Created By: Orange_Drake on April 11, 2012 Last Edited By: Orange_Drake on April 19, 2012
Troped

Terrifying Pet Store Rat

Tame, well-groomed animal played for horror

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Needs a better title.

The protagonist opens the cupboard in a haunted house and, terror of terrors, there's a rat inside. Everyone involved screams at the sight of the filthy diseased vermin. Except it looks like it's been recently bathed and brushed. And instead of fleeing or acting aggressive, it's looking expectantly at the actors for a treat. In really egregious cases it might even be white or multicolored instead of brown like a wild rat.

This is a Terrifying Pet Store Rat. While the animal in question is often a rat, it also applies to spiders, snakes, and anything else the audience is expected to react with fear or revulsion toward, despite the animal reacting like a pet. Spiders will saunter calmly over people instead of racing along in a panic. Snakes will crawl onto people's shoulders, staring them in the face comically instead hissing and coiling defensively. In particularly bad cases "angry" dogs may have dubbed in growling while their tails wag.

This is a stock feature of horror movies, they often wander in the background for ambiance, act as a Cat Scare, or provide a Why Did It Have to Be Snakes? moment when a protagonist has to get past them. In severe cases, the central threat of a horror movie may fall into this trope. The main thing making this trope is that the animal is neither threatening nor believably wild.

  • Graveyard Shift, a movie based on a short story about killer rats by Stephen King, uses several scenes of rats sitting placidly along the rafters staring at the characters in a way reminiscent of The Birds. Fortunately the movie shifts the actual monster to a giant bat.
  • Disney's The Haunted Mansion movie at one point has the son need to get past spiders to get into the mausoleum. The spiders are harmless tarantulas (orange-kneed, I think) and they're tame enough that he can move them with his hands.
  • Hilariously done in the exploitation film The Gestapo's Last Orgy, where a woman is threatened by being hung over a pit of flesh eating rats... Played by gerbils.
    Nazi: If I didn't take my hand out, they'd strip it down to the bones in a minute.
    Cinema Snob: Yeah, sure. If your hands were made of windblown seeds and grain.
  • Played effectively in Willard, since the rats are supposed to be tame, well-groomed, and friendly because Willard takes care of them. It's just that they'll kill if they're told to.
  • The Indiana Jones franchise does this extensively. Especially in The Temple of Doom.
  • Played for Laughs in Team America: World Police where some "panthers" are clearly house cats.
  • Played for Laughs in South Park when the town is overrun by giant guinea pigs and other "guinea" animals such as rabbits and dogs, the animals in question are simple shots of pet animals shuffling about benignly in cute outfits, which have been digitally inserted into the animation.
  • Bones uses this from time to time when a corpse is found infested with animals eating it.
    • Frequently when they find a decaying body in the sewer covered in rats, none of which show the slightest surprise or interest in the living humans walking about.
    • In one episode they find the victim surrounded by possums. Again, no possum shows any hint of non-familiarity with humans.
    • In another episode the dead Victim of the Week is surrounded by "feral" stray cats, which sit about and let themselves be picked up by animal control.
  • There's a History Channel documentary on the Black Death that uses hooded rats in its scenes of flea-infested rodents carrying the Plague into port. Granted, they look a bit grubby, but their coat-pattern mutation is still conspicuous and unlikely to survive in the wild.
  • The English-speaking production of 1931's Dracula didn't even have the nerve to use real rats, but opossum and armadillo stand-ins.
  • Night of the Lepus. The infamous Giant Killer Bunny Rabbits movie. The rabbits look like a menagerie straight from a pet store (to be fair, there're only a few lops) which are mostly shown running through miniature sets in slow motion or in extreme close-up, smeared with red paint and backed by dubbed growling.
  • The Killer Shrews uses dogs in bad costumes to play the shrews. As you might guess from the quality of the effects, the dogs were not trained well enough to act scary either.
  • The Stuff uses a great dane which is apparently threatening its owner if it doesn't get more of the titular substance. It wags its tail throughout the scene while dubbed in growling plays.

Community Feedback Replies: 14
  • April 11, 2012
    AmazingLagann
    Perhaps also an irrational phobia for pet animals? Like a woman jumping on a chair screaming at a mouse? Maybe there is a trope for that already.
  • April 11, 2012
    CaveCat
    ^There's already a trope for a woman screaming in fear at the sight of a mouse. It's called Eek A Mouse.
  • April 11, 2012
    Orange_Drake
    This is basically a film relying on the Eek A Mouse reaction to scare people when without having to make an animal actually act frightening.
  • April 11, 2012
    Bisected8
  • April 11, 2012
    Generality
    ^ Similarly, in South Park when the town is overrun by giant guinea pigs and other "guinea" animals such as rabbits and dogs, the animals in question are simple shots of pet animals shuffling about benignly in cute outfits, which have been digitally inserted into the animation.

    I'd say this is a subtrope of Special Effects Failure.
  • April 11, 2012
    Thomassonic
    Indiana Jones practically wades through them at various junctures.
  • April 11, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • Bones uses this from time to time when a corpse is found infested with animals eating it.
      • Frequently when they find a decaying body in the sewer covered in rats, none of which show the slightest surprise or interest in the living humans walking about.
      • In one episode they find the victim surrounded by possums. Again, no possum shows any hint of non-familiarity with humans.
      • In another episode the dead Victim Of The Week is surrounded by "feral" stray cats, which sit about and let themselves be picked up by animal control.
  • April 12, 2012
    Orange_Drake
    Updated.

    Would the South Park and Team America examples be subversions? Lampshade Hangings?

    Also, I'm not sure if this would fall under special effects failure. First, I'm not sure if animals count as special effects, and second I don't think this is subjective. This trope is for the animals being obviously tame, not whether or not they're effectively gross/scary.
  • April 12, 2012
    TonyG
    On Madagascar, Alex screams when he finds a spider on his shoulder... and it gives him a friendly "Well, howdy do."
  • April 12, 2012
    SharleeD
    • There's a History Channel documentary on the Black Death that uses hooded rats in its scenes of flea-infested rodents carrying the Plague into port. Granted, they look a bit grubby, but their coat-pattern mutation is still conspicuous and unlikely to survive in the wild.

    • The English-speaking production of 1931's Dracula didn't even have the nerve to use real rats, but opossum and armadillo stand-ins.
  • April 13, 2012
    kyun
    • Disney's [[Disney/Tarzan]]- The jungle animals, being completely unfamiliar with human beings, gasp at the various inanimate objects at a camp site. Turk the elephant cowers in horror and attempts to bury his head in the ground "so he won't be seen."
    • Disney's The Little Mermaid- Sebastian the crab winds up in a chef's kitchen and gasps in fear and faints at various seafood dishes being prepared.
  • April 13, 2012
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    ^ Terk is the girl gorilla in Disney's Tarzan. The elephant's name is Tantor.

    • Night Of The Lepus. We're supposed to be terrified of the giant mutated rabbits. But even huge, from the audience's point of view, they're still fluffy bunnies -- mostly white bunnies, even.

    General subversion: monkeys. If you get them worked up and shrieking, they are scary, even if they're generally "tame" trained ones.
  • April 13, 2012
    randomsurfer
    The title creatures in The Killer Shrews are poorly-mad up dogs.
  • April 19, 2012
    Dacilriel
    Truth In Television: Telling people that you have a pet rat or snake can get some very interesting reactions.

    In Bringing Up Baby Katharine Hepburn has a tame leopard named Baby.

    I don't think that The Little Mermaid example counts. Sebastian isn't scared of harmless animals; he's horrified by the Carnivore Confusion.
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