Canines have been dynamic characters on film since the silent movie era. Hero dogs like Rin Tin Tin and Lassie were the lead stars of serial dramas, and many a charming movie, particularly Disney Features, like “Lady and the Tramp” and “The Incredible Journey” have made big money at the box office. Audiences tend get more upset if a dog is killed or dies in a movie than a human. Animals are man’s best friend after all, so they must be good, right? However, like in real life, sometimes good dogs go bad or are supernatural or alien mascots that rival the biggest, maddest villain for fierceness. The thought of a dangerous or evil dog taps into our primal fears concerning this evolutionary offshoot of the big bad wolf. So here are just twenty of the scariest dogs that have appeared in movies and TV shows.
1. Damien’s Protector Dog “The Omen”
Whether you prefer the original 1976 version or the 2006 remake, the scene where Robert Thorn comes home and finds a huge black dog hired on as the nanny’s assistant is riveting. It’s the dog who makes the first nanny go a little crazy and hang herself in the iconic “Damien’s birthday party” scene. The dog is pacing, snarling metaphor for evil and represents the fact that the Thorns no longer have any control and evil has indeed set up residence in the house. Mia Farrow is splendid in the remake acting quite nonchalant about the family’s newest addition. A German Shepherd and a Rottweiler were used in the films. The big muscular canine is included in the original’s theatrical trailer, but that doesn’t say much as this trailer is spoiler rich and contains many major plot points for the entire film. Some say the dog should have gotten more screen time as he was super scary. The graveyard pack attack scene makes up for it.
2. Pet Dracula “Zoltan: Hound of Dracula”
Check out this trailer from a 1978 classic about a family, a Winnebago, and a vacation that goes terribly wrong due to a family curse that is unleashed. For some the horror would be that the man is trapped driving around in a camper with kids, two dogs and a litter of puppies but Mr. Drake the modern patriarch of the clan’s real name is, of course, Dracula! This film has it all—a guy angry at people for making films about his family without his permission, a threatened lawsuit, and lots of suspenseful build up. When the coffin lid opens, out jumps a vampire dog who already has what it takes as far as teeth to lay a vampire bite on his victims. This film has a friendly German Shepherd, terrifying Dobermans and lots of cheesy circa 1970s action, but it is still scary to think that the undead can get these dogs to do their bidding each night and turn a family holiday into the vacation from hell. The vampire can communicate telepathically with the dogs which is cool. Also, the scene where Zoltan recruits the family pet dog is amazing too. Kind of looks like he’s giving him a nuzzle but the result is frightening.
3. Wild Roaming Aussie Dogs “The Pack”
What is so scary about the 2015 Australian Film “The Pack” is that it does have some roots. Yes, as the title credits proclaim, in rural Australia and other remote areas dogs who are left in the wild, or bred in the wild, or cross bred with wolves do roam in packs looking to eat of course. They don’t hatch sinister, coordinated plots like these wild dogs seem to do to this family who live in an isolated farmhouse, but the awful truth is that if you don’t feed a dog for days on end he or she is going to start looking for a food source. Dogs, if push comes to shove, will steal chickens or attack sheep. The problem of predatory dogs in this movie, “The Pack”, however, needs more than a few bags of Rachel Ray dog food to solve the problem. The sense of claustrophobia the family experiences and the strength and speed of the dog attacks makes the canine stars of this film a frightening force with which to recon. These dogs are not any one breed, they are a gang of interbred, poorly socialized animals. This taps into our greatest fears of the wild dog we might meet up with on the street. Overbreeding and animal neglect makes this horror film hit close to the domestic front of everyday life where we pity the poor animal chained up next door or worse, set loose to fend for itself
4. Bunch of Shepherds “The Breed”
Take a remote island, some very aggressive Shepherds and a bunch of attractive young people and you have the 2006 horror film “The Breed”. Right down to the smallest puppy, these dogs mean business. The setting is a remote island with plenty of places for these vicious dogs to just pop up from nowhere. The dogs hide up in trees, the better to stalk their prey. They also crouch in the tall grass, ready for attack. Jumping in the water is no use, as these dogs, like many canine breeds, love to swim. This breed is dedicated to chasing down their prey any way possible like a furry version of “Jaws” sluicing through the water. They also are smart enough to know that an airplane is a means of escape and surround it, making it hard to leave this island of terror. Notes about this film say that each actor underwent extensive training with the dogs to get the scenes down right and prevent injury.
