Terror From Inside: 10 Home Invasion Classics
388 Arletta Avenue, a new release from Tribeca Film, is the latest addition to a particularly harrowing genre—the home invasion movie. The film provides a terrifying account of a young and volatile couple, played by Nick Stahl (In The Bedroom, Sin City) and Mia Kirshner (“The L Word”, The Black Dahlia), who begin to feel like they are being watched. From the makers of Splice and Cube, this twisted horror flick is shown entirely from the perspective of the mysterious stalker, who has set up hidden cameras throughout his victims’ cars, work and home so that he never misses a minute of their increasing fright. A murderous voyeur who enters his victims’ lives and home at will, the villain of this piece is truly the stuff of nightmares.
Unlike horror movies that deal in demons, vampires, and aliens, home invasion movies bring terror into a setting that should be sacred. Perhaps because they explore our innermost fears, these films remain popular, and classics such as When A Stranger Calls, Last House on The Left, Straw Dogs and more have been remade with hip, young casts, enhanced violence, and slick editing for the MTV generation.
To celebrate the release of 388 Arletta Avenue, we are recognizing some noteworthy and, in some cases, overlooked representatives of the home invasion genre. So, lock your doors, draw your curtains, and join us...
A Fatal Attraction for teen viewers, Fear launched the careers of Mark Wahlberg and Reese Witherspoon, who star as the ill-fated lovers. David (Wahlberg) seems to be a respectable young man when he rescues Nicole (Witherspoon) from a bad situation— almost like a fairy tale. They hang out after school, harmlessly break curfews, and experience a memorable roller coaster ride. The sweet romance ends when David forces himself on Nicole’s best friend, Margo (Alyssa Milano). Nicole dumps him, and David reacts the way any normal teen would: carving her name into his chest, killing his romantic rival, and beating himself up to incriminate her father, who instinctively disliked him. David takes revenge on Nicole’s family by storming their home with a gang of delinquent friends in one of the most terrifying home invasion sequences in movies. They cut the phone lines, kill the security guard, and behead the family’s dog, and that’s all before they actually invade the house. The aptly titled Fear is a must-see for gutsy home invasion fans.
Based on the stage play of the same name and remade in 1998 as A Perfect Murder, Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder takes place almost entirely in the apartment of Tony and Margot Wendice (Ray Milland and Grace Kelly), a seemingly happy married couple. When Tony discovers that Margot is having an affair with an American crime novelist, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), he calmly and rationally plots to kill her and inherit her millions. The plot twists in sinister fashion when Tony’s hired killer invades the Wendice home while Margot is alone and in bed. Tony phones Margot from his club to get her to go into the study, where the killer awaits. In a skillfully directed sequence, Margot struggles and manages to mortally wound her attacker with a pair of scissors. A cat-and-mouse game ensues between Tony and Inspector Hubbard (John Willams), who suspects the husband even after Margot is convicted of murder. This time it is the Inspector who invades Tony’s home and manages to trap a killer. Don’t miss Hitchcock’s refined contribution to the home invasion genre.
Black Christmas is often cited as the first slasher movie, and with good reason, but it is also a home invasion movie extraordinaire. Taking place primarily in a sorority house where a group of lively and comely co-eds are preparing for their winter break, the film opens with a striking shot of a seemingly unstable man invading the haven through an open attic widow as the girls host a Christmas party. Jess (Olivia Hussey) is the first to receive an obscene phone call, much to her horror and the delight of her sorority sisters (among them Margot Kidder and Andrea Martin). The killing begins when the mysterious psychopath lures a co-ed into the attic and asphyxiates her with a plastic sheet, staging the body in a rocking chair complete with a doll in her lap. More creepy killings ensue with increasingly imaginative weapons—try a crane hook and a Christmas ornament. A tepid remake of Black Christmas served as a vehicle for Katie Cassidy, Michelle Trachtenberg, Lacey Chabert and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, but the original remains a horror/home invasion classic.
A French school teacher, Clementine (Olivia Bonamy), and her novelist boyfriend, Lucas (Michaël Cohen), lead a blissfully happy life in a sprawling, palatial home that they are in the process of renovating. It’s isolated, dimly lit and surrounded by a dense Romanian forest—what could possibly go wrong? One memorable night, Clementine is awaked by strange noises and voices outside. As the two go outside to investigate, they helplessly watch their car being driven off, leaving them stranded. They soon realize that they have been invaded by not just one mysterious assailant, but by many mysterious assailants, all deranged teenagers and children. Outnumbered and terrified, Clementine and Lucas must fight valiantly to escape the nightmare that their house has become, only to enter the dark and strange woods that surround them. Home invasion has never been so frightening and so relentless.
Based on the William Wyler film starring Humphrey Bogart, Desperate Hours is a taut thriller and the only remake you’ll see on this list. Directed by Michael Cimino with an incredible cast—Mickey Rourke, Anthony Hopkins, Mimi Rogers, Elias Koteas, David Morse, Kelly Lynch and more— the film portrays the desperate struggle between an escaped convict and his gang of lackeys and a troubled family in the ‘burbs. The home invasion occurs because Michael Boswoth (Rourke), an escaped convict, needs to place to lay low with his crew while they wait for his twisted defense attorney girlfriend (Lynch). Little do they know, they have chosen the home of a decorated Vietnam vet (Hopkins) and his wife (Rogers) who are in the midst of trying to reconcile after his unfortunate affair. As the cops close in, the family has to keep talking to stay alive. How’s that for a quiet evening at home?
