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 of hissing and coiling defensively.
This is generally caused by the fact that wild animals are really hard to work with. A wild rat might panic and flee realistically, but getting it to sit still long enough for the actors to show up is a challenge, as is anything involved in moving it.note
So a tame ball python that barely moves is a better choice than a deadly jungle snake, especially since no one will notice the difference anyway.
Strangely, this often isn't averted with CGI, as fast, complex movements are expensive to animate. Very often crosses over with Misplaced Wildlife
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.
Related to Reality Is Unrealistic
, in that viewers accustomed to seeing only Terrifying Pet Store Animals on film are often shocked by how tick-ridden, mangy and scarred actual wild animals tend to be.
See also Slurpasaur
, a.k.a. Attack of the Fifty-Foot
Terrifying Pet Store Rat.
- Shamelessly invoked on various Animal Planet shows these days such as Fatal Attractions and Swamp Wars, the latter of which goes on endlessly about the evil scaly monsters infesting the Everglades while treating us to ostensibly terrifying stock footage of a Corn Snake!
- There's a History Channel documentary on the Black Death that uses hooded (white with grey or brown heads) 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 rats who contributed to the Black Death were black rats (Rattus rattus) not brown rats (Rattus norvegicus, the rat you're more likely to encounter on the streets or in a pet shop). Arguably a case of a Reality Is Unrealistic, however, as while the Plague was brought in by black rats, rat fleas freely exchange between the two, and the brown rat was more common in Europe even at that time.
- Life After People, if not using Conspicuous CGI for the rats.
- On Criminal Minds, some well-groomed rats gather to investigate a bound captive whom the Killer of the Week had left to be devoured alive. They crawl on the bound man's lap and occasionally touch his bare skin with their forepaws, but remain obviously calm and friendly, even when rescuers break in and start shoving them away with an unrealistic delicacy.
- 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.
- In season 4 of The Walking Dead, a shadow-hidden figure feeds a live rat to a walker through the prison fence. The rat remains calm, even curious, as it's held up to the chain-link, showing no fear of the walkers or the human holding it, even when it's being carried by its tail (which hurts).
- On CSI: Miami, a man falls from a balcony into a tank full of jellyfish. Wolf identifies the jellies as box jellyfish and potentially lethal, but they're obviously moon jellies - one of the least-dangerous types - in all the shots where they're not CGI.
- 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.
- Also spoofed with the Mexican Staring Frog of Southern Sri Lanka, which isn't even a real frog, just a stuffed toy on a string.