MovieBob - Intermission

Space Invaders


Stories about the need to protect one’s home have likely existed as long as human beings have had homes, but for most of the time we’ve been writing our fiction down siege stories focused on homes that had other primary functions: Castles, forts, military bases, etc. Occasionally mere homes might be uniquely imperiled: the wife and children left alone to guard pioneer cabins in disputed Indian Territory were a favorite suspense-builder of dime-store Western novels. But it wasn’t until the post-WWII era that American popular culture fell in morbid love with the “home invasion” genre.

This was, of course, because the postwar “boom” of the late-40s and 50s was the birth of suburban home ownership as the keystone of the new “American Dream” (the previous American Dream being “to live there”) that oh-so-coincidentally fit into the country’s broader economic needs:

Marry your High School Sweetie as soon as you’re able! …because couples spend more and have more expenses.

Get a job that’ll last lifetime and put down some roots! …because enough people staying in one place will necessitate the development of highly-profitable commercial and retail districts to service their recurring needs!

Have a BUNCH of kids! …because we need a lot of manual-laborers. Oh! And more soldiers. Yeah, turns out the Soviets might be more of a problem than we thought. Oops.

Don’t rent – BUY a house! …because being in hoc to the bank works out better for Uncle Sam than just owing your landlord once a month.

But don’t do any of that in the city – cities are scary. Move to the suburbs! …because turning all that reclaimed wilderness and unused farmland into cute lil’ neighborhoods is a really good job-creator!

Not that I’m a cynic or anything.

In any case, postwar America was all about the security of The Home: The world is scary, your house is your castle, stay there as much as possible, buy more stuff to occupy your time there. The incursion into The Home by evil (or even simply by inconvenience) became the great modern anxiety of the age and has remained ever since. Suspenseful movies capitalizing on that very anxiety have been a fixture of cinema for just about as long.

One of the best examples in recent memory is YOU’RE NEXT, a new horror film opening this weekend where the only thing more shocking than the gore and the anything-goes body count is how sharp and well-written the screenplay is. The setup? A dysfunctional upper-class family reunites at their isolated vacation home to patch things up; only to be set-upon by a team of well-armed, unusually well-trained killers in animal masks. To reveal anything else would be unfair, but suffice it to say it’s one you shouldn’t miss.

the desperate hours

While we’re at it, here’s six more offbeat examples of the genre to check out:


They were making home-invasion movies before this, but “The Desperate Hours” – based on a play, which was based on a book based on magazine articles based on true events – is the one that set the template for years after: “As long as there are families… THE DESPERATE HOURS will be remembered!,” screamed the trailers. The setup is simplicity itself: Three escaped convicts break into a suburban home and take the family hostage in order to protect themselves until promised outside-aid arrives. Fredric March is the dad, Humphrey Bogart is the lead crook, the great William Wyler (seriously – LOOK at this filmography! ( ) directed.


Some scary movies create elaborate scenarios and convoluted mythologies in order to set up a frightening situation, but this one keeps it simple: Gary Busey is in your house – what’s scarier than that? Busey is a recently-released mental patient who covertly secludes himself in the attic of a picture-perfect family and, in the process of using security equipment to spy on them, becomes obsessed and formulates a plan to insinuate himself into their lives for real. It’s a creepy but not spectacular film, which gained a certain amount of cult mystique when its distributor’s financial problems kept it from being released in the U.S. for several years.

HOSTAGE (2005)

For some reason audiences ignored this Bruce Willis vehicle in theaters, which is a shame because it’s actually one of his last genuinely great roles and films – a giallo-flavored “Die Hard” riff that easily would’ve been a more worthy “Die Hard” sequel than the most recent two. He’s a burnt-out veteran hostage negotiator called in when a trio of teenage punks break into a Hollywood Hills McMansion for kicks, only for things to go south when the owner’s children turn out to be home, the suspiciously-heavy security system kicks in and a cop gets shot. Then things get really bad: It turns out that the home’s owner is a money launderer for a powerful crimeboss, who wants to extricate a disc full of sensitive information from the now police-heavy scene and has kidnapped Willis’ wife in order to blackmail him into helping. Oh, and one of the three teens is actually a lethally-efficient psychopath killer in his own right, and he’s starting to get a bit stressed…


Here’s a home-invasion movie in reverse, and another film that movie culture has inexplicably memory-holed, despite it being one of Wes Craven’s bigger boxoffice hits and noteworthy as a rare socially-conscious, Black-themed horror film. The child of a family facing eviction from a Los Angeles ghetto apartment decides to organize the burglary of the rotten landlords’ suburban home in revenge… only to discover that being sleazy slumlords is waaaaaay down on the list of things wrong with these people: They’re actually a pair of incestuous, child-abducting killers with a booby-trapped house and a small army of feral, cannibalism-regressed abductees in the basement. The film is a bit weirdly structured, but it’s all in the name of payoff: Harrowing escapes are fun… but payback is even better.

venom movie poster

VENOM (1981)

You might notice that a lot of movies in this genre owe everything to Murphy’s Law, but “Venom” might take the cake for implausible coincidence: An unscrupulous nanny (Susan George, also late of the better known home-invasion classic “Straw Dogs”) her German international-terrorist boyfriend (Klaus Kinski) and a chauffeur (Oliver Reed) are scheming to kidnap and ransom her wealthy 10 year-old charge, but it turns into a hostage scenario when a cop shows up unexpectedly – but that’s not their real problem. The real problem is that the cop was there because, because of late-discovered shipping mixup, the “harmless” African snake that the moppet in question just added to his pet collection is actually a lethal Black Mamba… which has managed to escape it’s tank, and is now loose somewhere in the house with them. Kinski passed up a featured role in “Raiders of The Lost Ark” to make this instead (he didn’t like the script. Unsurprisingly, for a well-documented crazy person), which was a bad career move for him but worked out great for “Raiders,” which avoided being tainted by what a horrible scumbag Kinski ultimately turned out to be. (


Technically produced one year prior to “Desperate Hours” (though not before the play “Hours” adapted from), “Suddenly” is a well-regarded thriller that was considered “lost” for years for reasons that will soon become apparent. A group of thugs, led by Frank Sinatra as disgruntled army vet John Baron, take over a small-town family’s home because they’ve determined it will offer them the ideal vantage-point from which to assassinate the President of The United States via sniper-rifle during an impending visit to the area. Of course, just shy of a decade later, actual President John F. Kennedy would be assassinated by a sniper; leading Sinatra – a close personal friend and supporter of JFK – to pull his more famous assassination film “The Manchurian Candidate” from circulation for decades, and while it’s never been confirmed whether he pulled “Suddenly” as well it’s been widely rumored. Urban legends claimed for years that JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald had watched “Suddenly” on TV just prior to the shooting, but it’s now believed he was watching the obscure 1949 Cuban revolutionary drama “We Were Strangers” instead.

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you’ve heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet. Recently, he wrote a book.

About the author

Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.