October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the best dogs in horror movies is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Plenty of iconic pooches populate the “evil horror movie dog” category: the face-splitting wolfdog from The Thing; the titular Doberman Pinscher in Zoltan: Hound of Dracula; Davie the Collie from Hell in Demons 2… the list goes on and on. Evil horror dogs take something we hold near and dear to our hearts and twist it into a killing machine. But, all things being equal, horror is also full of heroic hounds that deserve all the treats and ear scratches in the world.
The list below narrows down the top ten most marvelous mutts the genre has to offer. Some interesting trends: there is a notable deficiency of small breeds and rescues on this list and a heck of a lot of pure breeds and German Shepherds. This is likely more to do with the logistical fact that a 10-lb Chihuahua mix would perish immediately in a confrontation with, say, a werewolf. But hear me out: we need more day-saving littles in horror! Brawn isn’t everything, and plenty of the pooches on this list testify to that fact! Speaking of which…
Who let these incredibly good dogs out? Who, who, who, who, who? Why that would be Rob Hunter, Anna Swanson, Chris Coffel, Brad Gullickson, Jacob Trussell, Valerie Ettenhofer, and yours truly.
10. Nanook from The Lost Boys (1987)
An absolute staple of 80s horror, Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys also features one of the best boys in cinema: Nanook the Alaskan Malamute, played by the dog Cody. A loyal and protective companion for Sam (Corey Haim), Nanook also has a remarkable sense for sniffing out vampires, something that comes in handy when living in Santa Carla. Nanook is also instrumental in taking down the vampires, displaying skills that go far beyond what’s usually taught at puppy school. We can’t recommend that you ever attempt to take down a horde of vampires, but if you do, you could do a lot worse than having Nanook by your side. (Anna Swanson)
9. Precious from The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Darla was a damn star. The Bichon Frise made her debut in Tim Burton’s Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure before moving on to the Joe Dante flick, The ‘Burbs. Her last role would be as the Ratty Poodle in Batman Returns, but her most memorable moment occurred the year before as Buffalo Bill’s hungry little basement critter, Precious.
Senator Martin’s daughter is stuck in the well. But she fashions a trap for Precious using a chicken bone tied to twine. The good girl falls for it and hurts her leg in the tumble. She becomes a bargaining chip, with Catherine (Brooke Smith) threatening Precious as a means of engaging Buffalo Bill’s sympathy. He’s considering the possibility when FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) rings the doorbell.
Precious triggers a lot of feelings in The Silence of the Lambs. It’s hard to imagine Buffalo Bill as a human capable of loving a tiny, beautiful canine. We also want Catherine to escape. But we hate the sound of Precious’ “yipe” after the tumble. We’re proud of Catherine for finding a possible way out. But we’re begging her not to hurt the dog to do it. Thankfully, Plan B comes with Starling. And when Catherine finally gets loose, we’re relieved to see her and Precious walk out of the house together. Darla, for the win. (Brad Gullickson)
8. E-Buzz from Poltergeist (1982)
Oftentimes, I don’t like seeing dogs in horror movies because their introductions feel like the start of a ticking clock to the moment they inevitably die some grisly, undeserved death. But E. Buzz, the golden retriever who kicks off Poltergeist by cleaning up some abandoned leftovers while the Freeling family’s TV displays some ominous black-and-white fuzz, seems like a hero and a survivor from the start. E. Buzz is a classic family pet: the kind of dog who is always by the kids’ side and seems like he probably grew up with them.
When strange things start happening in the house, he’s the first to take note of them. And when the two remaining kids get sent away for their own safety after Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) disappears, he goes with them like a watchful guardian. He also has a great, era-specific name: E. Buzz is an early Saturday Night Live character played by Dan Aykroyd. (Valerie Ettenhofer)
7. Jangers from Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)
It’s a testament to Jangers’ screen presence that he’s this high up on this list. With far too little screen time, this adorable pooch slobbered his way right into our hearts. Much like his two pet parents, Jangers is a testament to why you should never judge a book by its cover. Bully breeds are often perceived as being aggressive and reactive. But much like the titular Tucker and Dale, bully breeds are actually big old softies.
While co-eds launch themselves into the jaws of death and the comical misunderstandings mount, Jangers abides. He watches over a sleeping Allison and waits out the carnage (presumably), napping his way through the bloodbath. That is until Chad the chad threatens to kill Jangers (!), even though this chilled-out pup couldn’t care less about this murderous mix-up. (Don’t worry, Jangers lives!). This marvelous mutt is portrayed by Weezer, whose only other credit is 2011’s Below Zero, where he plays Butterscotch. We respect your early retirement, king! (Meg Shields)
6. Barney from Gremlins (1984)
Barney, from the motion picture Gremlins, is a goddamn saint. Imagine it: you’re the family dog, and suddenly a coo-ing puffball with the potential to spawn mischievous demons takes your place. But Barney? Barney takes it in stride. The same cannot be said of Barney’s actor, Mushroom, who reportedly chomped down on the Gizmo animatronic, delaying production for a work day. For those wondering, Mushroom’s other credit is 1988’s Pumpkinhead, where he is largely spared from the titular gourd-headed demon monster because this pooch knows better than to meddle with swamp witch magic.
In the Gremlins director’s commentary, Joe Dante refers to Barney as “the all-purpose cutaway” because damn if this terrier mix isn’t a thespian. From curiosity to fear, Mushroom totally sells Barney’s unique predicament and ability to roll with the punches. Barney knows when to pick a fight (screw you, Mrs. Deagle) and when to hang back and provide support in times of need. There’s a reason the filmmakers decided not to kill off this loveable pooch. You know, apart from that being an incredibly dark turn of events for an ostensible kids’ film. (Meg Shields)
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