Do not open that door! You never know who might come barging in. Home Invasion horror is the topic for this week’s Scariest Things Podcast. Liz, Eric, and Mike talk about the deep and unsettling fear of being attacked where you live.
For adults, the bump in the middle of the night is scary, but not because they fear ghosts, or a monster under the bed… they fear intruders. What was that? Who is there? Go away! I am warning you, I have a knife! Help! Help! In home-invasion films, it is the violation of your personal sanctuary that hits you right at home. (Ba dum dum! Thank you, I’ll be here all night.) Everybody can identify with this, and it has a legitimate chance of actually happening to YOU, unlike, say, a vampire or a werewolf.
Home invasion films invite the audience to think about how to defend both home and family. And, immediately these movies get you thinking, “How would I handle this situation? What if somebody breaks into my house?” Hmmm. Maybe I’ll stash a spare hammer by the bedstand. I wonder how long I can leave a pan of cooking oil on the stove before it becomes a fire hazard? Can I fit in that laundry hamper? Would I be able to survive a drop from the second-floor window if that was my only way out? Perhaps I should practice yelling inside my house and find out if my neighbor can hear me. Just remember, the wise sage Mike Tyson once said: “Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the mouth.”
There are two fairly big sub-sub-genre elements to the home invasion movie, which almost cleanly breaks into two camps. One is the hostage and escape movie, where the villains break into the house, easily overwhelm the victims, and the story becomes one of torture and escape. Quite often the protagonists in this variant are taken by surprise. The victim(s) are overwhelmed and then either need rescue or find a way out of their predicament.
The second sub-trope is the siege, where a game of cat and mouse plays out, and the villains try and angle for a way in, and the protagonists fend them off. Personally, I prefer the latter to the former, as I always enjoy watching the defensive moves. Many zombie movies, particularly Night of the Living Dead, are of this variety, but for this exercise, we are focusing on living humans vs. living humans.
Violent, intense, and based in reality, this is where the horror genre brushes up against the thriller genre. This is a sub-genre almost completely devoid of supernatural or fantastical elements. So, one of the ways that these movies often shift it into horror is to give the anonymity of the masked stalker, which adds to the dread. Another sub-trope is that of the perfectly innocent-looking (and often attractive) person arriving with benign intent, only to be harboring murderous thoughts.
The home invasion sub-genre has deep roots and many classics. Honorable Mentions need to be made for: Panic Room, Scream, When a Stranger Calls, The Purge, Last House on the Left, Wait Until Dark, Don’t Breathe, and Villains. We just didn’t have room to talk about them all!
So, go bolt your door. Turn on your security camera. Check to make sure there’s gas in the tank. And listen in to Episode 71: Home Invasion Horror!