Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Home Sweet Murder: Fifteen Favorite Jaw-Clenching Home Invasion Films


My friends call me irrational, since I live in a pretty nice suburb in St. Louis, but I have a huge fear of home invasion. It is the scariest thing to me; people breaking into your house with no other motive than to torture and kill you.

Okay, I’m being dramatic, but that is the subject of a good number of movies, including upcoming thriller The Purge.

In anticipation of this flick, Christine and I have compiled this list of our favorite home invasion films.


1. FUNNY GAMES (1997)
Although there are two versions of this film, I decided to highlight the original Austrian film by Michael Haneke. A wealthy German family is tortured by two men who force them to play “games” for their survival. This film has considerably disturbing violence and subject matter—our seemingly remorseless antagonists lack of motive and extreme sadistic nature is utterly terrifying. /MR


2. WAIT UNTIL DARK (1967) 
In an Oscar-nominated performance, Audrey Hepburn is a blind woman who has lamentably been targeted by a group of drug-dealers who break into her apartment to try to locate their stash. Poor Susy (Hepburn) - she has no idea what is going on: that her husband unwittingly has gotten himself in the middle of a drug-deal gone wrong, and the heroin in question has somehow ended up at their home. The three men torment and harass Susy, until she uses her disability to her advantage and plunges the trio into complete darkness, where she is most comfortable. The tables are turned on these invaders. Great stuff. /CH


3. IN THEIR SKIN (2012)
Directed by Jeremy Power Regimbal, last year's home invasion thriller tells the tale of the Hughes family who have fled to their cottage in the woods to try to get over the death of the youngest son.  When a neighboring family joins them for dinner, it's obvious that the Sakowski clan covets the wealth and good fortune of the Hughes'. Things go south quickly, with the Sakowski's taking over the house and essentially imagining themselves replacing the Hughes family and living their lives. This particular film shows the invaders as not only violent but mentally unstable as well. Never a good combo.


4. HIGH TENSION (2003)
A strange and surprising film, this French piece by Alexandre Aja concerns us with Marie, who is visiting her best friend’s family in the countryside only to witness a psychopath break into the house and begin to massacre the family. Only she can save her best friend… right? /MR


5. INSIDE (a.k.a. À l'intérieur, 2007) This amazing yet ferocious French film made such an indelible impression on me that even now I don't think I've seen a more merciless killer than La Femme.  A young woman is spending Christmas eve alone after the untimely death of her husband in a car accident. She is nine months pregnant and due to deliver the next day. But it won't be a happy holiday when a mysterious stranger comes calling. And just...won't...leave.  She wants one thing and one thing only. The unborn child. And she will do ANYTHING to get it.  I cannot stress how utterly disturbing and unsettling this film is. Those French, they do it right. /CH

6. WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979)
Directed by Fred Walton, the psychological nature and menacing pace make this a truly frightening film, unlike it’s lame remake version. Based on an urban legend, it concerns a babysitter—-an occupation many of us have had—-and a psychopath terrorizing her from inside the home she is occupying. It leaves you wonder one haunting question. “Have you checked the children?” /MR


7. STRAW DOGS (1971)
Released the same year as the much-debated A Clockwork Orange, this fierce and gripping film (also remade in 2011) by Sam Peckinpah takes home invasion to a different level by having the victims actually knowing their perpetrators. Containing a controversial rape scene and an unusual amount of violence for the time, Straw Dogs brings a woman's worst fears to light, as well as her husband who is forced to question how far he will go to keep his family safe. That said, this is a fine film of revenge also, as a final invasion results in a confrontation that has the attackers being asked (and not so very nicely) to atone for their crimes. /CH

8. THEM (2006)
French film Ils concerns a French couple living in Hungary in a beautiful, remote house. Their peaceful, romantic existence is thwarted by a pack of hooded strangers who engage them in a sickly playful homicidal chase. Director David Moreau creates strong tension, raises emotions and tugs at your moral fibers in this unique, horrifying vision of home invasion./MR


9. DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954) 
Ahh, Hitchcock. The master of suspense was at his best in this early 50's classic. A man discovers his wife is having an affair and hires an old friend (a sometimes criminal) to murder her, plotting out the home invasion-style break-in gone wrong down to the last detail. Unfortunately, the plan goes awry and the wife ends up stabbing and killing her assailant with scissors. From there it all gets a little tricky, but those moments when the killer is hiding behind curtains preparing to commit murder are pretty tense. Hitchcock strikes again! /CH

10. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)
Although Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece of “ultra-violence” isn’t exclusively a home invasion film, it does feature two of the most memorable and disturbing examples of one. Alex and his Droogs’ idea of fun is breaking into strangers homes, raping, and murdering them, in the most sadistic and bizarre ways. Although not for the faint of heart, this film is of course a classic that must be viewed! /MR


11. PANIC ROOM (2002)
In one of the better home invasion films of the last decade, Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart star as a mother and daughter who have recently purchased a new home in which the previous paranoid owner had installed a safe room because he was a millionaire and nervous as hell about home invasions. Which of course is exactly what happens. David Fincher is, as always, a very capable and intriguing director, and he brings a sense of sheer dread and couch-gripping tension with this film that forces us to ask ourselves: just what would you do to survive?/CH

12.  BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
Often touted as one of the original slasher films, Bob Clark's Black Christmas (forget the remake, please) has a man hiding in the attic of a sorority house making threatening phone calls to the sisters. One by one the girls disappear, with the police finally determining that the disturbing phone calls are coming from inside the house. (Sounds like another movie on this list!). Word has it that this movie was inspired by a series of killings in Canada, which is always unnerving. It also benefits from being one of the first "holiday horror" films. /CH


13. HELTER SKELTER (1976)
An award-winning TV movie, this film tells the real-life story of the murders committed by the Manson Family back in 1969 and is based on the best-selling book of the same name by Vincent Bugliosi. Being on television doesn't water down the tremendous sense of doom as the members of the Manson cult broke into actress Sharon Tate's Benedict Canyon, CA. home and killed her and four others in a fit of violence and brutality. The Family then moved on to kill a couple nearby in their home as well. What makes it the most horrific is that the story is true. /CH


14. THE STRANGERS (2008)
I did not put these films in any specific order, but if I did, this one would be at the top. Not necessarily as my favorite, but as the most terrifying film on the list. This movie has suspense, atmosphere, dread and a true psychological effect. This is one of those movies that rather than watching it in a theatre, I find it scarier to watch it in your own home. A basic plot line of a couple terrorized by three masked assailants turns into a tense fight for survival. /MR


15. IN COLD BLOOD (1967)
And yet another true story made into a film, this one had the benefit of being adapted from the brilliant book by Truman Capote. It focuses on the deadly duo of Richard "Dick" Hickock and Perry Smith, men who took it upon themselves to break into a home in Kansas owned by the Clutter family and murder all four members "in cold blood".  Another "burglary turned into murder", an exhaustive search for the killers is then put forth. I doubt there is anything more scary than realizing someone is in your home at night, not just to steal from you but to end your life. This film is a goosebump-inducing thrill ride of the quest for criminal justice. /CH

These are films that show a horrifying side of human nature, contrasted by a person’s will to survive. Many of our antagonists are motivated by the simple urge to kill, and a good deal of these movies don’t come out with the happy ending our victims deserve.

The creepy mask quirk worked very well in The Strangers; let’s see how The Purge pulls it off, opening in U.S. theatres this Friday. Remember to lock your doors tonight, folks!

2 comments:

Eric said...

Great list - I realized reading this just how uncomfortable home invasion flicks make me. I don't know if it's how well crafted many of examples you've listed are, or if it's something about the genre. Probably a bit of both. I've been looking forward to checking out In Their Skin for a while - glad it comes with your endorsement.

Have you guys seen Citadel? I'd recommend checking it out if you haven't - it's not super-formulaic home-invasion, but features an ultra-unsettling portrayal of agoraphobia.

Christine Hadden said...

Eric: thanks for reading and commenting! Yes I have indeed seen Citadel, in fact I reviewed it in March of this year. I loved it!