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Terrifying Pet Store Rat
D'awww... I mean, RUN AWAY!

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.

Examples:

Film
  • 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 (animatronic) bat, sparing us from a forced-perspective Terrifying Pet Store Rat as final boss.
  • 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) and they're tame enough that he can move them with his hands.
    • However, he is arachnophobic, so no matter what spider they used, he would still be frightened by it.
  • 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.
    The 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 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Indy and Short Round nearly die while Willie refuses to reach into a crevasse filled with harmless stick insects and millipedes to shut off the death trap they're in.
    • Willie freaks out because she's a fussy, high-maintenance load, not necessarily because the bugs are supposed to be dangerous. Indy isn't fazed by them at all.
    • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull lampshades the use of non-poisonous (or at least less-poisonous) scorpions in movies. Mutt gets attacked by a largeish scorpion, and Indy says, "The bigger, the better...If you get bitten by a tiny one, don't hesitate to bring it up."
    • Some of the snakes in Raiders of the Lost Ark are recognizable harmless snakes of types people keep as pets, though there is at least one actual cobra (behind glass). There's also one "snake" being played by a Glass Lizard, which while legless isn't a true snake at all. And of course, some of them are clearly just sections of rubber hose.
  • Played for Laughs in Team America: World Police where some "panthers" are house kittens (much larger than the Supermarionation heroes) with dubbed growls.
  • The English-speaking production of 1931's Dracula tried to use opossums and armadillos as giant rats.
  • 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.
    • Granted, dogs do wag their tails when angry, or when upset. The higher a dog holds their tail, the more threatened you should feel. Mid-height is relaxed, and lowering it is fear, or potentially submission. These should all be considered in relation to the breed, such as Huskies having a curly tail, and Whippets a very droopy one. Slow wagging indicates insecurity.
  • The Amazing Spider-Man uses this with lizards, who lead Peter into the sewers after Conners and participate in a fake out scare where they make Peter think The Lizard is coming.
  • Chopping Mall has snakes and spiders get loose in an actual pet store. They aren't played as dangerous, but they make it challenging for the heroine to stay silent while being stalked by killer robots.
  • In the beginning of The Mummy Returns, Evy and Rick are in an ancient ruin and encounter some snakes. They're Terrifying Pet Store Snakes; in an overlap with Misplaced Wildlife, some are tricolor milk snakes, which are known for having warning coloration similar to that of venomous snakes but are not known for living in Egypt.
    • The venomous snakes they mimic aren't exactly from Egypt either.
  • A whole Terrifying Pet Store Rat swarm confronts Daniels in Shutter Island when he begins climbing the cliff face to the cave. Not only are they obviously well-groomed and curious about his presence, but the first one to appear is clearly dropped into view of the camera rather than climbing or jumping down to the rock.
  • Cujo tried to avert this by having the Big Friendly Dog's tail restrained to stop it wagging, which would have made it rather difficult to take it seriously as a savage, rabid monster.
  • The Food of the Gods uses this with its swarm of giant rats. They tend to stare around in a perfectly tame way looking for a treat. The rats' leader is even a white rat. It doesn't help that since they're just superimposed on miniature sets, they have no reaction to the human actors whatsoever.
  • In possibly the Ur Example, some of the rats in the 1922 silent film Nosferatu were obviously hooded rats, a pet store variety.
  • "Manos" The Hands of Fate has the Master's "devil dog," which on-set was the friendliest dog in the world.
  • In Silver Bullet, a girl is startled into falling over when a rodent emerges from beneath a garage shelf. Said Terrifying Pet Store Rodent is a gerbil.
  • Three Big Men (also known as Turkish Spider-Man) contains what might well be one of the most ridiculous cases ever: man-eating guinea pigs.
  • Strays is about killer housecats. Aside from the cats' "leader", who actually hisses for the camera, the cats just sort of run around the house or sit on their marks. In a few cases they're obviously batting at string just out of view of the camera.
  • In The Film of the Book of Holes, the deadly "yellow-spotted lizards" are played by bearded dragons, which are harmless and popular as pets. At moments when the lizards have to act particularly menacing, the film averts this trope using CGI; however, in most of their appearances they are clearly Terrifying Pet Store Lizards.
    • Likely a Necessary Weasel in that of the three species that inspired the yellow spotted lizard, the gila monster, Beaded Lizard, and Horned Toad, the first two are in fact quite irritable and dangerously venomous, and the horned toad is endangered- putting all three of the "realistic" options solidly out of play. The bearded dragon, however, is neither, and rather closely resembles the descriptions in the book when given a dye job.
  • The Craft is the king of this trope near the climax when the other witches torment the main character. Her house absolutely fills with piles of harmless snakes, small lizards, scorpions, spiders, and cockroaches that just sort of ignore her as she flees from them. The rats are at least dropped on her from offscreen.
  • Whenever we see inside the crazy killer's truck in Ice Cream Man, there are white mice and Madagascar hissing cockroaches wandering placidly around the ice cream and bloody eyes.
  • For Deadly Eyes to have rats the size of small dogs on some scenes, they were literally played by small dogs; the filmmakers dressed some dachshunds with specially made ratsuits.
  • Barbarella at one point has the lead character thrown in an execution chamber to be torn apart by parakeets and lovebirds. While they do fly around in a panic, they're pretty clearly not attacking her at any point.

Live-Action Television
  • 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.

Western Animation
  • 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.


Swarm of RatsRodent TropesYou Dirty Rat
Taxonomic Term ConfusionAnimal TropesToken Non-Human
Night of the LepusImageSource/Live-Action FilmsNightbreed

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