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.
4: Lock up your pets, Clark Griswold is on Vacation again…
Film: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Director: Jeremiah Chechik
The Pet: Aunt Bethany’s cat.
The Owner: Take a wild guess.
The Context: Despite her late arrival to the hijinx of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, it’s clear right away that Aunt Bethany is not playing with a full deck.
No being on this Earth can attest to that poor fact better than the old bag’s cat, whom she boxes and gift wraps alongside some Jell-O mold. So when the nameless cat arrives at the Griswold house for a family Christmas, it probably thought it’d have one night of peace before being trapped once again in the confines Bethany’s dementia-riddled mind.
Off To the Big Pet Store in the Sky: A series of unfortunate circumstances does the poor critter in. First, Bethany’s cat takes a shining to the cord that plugs Clark’s beloved Christmas tree lights in. As anyone who’s seen Christmas Vacation can attest, you do not fuck with Clark Griswold’s illumination, exterior or interior. Still, cat’s love to play with long stringy things. The little guy nestles under a chair to do his cat thing. Until…
Curiosity might not have killed this cat, but had it survived a few seconds longer it probably would’ve had a shit ton of questions. For example: “Why am I exploding?”
We never really got to know this cat long enough to miss it, and its becoming one with an ottoman isn’t the type of event that demands any emotional reaction besides amazed bewilderment. This cat came into our lives gift-wrapped and left with every bit of aplomb and bravado we’d come to expect from it. We should be celebrating this pet, not eulogizing.
Explain This to the Humane Society: You’re better off blaming Aunt Bethany. Her mind’s so far gone that she never seems to notice that her beloved pet has been lost forever. Besides, she looks like the sort of broad who could do hard time.
- Tim Kelly
Bonus: This wasn’t Clark Griswold’s first foray into the world of pet mishaps. In the original Vacation, when Clark and his family stop off – on their beleaguered road trip to the theme park Wally World, “America’s Favorite Family Fun Park” – in Coolidge, Kansas to visit Ellen’s (Beverly D’Angelo) hick cousin Catherine (Miriam Flynn) and her even hickier husband Eddie (Randy Quaid), Catherine and Eddie palm off their cantankerous elderly Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) and her canine companion Dinky on Clark, talking him into dropping her off with another relative in Phoenix. The Griswold’s then stop at a campground in Colorado for the evening, where Dinky is tied to the bumper of the Griswold’s station wagon. Then the family hits the road again in the morning. While cruising down the highway, Clark is pulled over by an irate motorcycle cop (James Keach). Clark presumes he was pulled over for speeding, but the cop makes Clark get out of the vehicle to show him something…
Dinky’s tattered and currently empty leash — still tied to the back bumper. Now, it is possible that Dinky was able to break free before being dragged violently to its death. But that’s fairly unlikely.
- Josh Miller
3: Dog Believes in Second Chances.
Film: Big Jake (1971)
Director: George Sherman
The Pet: Dog
The Owner: Big Jake
The Context: Big Jake is one of John Wayne’s lesser works, but it’s still a damn enjoyable western. Starring as the titular role, Big Jake comes off as something of a grizzled degenerate. Cast off from his family’s ranch by his wife (poppa was a rolling stone), Jake goes about his life taming his perceived injustices of Wild West with his dog, cutely named Dog. In Jake’s absence, both his ex-wife and his kin turn the ranch into a cash bonanza. This draws the attention of local bandits, who kidnap Jake’s grandson Little Jake for a ransom of $1,000,000. But these bandits have pissed of the wrong man and, as they’re about to find out, the wrong Dog.
Dog wins the award for Most Badass Pet on this list. For starters he has a gigantic scar running from the top of his head to the base of his snout, which just screams kickass. Second, Big Jake has trained his steed well. All he has to do is shout “Dog!” and the little guy immediately identifies the bad guy and bites him in the nuts. By the third act, Big Jake is Dog’s sidekick and bad guys’ nuts are Dog’s preferred choice of kibble. Which probably explains why his coat is so incredibly shiny.
Off To the Big Pet Store in the Sky: Dog’s commitment to dying a hero’s death in Big Jake has not gone unnoticed. Around every turn, this ferocious beast puts himself in harm’s way at the behest of his master – running head on into gun fire, knife fights and all other manners of danger. He’s pretty much the Jason Statham of pets.
This becomes quite clear when it ends up being Dog, and not Big Jake, that saves Little Jake. In the below .gif, Dog leaps onto a horse, scoops the boy in his jaw, and drags him to safety all before being shot dead by Fain, the big bad.
Off To the Big Pet Store in the Sky, Again:
Not so fast, Dog was only playing dead! A bullet wound isn’t going to stop this ass-kicking Cerberus of the West. When Goodfellow, another asshole, has his sights set on hacking Little Jake to pieces, Dog once again springs to action – this time bringing his fangs to a machete fight. He even gets a few good licks in…
Dog earns his hero’s death when he meets the business end of Goodfellow’s machete. The death happens immediately below screen, but it’s absolutely not left to debate whether Dog survives. Goodfellow gets blow after blow in, as dog presumably ascends to Asskick Heaven where he’s awarded a mountain of liver treats and 1,000 female dogs in heat. But still, a machete? Preceded by a bullet to the gut?
You’ll be happy to know that Goodfellow gets what he deserves. When bullets don’t bring the brute down, Little Jake resorts to just throwing his gun at him. When that doesn’t work the young boy stabs him repeatedly with a pitchfork, tears in his eyes, shouting “This is for Dog, you motherfucker!”
Okay, the kid doesn’t say that. But he totally should have.
Explain This to the Humane Society: Dog couldn’t give a shit about the Humane Society. This pet was bound and determined to live the most inhumane life possible. And he’d have had it no other way.
- Tim Kelly