Dogs are a constant presence in scary movies, but they usually either meet tragic ends (RIP, Lester in Halloween) or are part of the horror (see: Cujo, The Omen, The Thing, Dracula’s Dog). By contrast, this list collects only good horror canines—who actually make it to the end credits.
Hulu’s recent Into the Dark entry, Good Boy, has great fun with the dog-in-horror theme—it’s about a woman (Judy Greer) whose emotional support pup starts mauling her frenemies—but that 10-pound terrier of terror doesn’t quite meet the qualifications we’re going for here, for obvious reasons. Without any further ado—let’s have a round of treats for the following Very Good Boys and Girls!
Joe Dante’s 1984 horror-comedy Gremlins is one of our favorite Christmas classics, but we always wondered why Billy’s dad (Hoyt Axton) decided a furry critter would be the best gift for his son (Zach Galligan). Gizmo was adorable, of course—but Billy already had a best buddy in the form of Barney, an affable mutt loved by everyone except maybe Billy’s bosses (since Barney sneaks along to Billy’s bank-teller job) and the movie’s vengeful Wicked Witch of the West stand-in, Mrs. Deagle. Of course, the real villains of the movie are those pesky gremlins; while Barney and Gizmo become fast friends, Stripe and his devious pals dare to string a confused Barney up in Christmas lights as part of their rampage. (Fortunately, Barney, whose reaction shots throughout the movie are priceless, isn’t harmed.) Fun fact: Mushroom, the dog who played Barney, later flexed his canine acting skills in 1988's Pumpkinhead.
“It rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again!” That’s the famous quote from serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), but what most people leave out is the bark that punctuates it, since Bill is cradling his Bichon Frisé, Precious, while he delivers it. For someone who has a total disregard for human life, Bill actually seems to be a pretty attentive dog owner (yep, that’s the furball’s little pet bed next to Bill’s sewing table). Later in the movie, Bill’s intended next victim, Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith), lures Precious into her prison pit using a chicken bone, hoping to bargain her way to freedom (“Don’t you hurt my dog!” “Don’t you make me hurt your dog!” “You don’t know what pain is!”) While his dog’s distress definitely makes Bill freak out, it ultimately takes the intervention of Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) to rescue Catherine—and we glimpse the traumatized woman clutching Precious for comfort as she’s helped to safety.
Tim Burton first told the story of Sparky—the vivacious bull terrier who tragically dies but is brought back to life by his owner, a pint-sized scientist named Victor Frankenstein—in a live-action short film he made back in 1984. Nearly 30 years later, he expanded his gently spooky tale into a feature-length film created using stop-motion animation, with the voices of Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder, Martin Landau, and Martin Short, among others. While the story is similar to the original Frankenweenie—and the original Frankenstein, for that matter—animating the action allows for some new, wonderfully fantastical elements, including several additional monstrous pets.
Why does a teen from scorching hot Arizona have an Alaskan Malamute? We never get an origin story for Nanook, but unlike brothers Sam (Corey Haim) and Michael (Jason Patric), he’s probably pretty excited about the family’s move from the desert to a California beach town. He also proves a valuable asset once their new town’s supernatural presence begins to make itself known. Nanook’s protective pounce saves Sam when nascent vampire Michael gets a fleeting notion to feast on his younger brother; he also chips in during the big last-act showdown, swooping in to save Sam’s buddies, the Frog brothers (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander), by dunking an invading vamp into a bathtub filled with holy water.
Wes Craven’s 1977 cult hit—a grim reminder of why city slickers should never venture off the main road, lest they encounter a tribe of feral people who’ve made a stretch of Nevada wasteland their hunting grounds—follows the road-tripping Carter family, who’ve brought their pair of German Shepherds along on their vacation. The dogs, Beauty and Beast, are definitely fierce (the Carters share a memory of Beast killing a poodle with delight, as if remembering someone scoring a home run), but Beauty doesn’t survive the first night when she’s lured from the campsite and gutted. Though a mournful Beast runs off for a chunk of screen time, he returns to help the dwindling number of Carters fight off their cannibal-mutant attackers. In fact, Beast is such a badass, he also manages to survive a suspiciously familiar set of circumstances in The Hills Have Eyes Part II.