5. Zowie the Zombie Dog “Pet Semetary II”
There’s nothing like the relationship of a boy and his dog and sometimes that bond includes doing the tough stuff like burying your pet. This kid is rather shocked when Zowie the zombie malamute comes back scratching at the door. He is, though, quite a bit different, as you can see by looking in Zowie’s eyes. The idiot dad in the movie doesn’t notice, as he’s, well, an idiot, until it’s too late. This 1992 spinoff of the hit film based on Stephen King’s novel has a dog instead of a cat as one of the lead characters, and the dog’s resurrection is the scariest part of the film.
6. Max “Man’s Best Friend”
In this clip from 1993’s “Man’s Best Friend”, Max’s owner has a problem on his hands. While Max is kicking dirt over a dead body as he would after going to the bathroom, this guy is trying to whip up some hamburger laced with rat poison to do some homestyle euthanasia. Max is onto him in a flash and sends the guy scrambling for his life. Unfortunately, Max ends up locked up in the house with a chatty parrot who bears the brunt of Max’s indignation. All in all, a great film, and the opening credits are artistically beautiful and progressively creepy.
7. Lucky “Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell”
Those of us who thought the term Devil Dog only applied to snack cakes made by Drake’s back in 1978 might have missed a great film called “Devil Dog” starring Richard Crenna and Kim Richards. The premise is that a rich, fancy lady is looking for just the right dog, a very special female dog. This dog cannot be a virgin and must be fertile. Turns out the adopted German Shepherd named “Lady” is selected to carry the spawn on Satan though a pedigree dog named “Barges”. It’s “Rosemary’s Baby” doggie style, complete with a witchy mating ritual. The product of the beastly union, “Lucky” goes to live with a family and only the Catholic housekeeper who says “Dios Mio!” and crosses herself knows the dog is evil. Richard Crenna’s character of course, laughs it off, saying that it’s all good—until it isn’t.
8. Attack Pack “Wilderness”
Sam Pertwee rocks in this film about humans vs. nature vs. killer in this survival film. One of the scariest scenes is when the den leader of a group of juvenileness, Jed (Pertwee) is attacked by a sniper and as he lies there with arrows sticking out of him, here comes a pack of angry dogs. “Wilderness” is a good mystery set on a remote island where it takes some thinking to figure out exactly who is orchestrating this terror plaguing the troubled group.
9. Chopper “Stand By Me”
Stephen King knows how to include a stereotypical threat, like the infamous Junkyard Dog and make it totally terrifying when it pursues a child who is running for his life. Gordy must beat feet fast when the owner sics Chopper on him, and for a minute the viewer is really freighted for the poor kid, before the retriever just gives up and digs a hole and lies down for a nap. Cory Feldman’s character just had to tease it calling it “choppy” and the dog does nip at his jeans pocket but in the end the owner must admonish the kids for teasing his poor dog.
10. Hybrid Rottie “Rottweiler”
This 2004 sci fi horror film takes place in the future, 2018 to be exact. The plot revolved i about a plucky young man who is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. He escapes and his captors use any and every weapon to catch him, including a cyborg dog who is part Rottweiler canine and part terminator. Critics have bashed this film as Rotties have a bad rap in some cases due to their size, musical build and powerful jaws. This film; however, depicts the enemy dog as being much more than an antisocial canine, he’s an robotically engineered killing machine.
11. Greta “Play Dead”
This 1985 horror film does not make you wait for the monster to appear—it actually opens with a slow motion dog attack scene. As the credits roll, the dog, Greta, is included in the star lineup listing, along with her owner and trainers. Plus, it stars Yvonne DeCarlo of “The Monsters” fame which makes it a nostalgic treat to watch. Dobermans are imposing dogs, as they are often trained as guard dogs and can cause a good deal of damage during an attack. Plus their coats and regal powerful bodies are simply gorgeous. A family feud and lots of suspense drives this scary “dog gone wild” tale.
12. Dog Behind Fence “Fletch”
In this 1985 film about a clueless detective played by Chevy Chase gives us a Doberman who is not in the mood to mess around. Of course Fletch thinks it’s all good and can make friends with the dog by asking him his name. The cool PI evades the dog and gains entry, only to have the dog bust though the window after him. Although the movie is a comedy that scene is more scary than funny as the Doberman does act like he wants to rip Fletch to pieces.
13. Demonic Dog “Demons 2”
When the household dog goes insane it’s always a surprise to the owner—at least on film. This 1986 sequel to “Demonic” shows a goofy looking sheepdog who ends up baring its teeth in a scary scene. The blood dripping from the dog’s long chin hairs is graphic and gory. The dog’s teeth get so huge it looks like the jaw of snaggleteeth are going to pop out of the sheepdog’s head but it keeps morphing back and forth making it even odder and more freighting. It’s a wild ride involving the demon dog, zombies and a shower curtain.
