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.
6: A Very Special Offer.
Film: The Godfather (1972)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
The Pet: Khartoum, the $600,000 former racehorse.
The Owner: Jack Woltz, studio-head and well-traveled poon hound.
The Context: An offer refused.
Despite the fact that he’s kind of a twat, the Godfather can’t help but assist Johnny Fontane who desperately needs the lead role in the next Woltz studio film. Despite Tom Hagen personally representing the Godfather’s wishes to the studio head, Woltz is too stubborn and scorned by Fontane running off his favorite starlet to relent. Things turn ugly when names are called, veiled threats are made, and the scene abruptly cuts to an eerily quiet morning at the Woltz home…
Off To the Big Pet Store in the Sky: The beauty of this scene and what has made it one of the most memorable in all of cinema is that we do not see the violence… poor Khartoum is offed and beheaded off screen. What we see is Woltz slowly waking up to discover the horse’s severed head lying in his bed, blood soaking through his silk sheets. It’s a terrible image though, once he pulls back those sheets and discovers the beautiful creature’s head, with its pitiful open eye.
Aside from appreciation of the majesty of the animal, the audience is not made to feel invested in Khartoum, What’s made clear is that Woltz is invested him, both emotionally and financially. This has the effect of demonstrating just how pointedly nasty Don Corleone will get to achieve his goals, but also making the act appear as simply the will of the Don. It’s difficult to connect Brando’s charming old man to this act, as if it simply occurred by manner of sheer will – i.e. the Godfather is a force… But the slow fade from the wide of Woltz’s home as he screams to a cool, collected Don Corleone makes everything clear.
Explain This to the Humane Society: They won’t say nuthin’ to nobody.
- Renn Brown
5: Artax zigs when he should have zagged.
Film: The NeverEnding Story (1984)
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
The Pet: Artax, mystical horse and the object of many a zoophile’s affections.
The Owner: Atreyu, warrior boy sent into the dark nether regions of Fantasia to find a cure for the Empress’s extreme case of the blues.
The Context: The Neverending Story is that rare example of fantasy book (that’s really a movie) within a movie. Young Bastian finds Neverending Story, the novel, in a book store, steals it, and then locks himself away in his school’s attic to get his read on. So pretty much the perfect crime.
Bastian becomes entangled in the story of Fantasia and the quest of young Atreyu, a quest that sees Atreyu traversing treacherous landscape with his trusted horse Artax. In Artax’ short time on screen, he manages to capture the hearts and minds of Bastian and the presumably young movie-watching audience.
Poor Artax apparently never receives the message that this was to be a neverending story, promptly galloping his way onto our list and traumatizing Earth’s animal-loving youth in the process.
Off To the Big Pet Store in the Sky: If Artax was bummed out about something, he never let on. And it’s to his detriment when he and Atreyu reach the magical Swamps of Sadness. Feeding off Artax’ negative energy, the swamps consume him whole as he sinks into the muddy abyss. Naturally, this bums Atreyu out mightily. Unfortunately for him (and me when I was 5), he has to stand there and watch his pet drown really… fucking… slowly.
Say what you will about how unkind time has been to The Neverending Story, this scene still kills. And watching it, I feel as if I’m that traumatized young boy again – screaming for Atreyu to develop Hulk-strength and lift his horse out of the swamp. Watch the above video while playing Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” and try not to get the same helpless feeling you get as when those ASPCA commercials infect your television.
Better yet, don’t. You’ll feel like a horrible person. I did.
In the interest of full disclosure, Bastian ends up visiting Fantasia at film’s end to find Atreyu riding a resurrected Artax, so all’s well that ends well. Still, I suspect most people barely have any recollection of that. It’s that horrific horse-drowning that kept me up at night as a kid, corrupting my tortured soul from within. This was, definitively, Wolfgang Peterson’s most traumatizing work up until the moment he unleashed Poseidon on an unsuspecting populace.
Explain This to the Humane Society: Had Atreyu ever considered going around the Swamps of Sadness? The rookiest of rookie moves.
Your heart bleeds for the horse, but Artax is equally to blame. He let those negativity-feeding swamps get in his head. Perhaps he wouldn’t have drowned had he had a more positive outlook on his life. He had a lot to live for; there could have been oats at the end of those swamps.
- Tim Kelly