Thursday, September 15, 2011

SAVE THE CAT!

I refuse to see the remake of STRAW DOGS opening this weekend for one distinct reason. The redneck villains in the movie kill the innocent couple’s cat. I know this because I read an article that said the remake follows the original closely, including this grisly scene where the protagonist couple returns home to find their pet hung in a closet. I hope my divulging that awful plot point will keep you from seeing something so egregious and unnecessary too.
Even though Blofeld was a villain in the James Bond movies he always treated his cat well.

Blofeld may have been an arch villain in the Bond movies, but he always treated his pet with the utmost of love and care. Unfortunately, too many other villains in movies these days are not as gracious. The killing of pets has become epidemic in thrillers and horror movies. As a film fan I loathe it because it’s lazy screenwriting. So many unimaginative hacks in Hollywood think that’s the way to cue nasty things-a-comin.’ But it’s become so prevalent in thrillers now that it is insulting. And as a loving owner of two adorable cats, I am deeply offended by Tinseltown’s reliance on such carelessness.  

If you’ve ever owned a pet, you know - Pets are members of the family. They are an integral part of your daily life. And to lose a pet, in any way, is devastating. But this is lost on the filmmakers in Hollywood who think a pet’s death is nothing more than a practice kill for their villain. But more and more, such events are stopping a film cold. It takes you out of a movie because of its awfulness. 


Blake Snyder wrote a book on screenwriting called Save The Cat. He called it that because one of his great pieces of advice for any script was to have the main character save a pet early in the story. That way the audience would be drawn to such a good and caring individual. Of course some in kind would think that the best way to cue a bad guy is for him to kill a pet. Perhaps that is true, but the more it’s done, the more filmmakers feel the need to up the ante of the previous film. And that means the killing of pets in thrillers is becoming more and more sadistic.

In the movie FEAR (1996) Reese Witherspoon’s psychotic boyfriend Mark Wahlberg and his thug friends start an assault on her family’s home by cutting off the head of the family dog and shoving it through the doggy door. After that it’s hard to believe anyone wouldn’t hesitate to kill any of the perpetrators instantly, but Reese’s family does. And we lose sympathy for them because of their fickleness. The list of films guilty of such outrage is getting longer and longer. Here are just a few examples from the last decade: the remake of WILLARD in 2003 (a pet cat is killed and eaten by a pack of rats); THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake in 2006 (the family German shepherd is the first victim); and DRAG ME TO HELL in 2009 (The heroine kills her pet kitten as part of a voodoo ritual). 
Marley and Owen Wilson in MARLEY AND ME (2009)

Sometimes the onscreen death of an animal is vital to the story. In a movie like 2009’s hit MARLEY & ME, the family pet is dying and put down mercifully in the vet’s office. That scene was devastating but in a more meaningful way. But when horror movies and thrillers kill pets these days, it is merely for the cheapest and vilest of scares. It's sickening.

Scriptwriters need to learn a lesson from the sci-fi horror classic ALIEN (1979). In that movie, the cat was in harm’s way many times but never got killed. The horrible creature from outer space simply had too much respect for another animal to kill it. And Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) felt the same way. She destroyed the villainous alien but saved the innocent cat.
Sigourney Weaver did the right thing in ALIEN (1979)


That Blake Snyder, he was onto something.

4 comments:

  1. The one exception I can think of was with Glenn Close in FATAL ATTRACTION where it became a powerful metaphor.

    Elsewhere? Another form of gratuitous violence.

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  2. True, Michael. But I still found that scene so unsettling. Even beyond its intent.

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  3. The horse's head in the Godfather, although we don't see the horse being killed ... but the scene was also absolutely necessary to the film to show the ruthless nature of the Corleone family.

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  4. Whogastim, yes, the horse head certainly added a grisly authenticity to that scene in THE GODFATHER. (Although I very much doubt Coppola could have gotten away with going to a slaughterhouse today to pick out his own horse's head.) Nonetheless that scene was crucial in showcasing just ruthless the Corleone family could be to get their way. At least the Don was nice to that cat in the first scene!

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