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 rat in their pool when a stranger, later given the nickname “Bone” by Bernadette, appears wearing grungy work clothes and takes care of the drowned rat. The couple attempt to pay Bone, a strapping African American man played by Yaphet Kotto, a minor stipend for his troubles. But Bone arranges for the couple to show him their house and threatens to rape Bernadette and rob the couple.
The film unfolds with Bone unraveling the couple’s dysfunctional marriage, financial problems, and loveless relationship. Though Cohen always maintained Bone was intended as a dark comedy, the film’s seedy atmosphere and heavy content certainly builds and holds tension found in most psychological thrillers. The film’s finale, without revealing spoilers, questions the mental state of Bernadette and exposes the true depth and ugliness of racist tendencies.
Distributors failed to market Bone effectively, given its elusive genre placement, and billed it as a fright film in the U.K. under the title Dial Rat for Terror, a grossly misrepresenting marketing scheme that infuriated Cohen for the rest of his career. While Bone certainly has plenty of dark humor and revels in poking fun at class and racial biases, its overall commentary is still relevant nearly 50 years later. During the scene where Bone ransacks the couple’s office, keen eyes will spot a copy of William Styron’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967), a novel about the slave revolt in Virginia in 1831, an intentional nod placed by Cohen.
You can currently stream Bone for free on Amazon Prime Video.
6. Body (2015)
Three co-eds home from college for the holidays end up partying at an empty mansion belonging to an uncle of one of the girls. As the night progresses, it becomes clear the mansion is owned by someone else, trust is broken and soon enough the trio is faced with a life changing moral dilemma.
Body, the first feature film by filmmakers Dan Berk and Robert Olsen (Villains), is an effective and unexpected home-invasion thriller that achieves its intensity without copious amounts of gore or gratuitous violence. Instead, it relies on the real horrors associated with guilt, inaction, and desperation that saturate the story. The three female characters each represent one of Sigmund Freud‘s models of the human psyche: id, ego and superego, which plays a central role in their character development and reactions.
Despite the single setting location, shot mostly at a mansion in Westport, Connecticut, in March 2014, Berk and Olsen maximize production value that offers up slick visuals and a memorable setting. Body is a stark and thought-provoking tale of misery and agony as the lives of three young women unravel on one fateful night. Genre favorite Larry Fessenden also clutches his performance at the groundskeeper.
Body is currently available to stream for free on Amazon Prime Video.
5. I See You (2019)
Adam Randall’s I See You is a harrowing and atmospheric horror-thriller film starring Helen Hunt and Jon Tenney as a Jackie and Greg Harper, an embittered couple struggling to cope following revelations about Jackie’s infidelity.
Greg, a prominent detective in their small town, begins working a missing child case, which appears to be the work of a previous serial child killer. Meanwhile, two thrill seekers Mindy (Libe Barer) and Alec (Owen Teague), have been “phrogging” in the Harper’s home. Phrogging is the act of sneaking into a house and living among its occupants without their knowledge. While Mindy focuses on keeping a low profile, but filming her transgressions, Alec becomes increasingly unhinged, seeking to disrupt the Harper’s lives and occasionally dons a rather sinister looking frog mask.
The film is chock full of plot twists and turns and unexpected reveals, including heavy content involving child abuse and serial killing. I See You opened with generally positive reviews, as the film is well constructed and eerie, and the phrogging element is a welcome trope for the home invasion horror sub genre.
You can currently stream I See You for free on Amazon Prime Video.
4. Inside (2007)
French filmmaking duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s debut film À l’intérieur, or Inside as it’s known in the North American market, is a riveting, unrelenting, and visceral reflection of personal loss and grief.
Several months after suffering a car accident that killed her husband, pregnant widow Sarah (Alysson Paradis) is stalked by a strange woman (Béatrice Dalle) on Christmas Eve, the night before Sarah’s delivery. The woman eventually breaks into Sarah’s home and violently attacks her in an attempt to tear Sarah’s unborn child from her womb. The film enjoys a bustling pace and astounding brutality, which plays out within the confines of Sarah’s humble abode.
Bustillo and Maury were keen to feature a female killer as the antagonist, upending the static genre cliché of a male killer. À l’intérieur, while magnificent, is not for the faint of heart. Dalle won the 2007 Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Best Supporting Actress and À l’intérieur won the Carnet Jove Jury Award, the Citizen Kane Award for Best Directorial Revelation, and the Grand Prize of European Fantasy Film in Silver at the 2007 Sitges Film Festival.
You can currently watch Inside (A L’Interieur) uncut and unrated on Shudder.
