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Please Stop Killing the Dog

Jason McDonald 45 Comments

In all forms of entertainment there exist three types of creatures which are utilized to extract sympathy from a viewer: the elderly, small kids, and dogs.  If your movie needs a cheap emotional pull to get people invested in it, you simply inject one of those three in to it and you’re bound to tug at a few heartstrings.

However, veteran viewers like me are well aware of this cheap ploy and it has grown extremely tiresome.  The worst offender of this cliché is the horror genre and the creature that is most often regulated to being the sacrificial lamb to the Gods of cheap emotions is the dog.  Why has man’s most loyal companion been reduced to such a predictable device?

It’s true that horror movies prey on our most base fears.  The most effective scares are those that attack the things we believe to be safe and secure.  Our home is an impenetrable castle, our families are immune to danger, and our pets will never come to harm.  These are the things we want to believe, but the best horror reminds us that we’re simply lying to ourselves.

Dogs, in particular, represent a multitude of characteristics.  For many people they are security blankets, family members, or our lifeline to the world.  They are one of the very few animals that people project human emotion and understanding on to.  So it’s easy to see why killing one is such a tempting low hanging fruit when you’re looking to kick your audience in the gut.

And because of that, it has become a predictable and tired plot point.  You show me a dog in a horror film and my brain automatically registers it as a dead animal.  It’s not a shock nor is it an unpleasant surprise when the dog magically turns up dead twenty minutes later. At that point I’m wondering why it took so long to pull the trigger.

Please Stop Killing the Dog

If you were to reduce the process of killing a dog in a film to a simple conversation, here’s how it would go:

“Okay Audience, here’s a dog.  You like those, right?”

“Yeah, I suppose . . . why?”

“No reason. Now the dog is dead. Are you sad now?”

“Holy shit! What is wrong with you?!”

“Great, that’s a wrap.”

I guarantee that no greater thought process is given when the decision to kill a dog is made.  And that is where the problem lies.  If a movie is going to go through the trouble of killing a dog I’d rather it serve some greater purpose.  Either give me a reason to care about the dog before you kill it or I’ll assume you had to depend on an emotional crutch to punch up your script.

I’m not advocating that from this moment on no dog should die on screen.  I’m simply saying that if you’re going to have a dog in your movie, give it life and a purpose.  And if you’re going to kill it, make it meaningful.  One movie that does an excellent job of doing this is the remake of “I Am Legend”.  In that movie the dog was practically a co-star in the film and went a long way to humanizing Will Smith’s character.  When that dog died it was impactful because she was treated like a character and not like a disposable object.  She had a history, an established relationship, and a purpose.

At the heart of this argument is a plea to stop using cheap emotional ploys to strengthen a film.  Whether you’re threatening the safety of a dog or a child, people are well aware of the fact that they’re being manipulated. And when that awareness breaks through to the forefront of a viewer’s mind, you’re pushing them out of the experience rather than inviting them in.

Please Stop Killing the Dog

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45 Comments

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      1. Andrew Dickerson January 21, 2014 at 8:22 pm

        Much why?
        Don’t kill doge
        Not wow

      2. Matthew Adam Alton January 21, 2014 at 8:24 pm

        Dunno why you used the remake of The Hills Have Eyes – the dog doesn’t die in that.

        • Paul Overton
          Paul Overton January 22, 2014 at 12:38 am

          The female dog dies in the remake.

        • Matthew Adam Alton
          Matthew Adam Alton January 22, 2014 at 12:40 am

          Yes but Beast, the one in the picture, does not die.

      3. Barack ObamaSucks January 21, 2014 at 8:25 pm

        Oh no! Someone call PETA, poor “actor” dogs die (but not really) in a horror movie where several other actor people get beheaded, gutted, skinned or tortured (but not really)

        • Carmen January 22, 2014 at 6:31 am

          Lol that’s not what the writer is saying…he says it’s a cheap emotional tie the movie makers are trying to create with the audience. He also mentions the elderly and children.

      4. Miranda Johnson Mahoney January 21, 2014 at 8:30 pm

        That dog was kick ass in hills have eyes

      5. Chantal Marie January 21, 2014 at 8:31 pm

        I hate when they kill any animal in a horror movie but they usually start with the dog and quite frankly, it’s gotten old a loooong time ago.

      6. Chad Shields January 21, 2014 at 8:34 pm

        I think it works on the horror movie viewing audience who have become so jaded over watching the dismembering and killings of humans in so many over the top ways, that nothing can really stun us anymore. But the killing of an animal, especially the beloved dog, who represents loyalty, commitment and dedication, still, and will always, spark some sort of an emotion from the viewing audience.

      7. Jim VonDoom January 21, 2014 at 8:34 pm

        Meh

      8. Christina Cornell January 21, 2014 at 8:35 pm

        I always cringe when there are dogs in horror movies.

      9. Barbara Courville January 21, 2014 at 8:35 pm

        As opposedto what? Something has to die.

      10. Eric Birch January 21, 2014 at 8:49 pm

        Snowtown or Snowtown Murders.

      11. Angela Jenson January 21, 2014 at 8:51 pm

        Thank you!

      12. Lance Race Doss January 21, 2014 at 9:01 pm

        I say kill anything and everything it’s a movie and it’s horror

      13. Alexandra Busato January 21, 2014 at 9:07 pm

        yeah i want to see more dead people.leave animals alone

      14. Oliviu-dorian Constantinescu January 21, 2014 at 9:12 pm

        Yeah, I want to see dead kids and dead grannies, NAO!

