Contemporary horror has made it to a point to subvert expectations and render the once benign and inconsequential terrifying. Horror films have vitiated tanning beds, tract housing, cute kids, and summers in Sweden, a stark departure from earlier films whose spookiest spooks were vampires, werewolves, and ghosts in gothic houses. In addition to what’s mentioned above, horror films have also sought to desecrate one of God’s most sacred creatures— dogs.
Those magnificent, four-legged animals have had their celestial images sullied, the genre asking what might happen if man’s best friend became their worst enemy. Cujo contracted rabies and terrorized Dee Wallace in the middle of a sweltering summer, while Michelle Rodriguez and company had their lakeside revelry cut short at the hands (paws?) of hyper-aggressive military training dogs in The Breed (2006). Even when dogs aren’t attacking both A and B-list stars alike, they’re often reduced to simple harbingers or, quite simply, doomed, killed off at the tail end of Act 1 to signal the terror to come.
Those movies are terrifying, and like what’s happened with dolls and kids with buzz cuts, it might have seemed that the days of good ol’ dogs in horror were long gone. Fear not, however, because some good boys and girls have existed and do still exist, and while not all of them made it to the end, they tried their darnedest to protect the humans around them. So, in the spirit of all things dog, below are my picks for the Top 10 Good Dogs in Horror Movies!
10) Lester from Halloween (1978)
Lester was one of the original sacrificial canines in horror, a dog whose role, at least superficially, served little purpose beyond foreshadowing the killing Michael was primed to commit. Annie, fed up with his barking (and convinced beyond all reason that Sweet Lester had some longstanding grudge against her), lets him out back, whereupon he encounters Michael and is heartbreakingly strangled and discarded.
Indeed, while it seems that Lester had little to offer, both narratively and in terms of warning about was to come, I’d argue that he truly was a good boy, and that the onus wasn’t on him quite so much as it was Annie. Imagine how things might have gone if Annie had heeded his warnings? Annie would have seen Michael, the police would have apprehended him, and Laurie Strode might have avoided three different canonical outcomes— an auto accident, a ludicrous stab and fall, and life as a reclusive survivalist. Lester tried to warn us.
9) Stanley from It Comes at Night (2017)
Like Lester, Stanley wanted nothing more than to warn his companions that something was awry. Stanley, also like Lester, met his unfortunate demise when he returned home later, wounded and likely sick with whatever unknown pathogen has been plaguing the planet.
Stanley is a good boy, and a good horror movie dog, strictly on account of his relationship with Travis. Travis (a compelling adolescent protagonist) de facto grew up in this world, and by dint of his isolation, had no friends or relationships to speak of beyond his parents and Stanley. What the two demonstrate, however, is a lesson that both sets of adults in the film would have been wise to heed— genuine love and empathy for another living creature is sometimes all you need to survive in even the most hostile of circumstances. Rest in peace, Stanley— you and Travis deserved better.
8) Harry from The Amityville Horror (1979)
Harry marks the first (and luckily not the last) pup on this list to escape the horrors of their respective film alive (unless we’re discussing the 2005 remake, but the less said about that movie, the better). Harry, like both Lester and Stanley, tried his damnedest to warn the Lutz family about the horrors lurking in their house. He barked, skittered around outside, and generally spent every waking moment trying to communicate just how evil the house really was.
Harry was a good boy, and there’s little in horror quite as cathartic as seeing the dog saved. When George enters the basement in the climax to save Harry from the black sludge pouring from the floors, I all but cheered. Good job, Harry— maybe next time the stupid humans will listen.
7) Kennel Pups from The Thing (1982)
The kennel pups and the Norwegian sled dog are listed because, truly, they wanted to do nothing but help. Willing and eager to fly to Antarctica to assist an international team of researchers, these poor pups were unfortunately among the first killed by dint of the thing’s rampage (lest you consider Mary Elizabeth Winstead and co. as the first). They’re graphically absorbed and transformed, and all they wanted to do was help. I have no evidence to back up this statement, but something tells me a research outpost operated exclusively by dogs wouldn’t have had these problems.
6) Barney from Gremlins (1984)
Barney was so great with Gizmo, wasn’t he? He didn’t bark, he let Billy get to know him, and he was an all-around wonderful pal (anyone who has tried to introduce an older dog to a new pet knows just how well-behaved Barney really was). How terrible, then, that the other Mogawai tried to strangle him in Christmas lights and leave him for dead (spoiler: Barney survives). He even turns up at the end to help, and while he doesn’t do much, his presence is certainly welcome. Barney is so wonderful, we can all collectively forgive him for shattering Mrs. Deagle’s Bavarian snowman (which, honestly, needed to happen).
