Dogs in horror: sometimes, they’re man’s best friend, and sometimes, they’re man’s greatest enemy. At the very least, if you’re looking for your favorite in the genre, there are plenty of amazing pups to choose from. For the sake of this list, we’re going to eschew werewolves for once (sorry, lycanthropes!) and focus specifically on our beloved canine pals.
And I also want to give an honorable mention up front to the one and only Cujo: while he’s not one of my personal favorite dogs (I’ve had enough rabies vaccinations for one lifetime, thank you), he still deserves a shout-out.
So without further ado, here are six fabulous dogs of horror cinema. No leash required.
The Dogs in The Thing
The human cast of The Thing is great, but let’s face it: the dogs totally steal the show. Alas, in the film, we don’t really get to know the dogs too well before—spoiler alert—they get absorbed into the cosmic horror behemoth of the title. But from what we do see, they’re very good pups who most certainly deserved better than their unfortunate fate.
At least, they’ve gone down in horror history as some of the coolest and creepiest pooches ever to grace the silver screen. And if nothing else, that hellish scene in the kennel will be seared into every genre fan’s mind for the rest of time.
Nanook from The Lost Boys
Oh, sweet Nanook. If only we all had a wonderful pup like you in our life. Unlike the dogs in The Thing, the audience gets to know Nanook so well that he’s very much one of the major characters in the film. He protects his beloved Sam when his older brother Michael starts turning into a vampire, and Nanook even manages to kill a vampire in the climactic final battle. Not too shabby for a dog that’s new in town. Also, a quick nod to the head vampire’s hellhound, Thorn.
While nobody in the film can compete with Nanook, he’s not a bad runner-up, especially if you’re looking for a snarling guard dog to stand watch in front of your house, day or night.
The Hellhound in The Omen
Speaking of hellhounds—and honestly, we should always be speaking of hellhounds—Damien has got you covered. The Rottweiler in 1976’s The Omen certainly isn’t an ordinary canine by any means, but he does pass himself off as a household pet, at least at first, so he certainly deserves a place on this list.
To be fair, he also has all the major markers of a very good boy: he’s alert, he’s loyal, and he’s got plenty of personality to spare. Yes, that personality stinks of fire and brimstone, but if nothing else, he helps to keep things interesting for Damien. And really, who doesn’t want a devoted dog with supernatural powers showing up at your doorstep, ready to protect and hang out with you until the end of days?
Frankenweenie from Frankenweenie
So this particular horror dog isn’t exactly super scary, but since the film is a take on Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein, I feel like Frankenweenie is at least horror adjacent. Whimsical horror perhaps? Horror comedy? Either way, the eponymous dog is absolutely one of the most charming and memorable canines in horror history.
I still haven’t seen the full-length animated remake, but I have no doubt that iteration of Frankenweenie is just as sweet and lovable as the first one, so take your pick as to which one is your favorite putrid pooch.
Gonk in Elvira, Mistress of the Dark
Another horror dog that’s more fun than frightful, the adorable Gonk is the perfect sidekick for the ghoulish and gorgeous Elvira. Upon arriving in stuffy Massachusetts, Elvira learns that she inherited an old mansion, a dusty book, and a poodle named Algonquin or “Gonk” for short. From there, the two become unlikely partners in crime.
Before it’s all over, Gonk even gets a fantastic makeover scene, complete with a pink mohawk and goth dog collar. I mean, really, what’s not to love?
Precious from The Silence of the Lambs
Truth be told, this whole list exists specifically so I can sing the praises of Darla, the little white poodle who played Precious in 1991’s serial killer-cannibal classic, The Silence of the Lambs. As Buffalo Bill’s beloved pup, Precious is a major scene-stealer from the first time she scurries onto the screen all the way up to the final shot of her departing with kidnap victim Catherine after her harrowing rescue. Without a doubt, this is one dog for the horror ages. Here’s to hoping Precious and Catherine lived out their days playing fetch in the backyard and processing their trauma.
Fun fact: Darla was quite the little starlet back in the 1980s and 1990s. In addition to The Silence of the Lambs, she also costarred in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, The ‘Burbs, and Coming to America. Her final film role was as the Ratty Poodle in Batman Returns, another fantastic movie made even better by one of cinema’s finest pooches.