“A Clockwork Orange” (1971)
“A Clockwork Orange” is handful of different genres all warped up into one, and perhaps its most terrifying element is the way in which it toys with home invasion evil. In the infamously prolonged sequence from Kubrick’s masterpiece, the director manages to completely dismantle one of the most memorable musical sequences in cinematic history, which is no easy feat. Sung by Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) as he beats and rapes a middle-aged husband and wife with his droogs in hand, “Singin’ in the Rain” is injected with unshakable horror. The song is terrifying all the more for the way in which Alex so effortlessly harnesses the gleeful memories of Gene Kelly’s dance steps to carry out his own barbaric actions and quench his thirst for ultra-violence.
“The Cable Guy” (1996)
Most home invasion movies find themselves operating in the horror and/or thriller genres, but leave it to Ben Stiller to create a home intruder born out of psychological comedy. “The Cable Guy,” the comedian’s second directorial effort, stars Jim Carrey in his most cult-friendly role as Ernie “Chip” Douglas, an over-eccentric cable installer with a lisp and some serious emotional issues. After installing the cable for Matthew Boderick’s Steven M. Kovacs, their relationship becomes a convoluted comedy nightmare as Kovacs tries to bribe Chip for free movie channels and Chip misinterprets Kovacs’ interest in him as a newfound friendship. What results is a life invasion movie founded on lunacy and satire, one where the intruder is jacked up on so much television his brain has literally been jolted to crazed bits and pieces. Now that’s truly terrifying.
“Cape Fear” (1991)
After several decades of collaborating on character-driven dramas about the American experience in films like “Mean Streets” and “Raging Bull,” Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese went down a much darker path in “Cape Fear.” The movie finds the unassuming Bowden family — played by Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange and Juliette Lewis — tracked down and terrorized by an ex-con thirsty for vengeance. De Niro plays Max Cady, a convicted rapist fresh out of jail and determined to get back at the defense attorney who failed to win him his freedom 14 years earlier. The role was originated by Robert Mitchum, who managed to be both menacing and suave, but De Niro adds an intense, physical ferocity to the character that leaves the Bowdens and the viewer feeling all the more helpless. While Max’s stalking of Lewis’ character is frightening, a bedroom scene in which Max turns upon his partner is particularly disturbing. Max’s simultaneous charm and brutality plays off the psycho-sexual fears of stranger danger, and his relentless pursuit of the Bowdens across multiple locations forces us to realize that sometimes home invasions extend beyond the home.
“Funny Games” (1997/2007)
With “Funny Games,” Michael Haneke takes the horror trope of the vacation-gone-horribly-wrong and violently subverts it. Just as a family of four settles into a lake house for a peaceful vacation, they encounter two teenage boys who have other — more sadistic — plans for them. The slow-burn descent into nightmare occurs as the boys ingratiate themselves into the family, only to kill off each member one by one after psychologically torturing them into submission. Haneke’s tone is so controlled and matter-of-fact that it’s unsettling to the core, particularly when the perpetrators break the fourth wall, making the audience complicit in their senseless violent acts. At one point, the killers turn to the camera and ask, “What are you looking at and why?” This nihilism and cavalier approach to violence is what makes “Funny Games” one of the most unbearable home invasion horrors ever made.
The French are pretty good at giving you the darkest, most morbid horror films around, and Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s “Inside” is no exception. The slasher flick stars Alysson Paradis as expectant mother Sarah Scarangelo, home alone on a rainy evening, and Béatrice Dalle as an unnamed woman who arrives at her door requesting to use her phone to call for help. Though a wary Sarah tries to turn her away, the woman refuses to leave, smashing one of her windows and lurking around her yard for a way in, turning the film into a terrifying game of cat and mouse within Sarah’s small house. “Inside” is a prime example of the new wave of French horror that is characterized by a severe approach to depicting violence, and Maury and Bustillo generously deliver the terrifying graphic goods. You’ll never want to be home alone after this one.
“Panic Room” (2002)
One of David Fincher’s earliest thrillers, “Panic Room” stars Jodi Foster and a pee-wee Kristen Stewart as a recently divorced woman and her 12-year-old daughter who, as the title suggests, fortify themselves in their Manhattan brownstone’s panic room when their home is burgled late at night. The thieves (Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakam) break into the brownstone in search of the $3 million in bearer bonds that belonged to the previous owner, a sum that unfortunately turns out to be stored in the very panic room Foster and Stewart retreat to. The film was a box office hit and remains a classic home invasion flick. At the very least, it’ll get you to triple check (and maybe fortify) your locks before you go to bed each night.
“Single White Female” (1992)
Barbet Schroeder’s 1992 thriller starring Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh is a twisted psychological chess game of transforming identities and escalating violence. Fonda stars as software designer Allison “Allie” Jones, an innocent young adult who moves into a New York City apartment after breaking off her engagement to her cheating fiancee. Enter Hedra “Hedy” Carlson (Leigh, with enough sinister smiles to make you endlessly uncomfortable), who becomes Allie’s new roommate and slowly fosters a volatile obsession with her. As their freisndhip grows deeper and more alarming, Allie’s voicemails begin being tampered with, her dog ends up dead and Hedy even beings manipulating her looks to mimic her roommate’s appearance. Is it obsession or something more sickening? Schroeder keeps the viewer guessing as the plot takes turns both humorous and tense. In the hands of Leigh, Hedy is one of the all time great home intruders.
“Straw Dogs” (1971)
In Sam Peckinpah’s notorious “Straw Dogs,” Dustin Hoffman plays David, an American mathematician who flees to the serene British countryside with his trophy wife in order to find the kind of peace and quiet that eluded him in the States. Yet David’s status as an outsider is apparent from the film’s outset, a fact made abundantly clear by the looming presence of his wife’s volatile ex-boyfriend and his band of cronies. Feeling isolated and increasingly threatened, David vows, “I will not allow violence against this house,” but it is only a matter of time before his calculated reasoning can no longer protect himself from the extreme violence that looms beneath. The film is a slow burn that boils to a devastating conclusion, sporting a home invasion sequence that resembles a hard-R version of “Home Alone.”
“You’re Next” (2011)
Adam Wingard’s independent slasher film got dumped in theaters on the last weekend of August 2013, pretty much guaranteeing no one would see what was ultimately one of that year’s most wickedly subversive little horror flicks. After a morbid prologue in which two unnamed characters meet their doom at the hands of an unseen menace, “You’re Next” settles into a family reunion at an isolated vacation home deep in the woods. The affluent heads of the Crampton household, parents Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Barbara Davidson), invite their grown children and their respective significant others to a dinner party that quickly turns grim thanks to a handful of animal-masked intruders. But the murderers don’t expect for an Aussie outback veteran (breakthrough Sharni Vinson) to have fast-paced survival skills, and what follows is clever retaliation against home invasion tropes as the woman keeps the killers on their toes and shifts the power dynamic, upending the mysterious scheme behind their attack.