Welcome to The Last Horror Blog, a biweekly column on all things horror.
Universal’s The Purge kicked some serious butt at the box office this past weekend, bringing in over $36 million and taking the number-one spot on the charts. The film finds Ethan Hawke and his family fighting off home invaders on the one night of the year when all crime in America is completely legal.
Home-invasion movies have long been a popular horror subgenre – and for obvious reasons. Home is our sanctuary, the one place where we’re supposed to be safe from the dangers of the outside world. It’s our refuge and castle, and we go to varying lengths to protect everything – and everyone – inside those walls. Because of this, it’s a great setup for horror films. We all have a home, and we can all relate to how awful it would be to have that sanctuary violated. It makes things all too real.
There have been countless films that have played on our fear of having our most personal space invaded. Join me today in looking at some of the best this subgenre has to offer.
Director Michael Haneke has become an art house and critical darling over the past few years, but the Austrian filmmaker first caught the eye of horror fans with his 1997 film Funny Games.
A family of three heads to their house on the lake for a quiet vacation and finds anything but in this intense thriller from the man who would later direct Amour. When two strange young men stop by to borrow some eggs, it turns out they have something far more devious in mind than making an omelet. The duo subdue the father and torture the trio with their series of “funny games” that will make even the most hard-core fans squirm uncomfortably.
Haneke’s film has been controversial for a multitude of reasons – one scene is viewed by many as a cheat on the filmmaker’s part and the filmmaker himself has said he made the movie to condemn the audiences who watch these sorts of movies – but the fourth wall breaking and detached sociopathy of the two antagonists showed us that Haneke had great things in his future. Check out this original if you can – I prefer it to Haneke’s American remake.
Alexandre Bustillo and Julian Maury’s French shocker is one movie you have to see to believe.
Alysson Paradis stars a young pregnant woman who finds both herself and her unborn child under siege from an absolutely insane Beatrice Dalle in this bloody and violent example of the French New Wave of horror cinema.
If the traditional home-invasion film pushes our buttons by violating our personal space, imagine how much more powerful our reaction is when seeing a pregnant woman repeatedly placed in harm’s way. This is an intense and disturbing film that will leave you gasping repeatedly and cringing in its final moments. Maury and Bustillo don’t pull any punches here, and because of that Inside stands as one of the most powerful of all the films in this particular category.
Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman run afoul of a trio of mask-wearing psychopaths in Bryan Bertino’s divisive 2008 film The Strangers.
Bertino’s tale of an unhappy couple caught in a fight for survival at their cabin in the woods is not particularly original (in fact, it seems to owe a great deal to the French film Them aka Ils), but the execution is good enough that we’re able to get past some of the familiarity of the plot.
I’m generally not a Liv Tyler fan, but she’s surprisingly effective in this feature. The actress manages to find the right mix of resourceful and vulnerable, and because of that I wouldn’t mind seeing her try a few more genre films. I don’t think Liv Tyler’s ever going to become a scream queen, but she’s good in this part.
Still, what really makes The Strangers (and honestly, all home-invasion films) work are the invaders. The masked killers who break into this house are terrifying in the same way Michael Myers is terrifying in the original Halloween. They sport spooky masks and they have no real motive for doing what they do. This could happen to you – which makes all the terrifying stuff feel even more universal.
The House on the Edge of the Park
This 1982 Italian sleazefest from Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato has a little something for everyone – if that something is torture, violence and David Hess and Giovanni Lombardo Radice taking over a house party.
In this cult hit, Hess essays another classic performance as an unhinged psychopath who turns the tables on some upper-crust snobs. He teams up with Radice (aka the hardest dying man in showbiz) to take a house party hostage after he realizes the hosts are having fun at his and Radice’s expense. Bad move.
Once Hess and Radice take over, the film becomes really mean-spirited. There’s all kinds of torture and degradation happening, and in a really weird touch, viewers don’t seem to mind. Deodato’s film is filled with largely unlikable characters, and because of this you don’t get too upset at any of the suffering. Still, The House on the Edge of the Park is a cult exploitation classic for a reason – it delivers upsetting content in mass quantities.
Wait Until Dark
This classic 1967 home-invasion flick is a standout in the subgenre thanks to a masterful performance from Audrey Hepburn, who would receive an Oscar nomination for her work in director Terence Young’s suspense masterpiece.
Hepburn plays a young blind woman whose apartment is invaded by a trio of criminals (led by Alan Arkin) searching for a doll filled with heroin. What ensues is an incredibly tense game of cat and mouse between our visually impaired leading lady and Arkin’s group of thugs.
This tension is ratcheted up to almost unbearable levels during the climax, where Hepburn’s blindness becomes an asset. Young’s direction in this segment of the film is incredible – witnessed by the fact that he pulls off one of the greatest jump scares in the history of cinema.
Don’t be put off by Wait Until Dark’s age – this film still delivers.
No, we’re not talking about the recent remake that was in theaters not too long ago – we’re talking about Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 classic, a film that earned some folks’ ire for its rape scene and violent overall tone.
Dustin Hoffman stars as an astrophysicist pushed too far in this tale. He and his wife (Susan George) leave the violence of America and move to England – where they soon discover violence isn’t something that only happens in the U.S. When a group of locals attempt to invade the home (for reasons I’ll leave for you to discover on your own), Hoffman has to get in touch with his primal side. And boy, does he.
Peckinpah was a master of cinematic violence, and his work here is exceptional. This is another “oldie” in the field of home-invasion films, but it’s also one of the greatest examples of the form. Don’t miss it.