Even if W.C. Fields famously stated “Never work with animals or children,” modern filmmakers think quite differently. They love using man’s best friend because dogs can be more effective than a female victim when it comes to generating sympathy, and are only slightly more difficult to wrangle than a child star. While hazing the villain long enough to give the hero time to save the day, or telling a white-hat that Timmy is trapped in a mine shaft used to be the primary role of dogs in film, today’s screenplays are more flexible. Dogs can go almost anywhere – even, as shown on Star Trek: Enterprise, into outer space (just don’t give them cheese).
As a well seasoned science fiction and horror geek, I won’t bore you with the usual mention of Cujo, Demon Dog, Hell Hound or Hound of the Baskervilles, but instead I’m going to give you a quick peek into lesser-known roles and under-appreciated characters. So let’s take a look at some films and the canine opportunities they offered, even if the offering was rather small.
Based on a tale by H. P. Lovecraft, this adaption is a FX-rich film that contains a short but important role, filled adequately by a fluffy white poodle. The dog appears at the beginning of the film to entice her owner into trespassing into a neighbor’s home, which contains the mad scientist’s lab, of course, where she makes a horrifying discovery. Police arrive later, enter the mad scientist’s lab, and discover the doglet happily lapping up blood oozing from a decapitated scientist.
The lesson is clear. Never trust a poodle. They’ll lick from your bloody stump.
Oh, this film has a special place in my monster loving heart, but some dog lovers may have a visceral reaction to one scene. It is during this scene that many viewers will discover an instant dislike, even hatred, for several of the main characters. I noticed this when I saw the film on YouTube and read the comments.
Gosling, a sort of fox terrier owned by one of the female characters, is thrown to circling zombeavers by one of the male characters. This was too much for some YouTube users. The bulk of the comments I read were about the guy who “killed the dog.” Such loathing, and so many creative punishments!
Faintly Lovecraftian in nature, this film features a rescue mut, Timmy, who comes into the hands of his new owner after having been found at the bottom of a ravine, injured, next to his former owner who suffered a fatal fall.
Timmy gets hurt again defending his master (more or less). I won’t say much about the nature of the injury, since it would result in a spoiler, but the result of the wounding takes on a live of its own, so to speak. I will say that the YouTube comments that I have seen, concerning Timmy’s fate, contain the words “bestiality,” “degenerate,” and “sick,” – but I don’t think those viewers paid close enough attention. (For example, there is no bestiality or the like in the film.)
While critics may savage this film, I found it entertaining enough. It is a true creature feature, and parts of it are hilarious.
I wasn’t going to do obvious films, but discussing the rage of YouTubers reminded me of a similar situation I ran into years ago in theaters, so I can’t ignore The Thing. In its first remake, John Carpenter’s 1982 version of the original film by Howard Hawks’ (1951), and in the 2011 addition to the franchise, dogs are shot to death. If you’ve ever watched this film with a dog lover, you’ll know how they react. I saw this movie with a date back in the day, and as soon as the first shots were fired she was screaming “They’re killing dogs!” It made no difference to her that the dogs were infected with an invading organism that wanted to destroy mankind.
It’s worth noting the original 1951 film was very different in some respects, and did not require doggy death (although one scene includes implied injury and possible death, but it’s not integral to the plot).
The Lost Boys (1987) is chock full of awesomeness, a quintessential ’80s film that rose to well-deserved cult status. Who can forget the Frog brothers, Edgar and Alan (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander), a vampire slaying team and experts in vampire lore thanks to their love of comic books? So many great scenes, including the underground hotel vampire lair, falling into the mist off the bridge, and lots of fantastic vampire deaths. And do you remember Nanook? She isn’t in the film for long, but she sure gets the job done, and without her Edgar and Allen would be just another pair of annoying vampire teens for eternity.
Flush with the instinct to protect her friends (and to kill vampires), Nanook uses her built-in canine abilities to put an end to the undead menace, with a little help from what – at first – seems like a hare-brain Frog brother’s scheme. The results are explosive!
John Dies at the End
This surreal story centers around a strange drug or drug-like substance that has different effects on different people. David Wong (who is not Asian), receives aid from a golden retriever name Bark Lee, and at the end of the film Bark Lee saves the day by knowingly transporting a device directly to the villain, Korok, which is guaranteed to “sure fuck his shit up, severely.”
So what happens to Bark Lee? Watch the film.
A Boy and His Dog
This 1975 film is based on a Harlan Ellison story and stars a young Don Johnson in a tale set after World War IV, when little is left of humanity and civilization is a steaming heap of doody. Don plays a young man, Vic, who has teamed up with a telepathic ex-police dog, Blood. Telepathic conversations between them propel the plot as much as Vic’s desire to get laid.
Blood’s a great ally, and sniffs the ladies out all over the wasteland of the apocalypse. Just when Vic thinks he’s finally scored he finds that true love is a rocky road. Naturally, Vic learns he needs Blood more than ever. It’s a wasteland, remember?
The Bone Yard
This sweet little gem came to us in 1991 and features some of the best zombie children scenes of the era and then some. While Deborah Rose, Phyllis Diller and Ed Nelson may be the big names of the film, my heart goes out to little Floofsoms, a classic annoying yippy-yappy poodle.
Miss Poopinplatz (Phyllis Diller) and Floofsoms make a great pair, echoing the abrasive qualities of each other like a handful of burrs might complement a Brillo pad and a bag of used sandpaper. And if being an annoying poodle isn’t enough, Floofsoms is more than happy to attack anyone who sufficiently annoys her master (which doesn’t take much). This quality is wonderfully amplified near the end of the film, after Floofsoms consumes some zombie flesh and becomes one of the stars of the film in her own right. In fact a lot of promotional material for the film features this dog, which may not have been such a great idea.
Another poodle. I see I have come full circle. Just when I thought there was nothing that could redeem poodles (as far as I’m concerned), along comes Elvira: Mistress of The Dark, a fantastic 1988 supernatural comedy. While fighting off the attentions of a scumbag producer, Elvira learns she has a deceased relative and an inheritance coming her way. To her chagrin, the canine in question is part of said inheritance. Her initial reaction to the manicured mutt is less than enthusiastic, so she switches things up Elvira-style and and gives the little yapper a punk look and a new name. Gonk shows he’s more than just a worthless mut later in the film when he finds a unique way to defend Elvira’s newly inherited home. Well, he is the familiar of a powerful witch after all, so what happens makes perfect sense.
What do you think?
Have you seen a pooch in a horror movie or science fiction film that did something important and is then just ignored? A true underdog? Tell me about it!