Corey Haim makes his second appearance here with yet another exceptional canine, this time a Golden Retriever that’s even smarter than The Lost Boys’ resourceful Nanook. He might actually be the smartest creature in the entire movie, actually, since he’s not just a dog, he’s an escaped lab experiment who takes a shine to Haim’s character and unwittingly draws him into a dangerous adventure involving another, far more dangerous escaped lab animal. Along the way, we see that “Furface” (he never gets a proper name) can perfectly understand English, and is able to communicate using Scrabble tiles and by gripping a pencil in his chops and tapping a computer keyboard. He’s also brave, flying through windows to knock out bad guys, not to mention treat-motivated—he may have a sky-high IQ, but he’s still a dog.
Friendly black-and-white stray Chips appears an hour into Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of the George A. Romero classic, and he quickly helps establish an important rule in the film’s world: zombies don’t eat dogs, or even notice they exist for that matter. He’s the perfect scruffy courier, then, for carrying fresh supplies to the hungry survivor trapped in the building next door to the mall where most of the action takes place—though it’s definitely tense, especially for Chips’ caregiver, Nicole (Lindy Booth), as she watches him being lowered into a mob of the undead; later, she risks her life to retrieve him. As it happens, Chips and his little backpack survive all the way to the end... unlike most of the movie’s human characters.
The first sequel in the found-footage series is actually a prequel, giving us a little more insight into the events of the original film by introducing us to Kristi (Sprague Grayden), the sister of Paranormal Activity’s Katie (Katie Featherson), and her family as they experience some domestic spookiness of their own. German Shepherd Abby takes her watchdog duties very seriously, particularly when it comes to baby Hunter, and one of the film’s big set pieces involves Abby’s tussle with something offscreen that lures her from her usual post. The injured dog is rushed to the vet and presumably survives (we later hear Kristi’s husband mention he’s going to pick her up)—though she doesn’t appear again, even after the movie’s three-week time jump. Still, there’s enough ambiguity to assume-slash-hope that her bravery ended up saving her life rather than taking it. At the very least, she’s not present in the final scene when the supernatural shit really hits the fan.
The Lutz family’s black Lab, Harry, moves with them to the house with the eye-shaped windows on Ocean Avenue, and for most of the movie, he lurks on the periphery, playing with the kids, barking from his perch on the porch, etc. But it’s Harry who first sniffs out the spooky “red room” in the basement, and he’s the one who keeps watch when the evil spirits start to bubble up on the family’s fateful last night in the house. The Lutzes all escape, but George (James Brolin) jumps out of their van and scampers back into the house—despite the fact that it’s fully in the “holy shit, the walls are bleeding” phase of ghost overload—to retrieve his loyal pup. Harry returns the favor by pulling a flailing George out of the murky sludge that floods the red room, then George carries Harry to safety. Yay!
That other big movie about a family who unwittingly moves into a very, very haunted house also features a pup who mostly hangs on the sidelines, but still supplies some much-needed good vibes: Golden Retriever E. Buzz. In the 1982 film, directed by Tobe Hooper under the heavy influence of producer and co-writer Steven Spielberg, the floofy pooch helps us get the lay of the Freeling home at the start of the movie as he roams from room to room late one night, searching for snacks. E. Buzz is also in tune with the home’s spirits—in multiple scenes, we see him reacting (adorably) when a paranormal presence begins to manifest—and though he’s sent away for his own safety when things get really hairy at the house, he’s there at the end when the family flees their suburban neighborhood for the safety of the Holiday Inn.
Honorable mentions: While we can’t really call the dog in Beetlejuice a hero, if the fuzzy interloper hadn’t sauntered onto that covered bridge at the beginning of the movie, future ghosts Adam and Barbara (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) wouldn’t have crashed their car, and there’d be no movie. In The Invisible Man remake, a Doberman named Zeus is the only friendly face in the home Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) shares with her controlling boyfriend. When she makes her late-night escape, she apologizes to the pup that she can’t bring him with her, and removes his cruel shock collar; later, after Cecilia returns to handle some unfinished business, Zeus gets to go with her when she leaves for good.
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