One of the biggest things that rub me the wrong way is animal endangerment in movies. I’m talking about the character, not the animal actor itself. It’s almost a given that if an animal shows up near the beginning of a horror movie, it’s gonna end up dead sometime soon, or severely hurt.
This actually didn’t use to bother me this much. I saw a dog in a horror film and thought “Well that dog’s a goner, but I see the point. It’s raising the stakes of whatever dangerous situation is going on, but it happens to an animal first to build tension about what will they do with the human characters, if they’re willing to kill the loveable family pet.”
And I’m still kinda like that. I understand the storytelling device at use in that situation. But some movies are a bit more tactful of it than others. And there are still others that kill the animal just to increase the body count, and it serves no symbolic purpose.
In a non-horror example, take HOUSE OF CARDS, the very first scene. A dog has been hit by a car (unseen) and the dog is laying, dying on the sidewalk (again, unseen). Kevin Spacey goes over to it, directs his words to the audience (as he will do so throughout the entire series), and makes a—what I choose to believe—is a mercy killing. All of this happens just below the frame, and although the dog can be heard, its death is not scene. This serves a purpose. This scene tells us that Frank Underwood is a ruthless man who makes the hard choices and unflinchingly sticks with them. He says the dog is better dead, so he kills it without emotion. That is who the character of Frank Underwood is, and we get all that through a few moments of screen time at the beginning of the series. A very well working introduction to his character.
A borderline example would be Sam Raimi’s DRAG ME TO HELL, but there are two versions of this film, Theatrical and Unrated. In the film, Christine is told that sometimes a blood sacrifice of a small animal will appease the demon that has been sent to drag her to hell. So after a particularly awful attack by the black goat, she decides to do it. In the Theatrical version, it’s a bit funny because she grabs a knife and wanders through her house, saying “Here kitty-kitty”, we are left to use our imagination to fill in what happens next. However, in the Unrated version she doesn’t look for the cat, she grabs a knife and it cuts to a scene of her holding the knife up the shot is below her, and does not show the cat, but it meows to let us know it’s there as Christine stabs it a few time, looking very upset over the whole thing. Again, in this case, it helps with the plot and raking up the tension. She’s so afraid of this curse that she’s willing to sacrifice her cat to make it go away. So just like Frank Underwood, this speaks volumes about her character, without flat out telling us.
Funny story, Patrick can’t accept the death of any animal in a movie, he finds it mean spirited and unnecessary to the story. This is very admirable and I love him for it. Because a lot of time it isn’t necessary to the storytelling, it doesn’t help raise the stakes. I remember when we were watching the POLTERGEIST trilogy with E Buzz the dog. Patrick immediately shut down because he was convinced they’d kill it somewhere. But they didn’t. They were smart enough to know it doesn’t serve the story well. As opposed to PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2’s dog. It gets seriously injured. This occurs because the daughter and father take the dog to an emergency vet, leaving the mother, their child, and the evil demonic presence to wreak havoc. So it was with purpose, but unnecessarily so because there were better choices they can make. That father is the skeptic, so had something finally happened to him, injured him to the point where he was no longer a skeptic, that would have been a rewarding move. But no, take out the adorable dog. Jerks.
Another example is the reboot/remake/sequel EVIL DEAD from a few years ago. That dog gets beaten or stabbed to death. But it all happens below the frame so you can’t see it. This death helps tell the story (she’s so messed up, she killed her loving dog), and is a foreshadowing of things to come. It serves the story, but holds back on the gory. I respect that.
And if that stuff bugs you. NEVER watch CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, unless it’s the animal cruelty free version. Yes, that’s right, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST has two versions, the full film, and the edited for animal content version. Choose no. 2, always no. 2!!! Granted, in my recent re-watch of it for the purposes of these reviews, I watched the full uncensored, film. Which is gross and now that I don’t have to review it again, it’s animal cruelty version for me!
Then there are just straight up trailers for movies you watch where atrocities occur to animals. The FACES OF DEATH series, Crushing (or is it squishing? Screw it they’re both irredeemable practices!), the MONDO series. Argh, it just makes me ill, physically ill. My stomach ties in knots just thinking of it.
Then there are the films you can tell just by the trailer that an animal is gonna die. OLD YELLER? I’m yelling and screaming and throwing my shoe at the screen. CUJO? Nope. Can’t do it, but it is made abundantly clear that this dog has to die so the family can win. And of course, MARLEY AND ME. SCREW THAT MOVIE!!! These are films I’m never watching again, where the goal is to kill a dog. I mean, it’s evil and everything so it does need some killing, but it’s still a dog. Not cool!