The home invasion genre has been breaking into the peaceful boundaries of our existence for quite some time, telling us that no matter how secure we feel, there’s always a way in. D.W. Griffith first introduced the notion onto celluloid with 1909’s silent short, The Lonely Villa , in which a mother and her three daughters must fend off the advances of three intruders. Alfred Hitchcock dabbled in the genre with Dial M for Murder [’54], which saw a man attempt to murder his adulterous wife, to egregious effect.
Films like Cape Fear, Cul-de-sac [’66], and Play Misty for Me [’71] all worked to drastically undercut the home invaded by stretching out the act far beyond what was established, often with grim realism. Exploitation pieces such as Last House on the Left [’72], I Spit on Your Grave [’78] and The House on the Edge of the Park [’80] took what Sam Peckinpah delivered with Straw Dogs [’71], incorporating elements of rape as a means of disturbing the safety of the home.
By the time the slasher had effectively established itself as a looming presence in cinema, the home invasion genre had begun to establish itself as a dominating force, rising in popularity while forever becoming a mainstay of horror. With its overarching themes of security, isolation, paranoia and cultural identity, it’s no wonder it found a cozy corner in the house that is horror. Yet still, the genre had become a hot-spot for delivering social messages, often infiltrating multiple genres that subsequently allowed it to enter more homes, further spreading fear and panic that continuous to tell homeowners that perhaps safety is just a word.
So, draw the blinds, turn off the lights, and undo the deadbolt from your door, because here are five home invasion films that you might want to consider letting into your home and onto your screens.
5. Suspense (1913)
One of the pioneering films of the genre, Suspense further introduced the world to the auteur Lois Weber, who not only co-directed, but starred and wrote what amounts to one of the earliest exercises in terror.
A new mother (played with utter conviction by Weber) finds the idealistic comfort of her home invaded by a vagrant (an often-disputed Lon Chaney), and must fend off his menacing advances until help arrives. It’s a short (barely cracking the 10-minute mark) that knows exactly how to ratchet up the tension, utilizing invasive close-ups, an adrenaline-fueled car chase, and inventive split-screens to show three separate characters converging into one genre, breaking the mold of what it means to effectively demonstrate the horror of the home invaded.
4. Home Alone (1990)
If you’re like me, Macaulay Culkin’s post-shave scream kicked open the doors to the home invasion genre, bringing with it an arsenal of booby-traps that taught kids everywhere what it means to feel empowered. Written by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus (Adventures in Babysitting [’87]), Home Alone finds a bratty yet neglected and ultimately misunderstood kid left to fend off two of cinemas most bumbling burglars after his family high-tales it to Paris for Christmas without him.
What transpires between rascal and robbers is a funhouse of pain in which a Rube Goldberg machine is created out of a suburban home that upends the terror of the genre. While it features slapstick hi-jinks that borrow as much from The Three Stooges as it does Laurel and Hardy, Home Alone remains one of the definitive home invasion films, subverting the panic of a disrupted domicile into a battleground for conquering fear, even if it means just doing the laundry.
3. Inside (2007)
The horror genre has never quite been as bloody and domestically unruly as the New French Extremity, a series of films birthed from the 21st century that mold social and political ideals with body, slasher, revenge and home invasion horror. Such films as In My Skin [’02], High Tension [’03], Frontiers [’07] and Martyrs [’08] exemplified French horror, ushering in new voices that demanded to be heard.
Yet through all the gore matted ideas stands Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s Inside, a deeply disturbing and layered home invasion film that heralds the tropes of the genre while subverting its invader, casting Beatrice Dalle as the films shadowy and fiendish intruder. Alysson Pradis plays Sarah, a recently widowed woman whose sorrowful and tranquil existence is disturbed when an unhinged woman attempts to remove the child she is carrying inside of her, initiating a night of ferocious terror.
What makes Inside such a brilliant masterstroke in the genre is how it infiltrates every crack of Sarah’s existence, working within the confines of her flat yet treating both her mind and body as an extension of its respective class, showing just how nuanced the home invasion genre can be.
2. Wait until Dark (1967)
Further playing off the mind and body as its own home to be invaded is Terence Young’s post-Bond film, Wait Until Dark, which sees an off-brand Audrey Hepburn pulling in a career defining role as Susy Hendrix, a recently blind woman who must outwit and out-maneuver three men who are in search of a doll carrying smuggled heroine.
Young, who delivered the world its very first James Bond film with Dr. No [’62], peppers the home invasion genre with tropes of the spy film, relying as heavily on sight as it does sound. And what better way to represent the horror sub-genre than with the distinctive characteristic traits of a woman whose own existence is frightfully invaded by darkness? Roak (Alan Arkin’s), man of a thousand faces, along with two con men (Richard Crenna and Jack Weston), begin a desperate cat and mouse game with Susy, who confronts her tormentors with a conviction that demonstrates the power of a woman cornered, as well as the depth of Hepburn’s potential.
It’s a genre piece that plays by its own rules, ushering in tension over dread that effectively shows how far the horror genre can really see, even when cast in complete darkness.
1. Angst (1983)
The slasher genre has always run parallel to the home invasion genre, often intersecting and borrowing elements as it pleases. For every home that’s intruded upon, a slasher victim gets their wings, though one is much more interested in the thrill of the kill than preying off terror.
When a little-known film by the name of Angst, Fear, or Schizophrenia emerged from Austria during the boom of the slasher craze, the home invasion and slasher genre would collide, unleashing a brutal portrait of a serial killer years before Henry would provide a glimpse into the madness of a murderer. Loosely based off the killings of Werner Kniesak, Angst recalls the parole of a man from prison and his exploration into his own depraved thoughts, which lure him along the Austrian countryside in search of victims.
Much of Kargl’s film works independently from the camera work of Zbigniew Rybczyński (who worked extensively on music videos), which maneuvers around our killer like his thoughts, which act as a guide to understanding his psychology and lust for murder. By the time we eventually break into a family home of three, it feels as if we are committing this heinous violation of intimacy, upsetting the boundaries of our own psyche. This invitation into the mouth of madness and further into the parallels of the slasher and home invasion genre give Angst the unnerving power of control over storytelling, revealing a film that’s as destructive as it is engaging.