I am a dog-owner and a dog-lover. These are going to be the two most self-evident statements you've ever read in about ten seconds. I would not call myself squeamish, nor would I count myself among the righteous. I watch bloody, nasty, ugly horror films and they don't faze me, but there is a trend in horror of which I am officially sick and tired: dog murder. Murdering dogs in horror films has made the nefarious jump from convention to absolute cliche and I cannot hold my tongue any longer. Before you read any further, let me assure that I am fully aware of my bias and I embrace that. But you cannot deny that you'd rather be a minority in a horror film than a dog, because your chances of survival would substantially improve.
There are myriad titles that feature the slaughter of our four-legged friends. Off hand, I can recall Halloween, The Hills Have Eyes, Razorback, Race with the Devil, Fear, Rogue, Cape Fear, Eaten Alive, Red, Snakes on a Plane, Planet Terror, 30 Days of Night, The Thing, The Good Son, American Psycho... do I really need to go on here? You would have a far more difficult time trying to recall a dog in a horror film that does NOT die. Again, I am not squeamish or overly sensitive, but watching a dog get killed on screen offends me to my core. And, though I liked the film, The Loved Ones has the most offensive dog murder I've seen in a long time.
It's no more violent than any other, but the poor little guy is shown being taken to a vet after being stabbed with the back of a hammer, and he wheezes out his last breath right there in the passenger seat. It's apropos of nothing and the very next scene is a silly pratfall designed to be among the bigger laughs in the film. WHAT?! Not only does it make for awkward juxtaposition, but this was absolutely unnecessary and actually detrimental to the joke in the next scene. Just cut it out of the movie man, I don't need to watch a dog suffer to its last as the inexplicable prelude for a weak joke.
There are two totally valid arguments for the usage of dog murder in a horror film; valid arguments with which I wholeheartedly disagree. The first is that it establishes that the perpetrator of the murder is truly evil. The second justification is that it evokes an emotional response from the audience to connect them with the material. I call all kinds of malarkey on both of those.
First of all, if you need to have your principal baddie kill a dog to get the point across that he is menacing, you're baddie is a pansy. I'm sorry but killing a defenseless animal is something Michael Vick does daily and he's not scary...he's a douche. Maybe you should crack open a film school text book and examine the chapter on interesting cinematography and how light, shadow, and framing can create character as effectively as his actions. Also, the latter argument amounts to emotional molestation that's just plain lazy. If you need the death of a dog to draw in your audience, you are definitively stating that you have no other tools in your directing/writing arsenal. The only reason that works is because dogs are lovable animals and most of us, even if we don't own one, have an amiable response to them. To exploit that response in lieu of doing your job as a writer or director is repugnant.
Again, yes, I am a dog owner and my opinion is colored by my personal bias. But seriously horror filmmakers, moratorium on dog murder! It's lazy, it's wretched, and in some cases either completely non sequitur or even divergent of the mood the director is trying to establish. I'll thank you to retire this hack cliche; my dog will thank you as well.