14. Courage “Courage The Cowardly Dog”
This dog is truly terrifying because of he looks so upset. The show is scary for the pure creepiness factor. A poor abandoned dog who spends most of his life being terrorized by the world around him. The people who own him, Muriel and Eustis are nasty and beyond horrible yet every epiode this cartoon pup has to go on yet more traumatizing “adventures”. The dogs expressions are cringe worthy for the viewer, and worse for kids than devil dogs from hell tearing apart humans on an island. That dog needs more than courage, Eustis needs to be slapped with animal cruelty charges.
15. Pheromone Altered Dogs “Dogs”
Simply titled “Dogs” this 1976 film is about dogs who have gone wild on a college campus. The once gentle pups turn vicious and hunt down their owners as they scream and struggle to find out what is making these docile pets attack. The opening of the movie shows no dog, but the vantage point of the humans at a faculty party looking down from their view. David McCallum who was a TV heartthrob before he became “Ducky” leads an all star cast as they look to lab experiments as the cause of the behavior problems. After a dog show goes terribly wrong it’s clear that it isn’t any one breed, it’s every dog in the area. One funny but gruesome shot involved a chubby man getting attacked for his snack. Yes, it’s campy but it’s a chilling premise when you see all these ordinary dogs running mad.
16. Fiona’s Dog “American Horror Story: Coven”
American Horror Story: Coven brought chills to viewers. The premise is a modern day coven of witches starring of course Jessica Lange as Fiona, the leader. When she gets a big, fierce guard dog for protection, the men in her life are not pleased. Fiona’s explanation of why she got a female attack dog is priceless, so in the interest of not giving away spoilers, it’s worth going back to watch if you missed it or watch the clip.
17. Dog Band “Monster Dog”
When a rock star named Bill (Alice Cooper) returns to his hometown to shoot a music video, he finds that the local dogs are killing off his old friends and neighbors. This 1984 rock horror film not only has a cool “coming home” plot but Alice’s antics making the music videos makes this film quite entertaining in a Rocky Horror sort of way. The dog pack attacks are pretty scary though and again German Shepherds are used for maximum fright value. Who is controlling these dogs? It’s worth watching to find out.
18. City Chaser Dogs “After Midnight”
This 1989 film has young women with big hair encountering multitude of urban horrors as they are stuck stranded and alone. One scary scene is when the foursome is accosted by a pack of wild dogs and one girl decided to run for it instead of trying to squeeze into the damaged car. The chase goes on for a long time and anyone who has ever been chased by even one dog will have chills watching this scene. It’s a test of nerve and strategy to get away from this mixed breed pack that includes a Doberman and German Shepherd.
19. All the Mutts “White God”
Shot from the angle of the person knocked to the ground, this scene is purely terrifying until the viewer gets the final payoff of the dogs showing that they are better than their keepers. . The premise is that “The State” takes away mixed breed dog and any they find unfit. Well, the dogs get out, all at once and come running. First in view is the main character ,Hagan, a dog with blood on his muzzle which is scary enough but then the rest come rushing from behind. Just when you think that the one of the captors is going comes to a grizzly, if well deserved end, the dogs leap over her and go forward to freedom.
20. Cujo “Cujo”
Speaking of Stephen King dogs, last but not least is the one, the only dog who has been synonymous with terror and fatal dog attacks on film is Cujo. Poor Cujo was once a lovely, cuddly St. Bernard. A St. Bernard for the title character is an awesome choice. First, St. Bernard’s are not the fastest dog around but hey are powerful. They can jump on a grown man and take him down in seconds. Then there is the image of St. Bernard’s as assistance dogs, rescuing travelers with a keg of whisky around its neck. King takes this image and flips it. From tame to terrible Cujo seems like two different dogs. All because the dog chased a bunny into a rabbit hole and got bit by a rabid bat for his curiosity. Throughout the film we see how the dog is getting sicker and sicker, and feeling meaner and meaner. The film does not do the book justice in parts as the novel tells the story from the dog’s point of view in parts. Still, the movie “Cujo” sent dog owners everywhere scrambling to check when their dog last got their vaccinations and make appointments with lawn pest control services.
Endnote: Just to note that many of the dogs listed here are black. Dogs with black, shiny coats can be frightening in movies but many wonderful black dogs are waiting in shelters to be adopted. Black dogs are used to scare partly due to the relationship of black and night to evil and partly because they look so darn sleek and lovely on film. Behavior has nothing to do with color and many factors go into a dog’s temperament. Due to superstition, many light-colored dogs are adopted before their black counterparts, which leaves many dark colored dogs or dogs of certain breeds without a home. The same thing goes for cats, as many families visiting shelters will opt to adopt a fluffy orange or white cat before taking a black cat due to fears of bad luck. The dog actors in these films are trained to do these scenes. Let these big dogs scare you on film but remember that in this case life does not imitate art.