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Amphibians in Movies
Pretty Poison (1968)
Spoiler Alert !

Some of these pictures and descriptions may give away plot details that you might not want to know before watching the film.
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I was surprised to see a salamander cameo in this movie, though not as startled as the character who discovers it. This is a psychological crime drama/black comedy about Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins - a few years after Psycho made him a star and typecast him as a crazy man) who burned down a house when he was 15 and was put in an asylum until he was paroled as an adult and sent to a small town in Massachussetts. There, he falls for a pretty blonde all-American girl named Sue Ann (Tuesday Weld) when he sees her marching with her high school drill team. He seduces her by convincing her that he is a C.I.A. agent on a secret mission. She agrees to help him do some sabotage, but after a watchman sees them and Sue Ann kills him, Dennis realizes his fatasy has gone way out of control. Sue Ann decides they should run away to Mexico the next day, so she drives him to a place in the woods where local couples go to make out, where he can hide out for the night then get picked up in the morning.

Pretty Poison Screenshot Pretty Poison Screenshot Pretty Poison Screenshot
Pretty Poison Screenshot Pretty Poison Screenshot Pretty Poison Screenshot

Dennis lies down to sleep but he is scared by a hooting owl and runs away. He is seen by a man who thinks Dennis is a peeping Tom and beats him up. Dennis passes out under a tree and wakes up in the morning to a nightmare of Sue Ann killing the watchman. Then he is startled to see a red salamander on a small branch above him. He panics, jumps up and runs away frantically. Getting beat up, sleeping in the woods then seeing the salamander have all made him realize that he needs to get away from Sue Ann, but she sees him running and picks him up and takes him home to watch her kill her mother. He has found out too late that Sue Ann is the psycopath, not him.

The salamander is a juvenile Eastern Newt, also known as a Red Eft, common on the East coast of North America. It is very unlikely to find one perched on a branch as this one is doing, but since the newt is just supposed to be something strange to trigger Dennis, like the owl, putting it on the branch above him was the best way for it to startle him. It's also possible that the red color of the newt was supposed to remind him of blood and violence.