5) Sugar from Crawl (2019)
Listen, I respect both Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper as performers, and their considerable grit and endurance through the entirety of Crawl elevated it to a plane beyond a b-movie carnage fest. However, I would be lying (and I suspect many other viewers would be, too) if I said I cared more about their fates than I did Sugar’s, the family dog. For most of the runtime, Sugar is placed in exceptionally precarious situations, and Aja milks the audiences’ sympathies toward animals for all its worth. It’s unreasonably tense, and the film is all the better for it. The film earns additional kudos for 1). Not killing Sugar and 2). Not having Sugar make things that much worse. Too often, dogs in horror films jeopardize the lives of the protagonists, so it’s refreshing that, for the most part, Sugar helps more than hinders.
4) Beauty and Beast from The Hills Have Eyes (1977 and 2006)
Beauty and Beast represent something of a transition on this list. In addition to simply being among the best pups in the world, their roles are a bit more active than their listicle forbears. Beauty, the first to notice something is awry, runs into the desert to track down the (at the time) unseen threat. While she is ultimately killed for it, her death galvanizes Beast, who later in the films is instrumental in taking down not just one, but two of the desert mutants! Beast and Doug are a bonafide human-canine dream team and are among the best that both the original and remake have to offer. We love you, Beast, and we miss you, Beauty.
3) Chips from Dawn of the Dead (2004)
I mean, would you wander through a swarm of the undead outside a suburban shopping plaza to bring supplies to your misbegotten friend? No? Well, Chips would and, well, Chips did. In all fairness, Chips’s endeavor was for naught because Andy– the person to whom he was bringing supplies– was bit just moments after receiving them, but it’s the thought that counts, and Chips tried his very, very best.
In a zombie apocalypse, everyone is inclined to think of the supplies they’d stockpile, the location they’d reinforce, and the people they would try to start anew with. No one, though, thinks about the wonderful, fluffy, beautiful, good dogs they’d have accompany them. If I had to pick, I’d pick Chips.
2) Buzz from Poltergeist (1982)
Buzz is one of the O.G. good ol’ horror dogs, and he’s O.G. for good reason– Buzz rules. Buzz, like so many other pups on this list, is one of the first to become aware that something terrifying is afoot, and like Harry in Amityville, tries his damnedest to warn the Freeling family that, well, their house is haunted. More than that, while the adults are toking up and generally having a lark with the whole “we have ghosts” thing, Buzz is the only one to reason that, well, ghosts are very rarely ever good.
He barks at the television, scratches at the wall, and spends most of the runtime absolutely bamboozled that no one is taking this more seriously. Luckily, Buzz survives the events at Cuesta Verde, and though he is given considerably less to do in the final act, he did what he needed to do, and he did it spectacularly. I mean, just look at the scene before he’s unceremoniously shuttled off in a cab so Tangina and her crew can rescue Carol Anne– all he wants to do is help! He also earns bonus points for reminding me of my own dog, Riley (who, incidentally, also has absolutely no time for ghosts or poltergeists).
1) Sam from I Am Legend (2007)
This entry will surprise absolutely no one. Yes, Sam is the absolutely best horror movie dog, and her death ranks among the most surprising and upsetting horror deaths committed to screen. Regardless of where you stand on I Am Legend as a whole (I, for one, enjoy it quite a bit), the dynamic between Will Smith’s Robert Neville and Sam, his German Shepherd, is undoubtedly the highlight of the movie. The two are resourceful, strategic, and the bond between them is quite honestly the pinnacle of what it means to be man’s best friend.
Midway through the movie, Robert is ensnared in a trap set up by the darkseekers (that he honestly should have seen coming, but that’s a discussion for another day), and in the chaos that ensues, Sam is bitten. Later that evening in a lab, an interminable scene occurs where Robert, knowing what fate awaits Sam, slowly chokes her out while she rests on his lap, knowing that there’s nothing he can do to prevent her infection.
Beyond being a truly heartrending scene, Sam is the best horror movie dog insofar as her death is not merely a ploy for audience sympathy, but a driving narrative force. After he’s forced to kill her, Robert ventures out for revenge, and internally, concludes that if anything is to change, he needs to be more active in quest for both a cure and finding other survivors.
All of this is to say, the country mourned Sam, and few dogs in horror have had quite the same impact she did. Just ask any moviegoer, whether they’re a genre fan or not, what their thoughts are on I Am Legend. Chances are, Sam’s death is the first thing they mention. This one goes out to you, Sam.
Well, there you have it. These are my picks for the Top 10 Good Dogs in Horror Movies. Were there any I missed or overlooked (the chihuahua in Snakes on a Plane or Zoe’s dog in Zombeavers, maybe)? Stay strong, friends, and remember; dogs make everything, even the most horrific of things, better.