The People Under the Stairs (1991)
Dir. Wes Craven
What's a mother to do? Lazy brat sits in her room all day, sewing dolls. Children misbehaving in the basement! And one in the wall, doing his business God knows where. You kids will be the death of me... the death of me.
While not one of director Wes Craven’s well known films, The People Under the Stairs is one of the best. Desperate for rent money for his family, a young boy called Fool (Brandon Quintin Adams) is coerced by his sister’s older friends Leroy (a rather baby-faced Ving Rhames) and Spenser to help them burglarize the vault in their evil landlord’s massive and sinister home. Despite the ominous padlocks on the outside of the house, the three manage to break in and make a predictably grisly discovery, which involves mutated cannibals, imprisoned children living within the walls, incest, BDSM, psycho-killers and more. Needless to say, the hapless burglars soon become the prey and scramble to escape with the aid of a few unlikely allies. This Craven original turns the home invasion genre on its head and is fun to watch. Warning to all would-be home invaders—think twice before you attack that house on the dark end of the street!
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
Dir. Anatole Litvak
I want you to do something. I want you to get yourself out of the bed, and get over to the window and scream as loud as you can. Otherwise you only have another three minutes to live.
Nominated for an Academy Award for her performance, Barbara Stanwyck stars as Leona Stevenson in this nail biting noir from Anatole Litvak. Based on the famous radio play, Sorry, Wrong Number penetrates the reclusive world of an heiress suffering from a mysterious aliment whose only connection to the outside world is her telephone. While trying to make a call one day, Leona encounters a crossed phone connection that allows her to listen in on a plot to kill a woman. After she is ignored by the operator, the police and her father, she slowly begins to realize that she is the intended victim so her weak husband Henry (Burt Lancaster), who is being blackmailed, will inherit her fortune and pay off his debts. Shot in real time with flashbacks, Stanwyck remarkably conveys Leona’s growing horror as the plot becomes clear. While a remorseful Henry tries to warn her, Leona is unable to move out her bed, and, in a frightening sequence, helplessly watches the killer’s shadow ascend from the staircase and move toward her room. Both Leona’s claustrophobic existence and her fortress-like home prove extremely vulnerable, making Sorry, Wrong Number one of the prototypes of the genre.
Michael Haneke’s Funny Games is one of the most famous recent home invasion movies. So successful was the film that Haneke remade it himself shot by shot in 2007 with Tim Roth, Naomi Watts and Michael Pitt. Unrelenting and inspired, Funny Games involves a family held captive by two sadistic young men who force them to play a series of games to stay alive. While the movie is twisted and cruel, it is also interesting and thought-provoking. One of the killers, Paul (Arno Frisch) consistently breaks the fourth wall, speaking directly to the film audience and even going so far as to rewind with a handy remote control to undo the shooting of his partner Peter (Frank Geiring) by Anna (Susanne Lothar), one of the victims. Michael Haeneke’s disturbing portrayal of the family’s traumatic and deadly night in the original and the American remake powerfully conveys that no place is safe from malignant forces, not even the home.
While Hider in the House is the only made-for-television movie with a spot on this list, it is well deserving, especially given its all-star cast of Gary Busey, Mimi Rogers, Michael McKean and Bruce Glover. When Tom Sykes (Busey) is released from a mental institution and finds himself essentially homeless, he wanders to a home in the midst of renovations and decides to build himself a hidden room in the attic and to install surveillance equipment before the homeowners move in. As Tom becomes more and more obsessed with the family, he protects his perch by killing anyone who threatens to expose him, including one unlucky exterminator. When Julie (Rogers) and Phil (McKean) begin to experience martial problems, Tom sees his chance to swoop in and claim the family as his own. Complete with a manic and oddly brilliant performance by Busey and a riveting conclusion, Hider in the House adds a delicious twist to the genre—there truly is no place like a home that comes with a resident psychopath.
A blind woman left alone in her home to battle ruthless intruders may seem like a hopeless scenario, but Audrey Hepburn is up to the challenge in Wait Until Dark. Hepburn plays Susy Hendrix, a young blind woman whose husband has come into possession of a mysterious rag doll given to him by a desperate stranger. When he leaves to go on a business trip, criminals tracking the doll (which is full of heroin) carry out one of the most chilling home invasions in film history. Led by the sinister Roat (Alan Arkin), the gang enters Susy’s apartment through an elaborate con and proceeds to terrorize Susy as they search for the hidden doll. To level the playing field, Susy breaks all the light bulbs in the apartment and sets booby traps for her pursuers. In a complex portrayal, Hepburn manages to convey Susy’s terror but also her increasing sense of power and self-confidence. Ultimately, even the psychotic Roat is no match for this blind fury. One word of warning: if you’re trying to knock out all the lights in your house to thwart home invaders, don’t forget the bulb in the refrigerator.
388 ARLETTA AVENUE is available now on VOD and other platforms via Tribeca Film.
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