3. Sleep Tight (2011)
A perpetual nightmare for many is having the intimate privacy of your home trespassed by unknown aggressors at a time of their choosing, especially without you ever knowing it. Even worse is discovering your house has been routinely invaded for weeks, months, or even longer, without your knowledge.
Spanish director Jaume Balabueró’s Sleep Tight is a masterpiece in its treatment of these very fears, as Cesar (Luis Tosar), a concierge at a trendy apartment building in Barcelona, stalks and terrorizes its tenants in an effort to make their lives as miserable as his. Cesar focuses much of his energy on love interest Clara (Marta Etura), whose apartment he breaks into every day using the building’s master keys, waits under her bed, and then uses chloroform to knock her out. Once subdued, Cesar cuddles and molests Clara, most of which is offscreen, in a truly nightmare-inducing premise.
Balabueró’s direction is artful and crisp and Luis Tosar excels in his role as the creepy Cesar. The unrelenting torment and slow burn horrors unfold with finesse, conjuring up a Hitchcockian essence. Sleep Tight has slowly garnered a following in North America since its release, and rightfully so, it’s among the best home invasion horrors of the past decade, if not in the sub genre overall.
You can currently watch Sleep Tight for free with ads via IMDbTV.
2. 3615 code Père Noël (1989)
A gifted young child named Thomas (Alain Lalanne), his elderly grandfather (Louis Ducreux), and dog J.R. must protect their elaborate mansion on Christmas Eve after a deranged man dressed like Santa (Patrick Floersheim) stages a home invasion. Little does the psycho Santa know, Thomas is no ordinary child, as Thomas finagles countless booby-traps and fights back with the gusto of Rambo.
French filmmaker and novelist René Manzor shot the movie on 35mm on an overall budget of $3 million, with the production lasting 60 days. Lots of intricate sets were built inside an old cold storage facility used for keeping apples fresh, as a way to avoid the high costs associated with an actual studio rental.
Asked what he liked most about the film and its legacy, Manzor responded to Morbidly Beautiful:
“Looking back, it is the way I managed to place my camera at the border of awe and horror. To talk about the nightmarish aspect that situations can take on when you’re a child. For me, 3615 is a film about fear, real fear, the fear of the dark that never leaves you, even after you grow up. You simply have to turn off the light for it to come flooding back. You try to be logical, but the fear is there, you remember it. As children, we have all seen monsters in the dark on chair where our clothes were. Well, I’ve used that. The film never once scares you with violence or gore. That’s what makes the fear so striking.”
Interestingly, 3615 code Père Noël (aka Deadly Games) predates Home Alone (1990) by at least a year. With the impossible to overlook thematic similarities, Manzor threatened to file a lawsuit against Fox Studios for plagiarism. Manzor and 3615 code Père Noël won Best Director and Best Film, respectively, at the 1990 Fantafestival, and the film has enjoyed a robust cult following ever since despite an initial lackluster response in France. (Fun fact: Manzor’s own son Alain played the illustrious Thomas.)
You can currently watch Deadly Games on Shudder.
1. mother! (2017)
Darren Aronofsky’s (Black Swan) mother! offers the most surreal, unsettling examination of home invasion horrors by incorporating allegories from a diverse wellspring of sources: symbols and themes from the Bible, Victorian era literature, and Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.
The film stars Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) and Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) as a reclusive couple living inside a rural Victorian mansion under extreme renovation. Bardem, a successful poet struggling to write his next masterpiece, is adored by his wife, who has taken on the herculean challenge of restoring the mansion following a devastating fire in the past. A stranger (Ed Harris) arrives at the house is invited in for a short stay, but quickly evolves as the stranger’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) and sons arrive soon after.
Unsettling exchanges ensue, and the sons violently struggle over their father’s will, ending after one brother kills the other. (This of course, draws from the Bible’s Adam and Eve, and their sons Cain and Abel.) The house becomes a magnet for additional strange visitors obsessed over the poet and his latest work. The situation eventually evolves into a surrealistic nightmare of pandemonium, and the poet’s wife, now pregnant with his child, succumbs to the situation’s endemic violence and abuse.
Lawrence’s character is an allegory of Mother Nature, her slow destruction caused by man’s greed and cruelty, and Bardem, the poet, credited as “Him,” represents the highest being, a God, designed to create. Whatever misgivings you might have over the film’s first third should be abandoned by the film’s riveting climax, which is intricately weaved back to the film’s intro. Mother! is unconventional, thought provoking, and relevant — and it represents one of the most original takes on the home invasion horror film.
You can currently watch mother! via FX. It is also available to rent or purchase digitally.