The home invasion sub genre has yielded some of the most memorable and terrifying films in the genre; here are 10 hidden gems that don’t get enough love.
The fear of unwanted, hostile trespassers invading your house while you are home is a frightening thought under any circumstance. According to the Department of Justice, in the United States alone, over 1.03 million home invasions occur every year, and 3.7 million homes are burglarized every year. That means a home in the U.S. is burglarized roughly every 8 seconds.
The home invasion sub genre, a blend of psychological thrillers and horror, encompasses a wide berth of brutal, hyper-violent chillers, such as Straw Dogs (1971), Eden Lake (2008), and Knife Point (2010). But it also includes more subtle psychological thrillers like When a Stranger Calls (1979), La Casa Muda (2010), and Hush (2016). The sub genre is steeped in history, dating back to silent era with D.W. Griffith’s home-invasion short The Lonely Villa (1909).
Home invasion thrillers eventually went mainstream.
Aubrey Hepburn won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award nomination for her role as Susy, a newly blind woman who falls victim to a trio of con artists who break into her apartment in Wait Until Dark (1967). James Caan’s (The Godfather) first credited role was Randall Simpson O’Connell, a hoodlum in the home-invasion thriller Lady in a Cage (1964). Genre genius Wes Craven contributed two home invasion horrors, Last House on the Left (1972) and People Under the Stairs (1991), as did John Carpenter, who made the television movie Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) immediately before making Halloween. Polish director Roman Polanski also did a home invasion thriller, Cul-de-Sac (1966).
The home invasion film is among horror’s most beloved sub genres, but most top ten home invasion horror lists seem to highlight the same limited selection of the sub genre’s offerings. Films like The Strangers (2008), the “Stairway to Heaven” of home invasion horror films, and the dark horror comedy You’re Next (2013) rightfully earn their spots on many of these lists.
But this list aims to draw attention to some of the sub genre’s equally terrorizing, but lesser known and underrated home invasion horrors from around the world.
10. Villains (2019)
Villains follows a romantic couple Mickey and Jules, who are also petty criminals, played by Swedish actor Bill Skarsgård, best known as Pennywise from It (2017) and It Chapter Two (2019), and Maika Monroe from It Follows (2014). Mickey and Jules run out of gas following a haphazard convenience store robbery and stage a home invasion at a nearby rural house seeking gas or a new vehicle. Only, the house they invaded is owned by an even more devious couple (Kyra Sedgwick and Jeffrey Donovan) with a strange child (Blake Baumgartner) locked up with a chain in the basement.
The story unfolds using familiar “hunters become the hunted” tropes. But powerful performances from all four leads and the playful, darkly comedic aspects of two dimwitted crooks trying to overcome a demented country couple effectively begs the question, who poses the biggest threat to society? Is it the wayward, poor, young thieves or the delusional, seemingly rich, conservative country gentleman and his wife?
Ultimately the story is fraught with broken dreams, diluted fantasies, and missed opportunities. It’s a reminder that the highway to hell is paved with good intentions and hope is often an already dry well. Villains marks the third creative collaboration between filmmakers Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, who also made Body (2015).
You can currently stream Villains for free on Hulu.
9. Knock Knock (2015)
Eli Roth’s fifth feature film Knock Knock is a remake of Peter S. Traynor’s film Death Game (1977). Both films involve stories about two young, beautiful women seducing an at-home father/husband protagonist, only the pair quickly turns to degrading, tormenting, harassing, and torturing their hapless victim.
Knock Knock stars Keanu Reeves as the doomed Evan Webber, a well-meaning father and husband who stays home to work and nurse a shoulder injury a while his family takes a beach vacation. Two women played by Lorenza Izzo, who was married to Roth at the time, and Ana de Armas, appear at Evan’s door in a perceived wrong address mishap. After reluctantly letting them in to make a call, the pair seduce Evan before blackmailing him into believing they are really underage teens. There is a rapid escalation, resulting in Evan’s mental torture and the death of his wife’s assistant (Aaron Burns).
Colleen Camp, who originally starred in Death Game, returned to co-produce alongside Roth and plays a small part as Vivian, a friend of Evan’s wife. Knock Knock was disregarded by many critics upon its release, but its diabolical undertone, satirical take on the torture porn sub genre, and above average acting warrants a critical reassessment.
Knock Knock is available to rent or buy digitally for less than $5.
8. Sweet Home (2015)
Sweet Home is a conventional home invasion horror movie from Spanish filmmaker Rafa Martinez. But the film’s unique location and slick cinematography by Antonio J. Garcia leave a memorable mark.
Real estate agent Alicia (Ingrid Garcia-Jonsson) visits a rundown, gothic style apartment building to assess its value for the owner eager to sell it off. Alicia fails to convince the building’s last remaining tenant Ramone to consider moving out of the soon to be condemned structure. Spontaneously, Alicia decides to surprise her boyfriend Simon (Bruno Sevilla) by sprucing up the first floor flat and invites him over for an impromptu birthday celebration. Menacing thugs break into the building seeking and kill Ramone, presumably on behalf of the building’s owner, and discover Alicia and Simon are hiding out in the building.
The cat and mouse game ensures, and Alicia proves to be a witty, strong, and likable Final Girl. The production design on the building is nothing short of spectacular. And while the plot is certainly familiar, Sweet Home is an often overlooked but technically competent entry in the home invasion sub genre that amps up the atmosphere and maximizes its unique single location.
Sweet Home is currently available to stream for free on Amazon Prime Video.
7. Bone (1972)
Before filmmaker Larry Cohen became a household name for horror and sci-fi films like It’s Alive (1974) and Q (1982), he debuted a poignant and heavy satirical take on race relations in the U.S. called Bone: A Bad Day in Beverly Hills. Given the current tense state of affairs concerning race relations and police brutality in 2020, Cohen’s Bone remains a telling and apt portrayal of how greed and racism manifest among perceived elitists.
While certainly not a pure horror film, Bone’s gritty realism, rape scene, and unsettling first third swims in the same pool as some of the more gratuitous shockers of that era. Affluent couple Bill (Andrew Duggan) and Bernadette (Joyce Van Patten) bicker at their Beverly Hills estate over a drowned