We’re all familiar by now with the trope of the Final Girl: the lone female survivor of a relentless slasher/monster’s killing spree. Think Laurie Strode (Jaime Lee Curtis) in Halloween and Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) in Scream. But have we stopped to consider the other survivors in some of these violent flicks? Specifically, the non-human ones?
Yes, we’re talking about our four-legged companions. Our fur babies.
Pets have been featured in many horror films, simply because they allow for easy emotional involvement. Just place a darling, quivering Corgi on screen, beneath the shadow of a rising ax and watch the audience squirm. These tormented darlings deserve equal recognition and voice as well, and it’s in this spirit that we offer the Final Pet: a quintet of cute cuddles who survive their cinematic hells—often in spite of their human masters.
Precious in The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
This adorable Bichon Frise belongs to Jame Gumb, AKA Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). He’s the vicious serial killer that FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is hunting, using the help of the equally monstrous but incarcerated serial killer, Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to get it done. With her stylish floof and yappy bark, Precious is as much a pet as a cheap alarm system for Buffalo Bill’s dastardly basement deeds.
When he captures a senator’s daughter, Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith), to harvest her skin for couture purposes, Catherine lures the inquisitive pooch into the pit she’s being kept in, threatening to kill the dog if she’s not released. Despite his psychotic bloodlust, Buffalo Bill still cares for Precious (yay for relatable characters!), and his fury and indecision in coping with this turned-on-its-head hostage situation allows Agent Starling the time to track him down and save the day—along with a slightly grimy but alive Precious.
Inga in Phenomena (1985)
Even though chimpanzees aren’t your average pets, Inga’s expressive eyes and heartwarming loyalty instantly fill the viewer with the same anxiety for her well-being as watching kittens trying to cross a busy freeway in the rain. Director Dario Argento shamelessly mines this peril-dread in his bizarre horror-camp offering set in a prestigious Swiss boarding school for girls.
Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly) is an American student who shares psychic connections with—wait for it—insects. With the help of her wheelchair-bound, plot-convenient entomologist mentor, Dr. McGregor (Donald Pleasence), they work to solve a string of murders plaguing the school for years. Amidst the grandiose lighting effects and the oohing-and-awing over the taboo of necrophilia (we did say, Argento, right?), we get to know Inga, Dr. McGregor’s pet primate and unofficial nurse. This sweet simian is a paragon of devotion, fetching anything Dr. McGregor aims his laser pointer at. She often shares the frame in dialogue scenes between Jennifer and Dr. McGregor with equal cinematic weight. That Inga is subsequently made to witness a murder and other gruesome aftermaths that her nearly human-level brain will have to cope with for the rest of her life comes as no surprise; this is the price for costarring in maverick Italian film work. It’s her innate sweetness that we remember, comforting both on-screen survivors and viewers alike.
Lucky in Nope (2022)
Horses are majestic, steadfast creatures, and the gorgeous bronco, Lucky, in Jordan Peele’s delightful and macabre exploration of spectacle, horse wrangling, and UFOs is no exception. But horses are also skittish creatures, especially around overstimulating environments, and Lucky is introduced in the middle of a Southern California right-of-passage: a bustling audition shoot. His owners, the brother-and-sister team of Otis "OJ" Haywood Jr. (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald "Em" Haywood (Keke Palmer), are struggling to save their late father’s waning horse training business for movies and television. But Lucky has a panic attack during the shoot, and the resultant chaos forces the siblings to start selling some of their stable to Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), a neighboring rival who runs a wild-west theme park.
But outside forces soon intervene in the form of a UFO that haunts their shared valley at night, devouring horses and humans alike, and regurgitating their masticated remains as bloody rainstorms. Jupe ends up buying Lucky and plans to use him as bait to draw the UFO into the open before a live audience and acquire ultimate, legacy-wealth proof of alien life. The results are gory and glorious, and eventually, Lucky is reunited with Otis for their extra-terrestrial showdown, though it’s doubtful the poor steed will be any more comfortable around yelling grips and clicking shutters after this outlandish experience.
E. Buzz in Poltergeist (1982)
E. Buzz, your classic all-American golden retriever (never mind that the breed originated in Scotland), introduces us to the Freelings, as they slumber in their idealized Regan-era suburban tract house in Tobe Hooper’s (or was it Steven Spielberg’s?) paranormal thriller. E. Buzz is just scrounging for food, but he’s the first to notice the odd disturbances taking root in the house, specifically within the late-night snowy television sets after the day’s programming has ended. This is the early 80s, after all.
Turns out, the Freelings have themselves a poltergeist, and it lures Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke), their youngest daughter, into their netherworld. The rest of the film is spent trying to coax Carol Anne back to the living realm by her parents, a trio of paranormal experts, and one quirky, tiny medium named Tangina (Zelda Rubenstein). Yet all throughout, there’s perpetually famished and playful E. Buzz offering an unheralded warning of the ghostly visits via yelps and play-bows towards blank walls. Even after the house is prematurely labeled as “cleaned” by Tangina, E. Buzz’s continued attempts to alert his family of the inevitable third-act return of the ghosts to reclaim Carol Anne still get ignored. Apparently, the Freelings are deaf to portents as well as classic movie structure.
Jones in Alien (1979)
The Ur-pet of Final Pets, Jones is not only the orange tabby belonging to Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), but the space freighter Nostromo’s unofficial mascot, for this tiny feline freely prowls the endless corridors and dark recesses of this immense, spooky ship.
When the Nostromo and its crew of seven stop to investigate a distress signal on a nearby moon, Second-officer Kane (John Hurt) is rushed back onboard after being unknowingly impregnated by an alien creature. Upon its famous dinner-birth scene, the alien grows rapidly into an insectoid predator that starts picking off crew members one-by-one. The first to go is Brett (Harry Dean Stanton), one of the engineers sent ahead to corral Jones so that their improvised motion detectors made to search out the alien won’t mistakenly pick up the cat instead. With cold, steely eyes, Jones watches Brett’s horrible, shrieking demise. Later, while locked in his cat carrier, Jones shares a nerveless, come-at-me stare-down with the acid-drooling beast. All this could be attributed to shock, but cats hide their emotions well, even in horror movies, and whether or not Jones is napping blissfully in an escape pod while Ripley and the alien engage in their final battle is never verified, nor can it be denied either.
Featured still from "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991) via IMDB