      15. Michal Misztal January 21, 2014 at 9:14 pm

        There were two German Shephards in Hills Have Eyes, one was killed but the other offed more muties than anyone else. Kick ass dog.

      16. Cameo Camyl Massey January 21, 2014 at 9:17 pm

        I can’t watch a movie if an animal gets injured or killed in it!!!

        • Ant-feminist January 25, 2014 at 10:14 pm

          Ur a puss puss then

      17. Burent Thomas January 21, 2014 at 9:17 pm

        i say its fine if its relevant to the story line, but not for the sake of it

      18. Cimone Griffiths January 21, 2014 at 9:40 pm

        As soon as an animal features in a horror movie, I instinctively say “The dog is gonna get it”. I HATE THAT!

      19. Greg Michalski January 21, 2014 at 9:44 pm

        Really miss old horror movies , I don t think you have to do all this gory stuff to make them. ,,,, try watching walking dead on cable , it’s about how creative they can be killing zombies …

      20. Ron Gilmette January 21, 2014 at 10:06 pm

        Watch the werewolf movie “Thor”. The dog kicks the werewolf’s ass.

        • Kira January 22, 2014 at 2:10 pm

          It’s called bad moon

      21. Richard Humphries January 21, 2014 at 10:08 pm

        i made a vow no matter what i write no dogs (spare werewolves etc) would die.

      22. Alina Rochelle Glover January 21, 2014 at 10:16 pm

        I’m tired of them always killing off the black guy or the funny guy. Why he gotta be black? Lol

        • Ant-feminist January 25, 2014 at 10:15 pm

          I’m tired of the female always being the survivor. Why the H does it always have to be a woman survivor in horror movies

      23. Thaddeus Luick January 21, 2014 at 10:21 pm

        Couldn’t care less.

      24. Nicole Ward January 21, 2014 at 11:03 pm

        I have to always turn away,and cover my ears at scenes with animals being killed.Especially dogs :'(

      25. Tiago January 21, 2014 at 11:13 pm

        So it is ok to kill people, but not dogs? I really don’t get the point. In The Hill Have Eyes people are killed, tortured, raped brutally, you worry about the dog?
        I really don’t mean to offend here, but there are some moral issues involved in that statement.
        Would you save your dog or Charles Manson from a drowning, if you could only chose one?
        If you answer the dog, you have serious moral issues.

      26. Rachel Trottier January 21, 2014 at 11:47 pm

        And cats!! Enough of hurting ANY animal.

      27. Dak Thomas Patton January 22, 2014 at 12:12 am

        Why do you think Horror movies have started to kill babies? Animal deaths got old and we got use to it. What’s next I wonder.

      28. Jenny Ward January 22, 2014 at 12:59 am

        Agreed! It should be the carnal law in horror movies not to kill children & animals- they’re innocent & don’t know any better…its the adult humans that should die cuz they’re fulla evil & sin therefore they deserve to be the only targets in movies!

      29. Frank Harold Talbot January 22, 2014 at 2:47 am

        Yup

      30. Marc Thibodeau January 22, 2014 at 2:52 am

        i think it`s high time we trade in the usual kid, dog & Elderly emotional trio for the new hipster, Stoner & Clown which is more trending?

      31. Marc Thibodeau January 22, 2014 at 2:53 am

        bunnies, bunnies flying everywhere, exagerated puffs of fur blowing up POOF!

      32. Tiago January 22, 2014 at 6:09 am

        I am astonished by most of the comments here, so I’m guessing you people:
        1) don’t eat meat, of course
        2) don’t use cosmetics or medicines, like antibiotics (yeah those are tested on live dogs, mostly the cute Beagles are the ones that helps save human lives, probably yours was once saved by it)
        3) don’t buy anything made in china, cause those people, they eat dogs like we eat chicken

        hypocrites. But you’re still better than a dog.

      33. Richard W Blackburn January 22, 2014 at 7:03 am

        I hate it when kill any animal in any move and a bad ass classic car. New horror rules. No kids, no animals and no classic cars.

      34. Quel Bauzon Caacbay January 22, 2014 at 7:36 am

        the hills have eyes movie…ung dog jan is there family member,hnahanap nila ung baby n kinuha ng mga monster!

      35. Krystal Ruskowski January 22, 2014 at 8:25 am

        I agree

      36. Lena Christensen January 22, 2014 at 5:54 pm

        Pedophiles & gang bangers would be a nice change

        • Ant-feminist January 25, 2014 at 10:15 pm

          And manhating feminists

      37. Carphen Stevens January 31, 2014 at 2:47 am

        Don’t kill the dog because it is a predictable plot point? How about no more movies with the protagonist(s) finding ? And no more movies where the protagonist survives (so overdone, right). And no more movies with a happy ending. And no more movies where the protagonist is saved at the last minute by a supporting character making a sacrifice. And no more Man vs. Man or Man vs. Nature or Man vs. Himself or Man vs. Machine films and no more origin stories. Yes, we will finally have unpredictable films.

        Cheap manipulation? CHEAP MANIPULATION? Movies are all about cheap manipulation of emotions. Why? Every single movie is made to make you feel emotions, you moron; that’s the point of any movie. Horror films make you feel fear, Comedies make you feel joy, Romantic films make you feel a combination of “eros” and happiness, Uwe Boll films make you feel angry for spending money on absolute shit, etc.

        Jason, I have a title for you: Please Stop Writing The Articles.

      38. DK August 28, 2014 at 9:05 pm

        …and while you’re at it, please stop jumping the shark.