rape—runs a sideshow of lovable animals of all kinds—rabbits, cats, monkeys, orangutans, even a fucking panther is imprisoned by this place—so that he can achieve the closest possible thing to Manimal without actually endangering a human being. The closest thing he has to actually being Simon MacCorkindale is EMAX 3000, or “Max,” who can camouflage himself like a chameleon, hunt his prey with the agility and speed of a cheetah, and has superlative intelligence only matched by primates.
Geraldo-esque reporter Lori Tanner is EXTREMELY DETERMINED to get to the bottom of these atrocities, so she breaks in and gets what she can before Dr. Jarret chases them out. Max eventually catches up to Lori and retrieves her purse from mainstay henchman actor Thomas Rosales Jr. and welcomes himself into her life with a bizarre mixture of family-comedy hijinks and morally ambiguous acts of deviancy. However, there’s some grave issues surrounding her new pet aside from the normal pitfalls of having a big, goofy dog: a pair of detectives are trying to stop him, as are an endless line of would-be abusers (including Jarret) and the fact that he plays horribly with other animals (see below) and even rapes the neighbors’ Rough Collie!
Off To the Big Pet Store in the Sky: After a blisteringly high body count that claims, among others, Lori’s asshole boyfriend, a hit man disguised as a mailman, both of the cops on his tail, and William Sanderson as a psycho junkyard owner, Lori realizes that Max is naturally bonded with her, and it leads to a tense (used quite loosely) standoff with Jarret. Trying to defend him sensibly from Jarret is too rational for the aggressive Max, so he makes a run for a shotgun-toting Jarret and catapults him through a window and onto a cage, taking a Pyrrhic shotgun blast in the process.
I’m not sure how the filmmakers intended the audience’s reaction the death to be—cathartic, sad, triumphant—but given the tongue-in-cheek nature of the subject matter, it’s hilarious. Obviously, it’s an emotional moment to see Max get punted by a load of buckshot as he hovers near Lori, away from Jarret’s forced euthanasia plans, but the fact that Max is able to sacrifice himself for the sake of Henriksen receiving a death straight out of one of the Addams Family movies, when he gets inadvertently electrocuted seconds after shooting Max by Lori’s new Jack Russell terrier puppy, uproariously negates the ordeal.
Explain This to the Humane Society: Explain this to the Humane Society? How about explaining everything in that laboratory to them? No matter what anyone who was involved with this tries to say, the legal repercussions of this are enough to vivisect anyone with the balls to do this.
Bonus: It’s not to say that Max was a victim of circumstance, that he is acquitted of being friendly to other animals. Not only is there dog-on-dog rape, but Lori’s pet bird becomes a snack for Max, and most notably, he disposes of a hated old lady’s cat by chasing it up a tree and swallowing the kitty whole. Folks, you have not lived until you see a prosthetic dog unhinge its jaw and inhale a cat like the air it breathes.
- Mike Flynn
Double Bonus: And speaking of good dogs going bad and making snacks out of defenseless little kitties. I couldn’t help but want to mention one of the (if not THE) only redeeming scenes of one Pet Sematary 2. Just a quick initiation – when Drew’s dog Zowie gets a little too friendly with his stepdad’s bunnies, stepdad kills Zowie and then Drew and Edward Furlong bury it in the titular ground. I mean obviously, right? So, at any rate, once Zowie comes back, he ain’t right and the boys take him to Furlong’s Dad’s vet hospital, where the dog is locked up in the back for observation. Also in the back? A brand new litter of adorably teency kitties.
At this point the obvious has become, well, obvious, but the setup and payoff really work. While Anthony Edwards is on the phone with a state forensics lab arguing over whether or not Zowie is indeed alive, a mom and her young daughter come in to take a look at the kitties and hopefully bring home a tiny furry addition to their family. BUT TOO LATE! Zowie already ripped his way out of his cage and through the littles, leaving a furry, mottled, gnarly mess in his wake. Enter the little girl, her eyes a scant few seconds ago filled with images of a new best friend, now filled with this…
Somebody get that kid a drink – she’s gonna have a bad day.
- Jeremy Butler
7: The Dogs Made a Mess Again.
Film: The Thing (1982)
Director: John Carpenter
The Pet: American Outpost 31’s sled dogs.
The Owner: Clark (Richard Masur), the dog trainer. Clark was one of the quieter members of the American Antarctic complement at the post. Not too hard to imagine that he was an outdoorsman, perhaps from Canada or Alaska, who was not only compfortable with the sled dogs, but maybe even more at home with them than people. Clark’s burly demeanor and lumberjack beard belied his gentle nature toward his dogs. Despite the malevolent organism that once masqueraded as a dog turning the real dogs into its next meal, Clark didn’t freak out or lose his composure…that is, until MacReady started pumping the poor animals full of buckshot in an attempt to save them from a much more gruesome death. Maybe Clark harbored some hard feelings toward MacReady; because later on, when MacReady’s humanity was in question, Clark didn’t hesitate to try to kill him. We’ll never know if Clark cared whether MacReady was human or not, because MacReady was forced to do the same thing to Clark’s cranium that he did with one of Clark’s dogs.
The Context: What you had here was an alien organism that imitated other animals, and imitated them perfectly, using its victims not only as nourishment but the template by which to blend in to its surroundings. First up (or rather second up…it got to either Norris or Palmer first) were the sled dogs, who were kept in the kennel. As evidence to how perfectly the Thing could imitate any other organism, the dogs couldn’t even sense that the new pooch wasn’t kosher…that is until it turned into a bloody freak show and began attacking them.
Off To the Big Pet Store in the Sky: Man, was that some kind of horrifying sight: dogs wailing in terror, with one trying to bite its way through a chain link fence to get away. The was no canine bravado here, those dogs were utterly terrified. If there was insult to injury, the dogs that survived ended up getting euthanized with extreme prejudice (and an axe) by Blair after he figured out the possible consequences of the Thing’s threat to not only them, but the entire world.
The first of several disturbing scenes and one of the most horrific images in the entire movie is the one partially digested dog being ensnared by the Thing’s tentacles. It’s probably the one that Blair ended up puling out of the Thing carcass when explaining what it did to them. Watching humans getting munched on by an alien whose natural form is akin to a huge plate of offal is one thing, but there’s little to be found that’s cool about helpless dogs being preyed upon in such a terrible fashion.
Explain This to the Humane Society: I’d be more concerned if the Humane Society rep is who – and what – he says he is… Still, better to show him the Thing in action. Once he gets a good look, he’d be looking for the nearest blowtorch his own damn self.
- David Oliver