You know how it goes - people can die in horror movies and that's A-OK, but when it happens to an animal, suddenly it feels like things suddenly got way out of control. Here's my own personal gallery of terrors where a much younger version of me was traumatized by the representation of horrible death occurring to an animal.
8. COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970) - Erica eats her cat.
This movie has its share of campy vampire action, but there are a few genuine shocks within its reels, one of which is the moment when Count Yorga's victim Erica is discovered holding her dead, bloody cat in one hand while she (presumably) sucks its blood. It's a revolting and disturbing moment I never forgot!
7. HORROR HIGH (1973) - The janitor's cat gets it!
When "Horror High" started appearing on TV, it was retitled "Twisted Brain". Some of the film's most gruesome violence had been trimmed from the original R rated theatrical cut to make a PG version for theaters, namely the removal of an on-screen decapitation with a paper cutter. But for me, the most horrible thing in the entire movie is the death of a gorgeous black cat. It belongs to a mean janitor that works at the school in the movie, and why an employee would be allowed to bring his pet cat to school when he's working is beyond me, but the cat has this fatal hankering to attack whiz kid Vernon's guinea pig, Mr. Mumps. Unfortunately for kitty, Vernon is testing his Jekyll/Hyde formula on Mr. Mumps, who turns into a monster guinea pig and destroys the bully cat. We don't see it happen on screen, but when Vernon discovers the body, he ends up dropping it on the floor where it lies there in a puddle of blood. Instant distress!!
6. DEAD OF NIGHT (1974) - Andy throttles the family dog.
Bob Clark's 1974 creepfest "Dead of Night" (reissued in 1976 with a new title "Deathdream") is about a young soldier named Andy serving in Vietnam who appears to be killed in action, then mysteriously reappears back home as a decaying zombie that needs fresh blood to survive. One of the first things Andy does is to kill the family dog, Butch, when it starts barking at him (because that's what dogs do when they sense that you are an evil zombie). Not only this, he cruelly does it right in front of a bunch of terrified, crying kids. Seeing this happen right there on TV as a child was a real unexpected gut punch.
5. LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971) - The little mole is no more.
One of the most effective elements of this cult fave is the engaging performance delivered by Zhora Lampert. She seems like a genuinely nice person, and when somebody loves animals, that's usually a good sign. Jessica spots a mole while she's out doing gravestone rubbings - ok, she's a little morbid, but still really nice - and she decides she wants to take it home and keep it as a pet. It may be a little misguided of her to keep a mole trapped in a large jar for her own amusement, but something truly uncalled for happens when an unseen person takes a large knife and abruptly puts the mole out of its misery at being imprisoned by a well-meaning woman. Jessica finds it the next day, screaming horribly as she holds the bloody corpse in her hand. Really, Jessica? When our outdoor cat used to bring dead moles home and lay them on our front porch, I never got the urge to pick it up.
4. FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) - Snake: it's what's for dinner!
OK, probably not everybody is disturbed by the idea of killing a snake, but this was the first time I had ever seen an animal killed on screen, for real, in a movie. Never mind the faked throat gougings, the decapitation, the killer arrows, the cast iron skillet used as a bludgeon - this murder is REAL!
3. BEWARE! THE BLOB (1972) - Samuel's last meal.
In this sequel to "The Blob", an absolutely effervescent Marlene Clark has an adorable little kitten named Samuel. Unfortunately, her husband has just brought a frozen chunk of the blob home, where it thaws out and eats Samuel just when he's digging into a big serving of tuna. Hey, I guess it's a blob-eat-cat world after all. I was simply traumatized when this happened!
2. THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976) - Gordon's terrible fate.
This movie is disturbing on several levels, but I'm still not completely over the scene where Martin Sheen, playing the scuzziest perv ever, tortures Jodie Foster's pet gerbil with a lit cigarette and then hurls it into the fireplace. It just seemed to come up so unexpectedly, although I was about 8 years old when I saw this so I could be forgiven for not seeing it coming.
1. RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975) - Ginger has a bad trip.
This is the big one, the very first time I can remember being traumatized by an animal's death in a movie. Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Swit and Lara Parker piss off some devil-cult members by witnessing a human sacrifice, and find themselves on the run when the cultists start following them. They go out to a bar one night and when they return, they are horrified to find their dog has been killed and gruesomely strung up on the door to their RV.