Bad doggie: Animals in horror fiction.

We had a little scare with my cat, Sophie, today, (she disappeared for several hours and I was already planning the wake) and it got me thinking about the role animals can play in horror writing.

Considering how many people are (sadly) afraid of animals to begin with, I’ve been surprised at how few pieces of horror fiction I’ve read that feature animals or pets. Since three of the five listings below are by Stephen King and almost all were written in the last century, I’m thinking ‘scary animals’ is a bit on the outs right now, as far as fiction is concerned. So, um, get on that, writers? (Oh, wait…am I supposed to go whip up a piece about our four legged friends now? Oops. Be careful what you ask for, I guess.)

Without further adieu, my top five horror pieces of horror writing featuring animals.

1. Cujo, by Stephen King.

Yeah, this one still has the power to totally terrify me, oddball fiction techniques not withstanding. (There are sections of this novel written from the perspective of the rabid dog himself.) Although I maintain the parts of this book about corruption in the advertising industry are actually scarier than the stranded-mom-in-the-Pinto chapters, this  opus about confrontation with a ferocious and demented St. Bernard is why I keep my dogs’ rabies shots up to date religiously.

2. “Cat from Hell,” by Stephen King.

This story, included in the collection Just Past Sunset, is definitely one of King’s best. A piece about a cat so evil and unkillable that his owner hires a professional hitman to take him out, this is fiction I still think about whenever I can’t get a cat to do what I need it to (like go to the vet’s office.)

3. “Rainy Season,” by Stephen King (again.)

This one’s from Nightmares and Dreamscapes, and has to do with the horror show antics of, well, deadly frogs. Yes, frogs. They sound quaint and earthy, don’t they? Unless they have fangs. (Apparently, there’s a not entirely awful movie out there about this same villain, but King’s story elevates scary frogs to the stuff of myth.)

4. “Dapplegrim,” by Brian Evenson.

This story can be found in Kate Bernheimer’s My Mother, She Killed Me, My Father, He Ate Me, a collection of new fairy tales. While I don’t want to give the plot away, the gist of it is about a possessed horse. The kind of horse you wouldn’t necessarily think could be unsettling, namely a pretty dappled specimen out of an ’80s Tom Cruise fantasy film. Not scary at all…until the glowing red eyes come out.

5. Jaws, by Peter Benchley.

People forget that before this story was immortalized in the 1975 blockbuster, it was a hit novel. Know the opening scene with the woman that made it infamously hard to “go back in the water”? It’s actually even gorier, more nauseating and more my-God-why-did-I-decide-to-read-this stomach churning in the book. Really.

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