There’s a reason that films like The Strangers, Them, The Purge, Hush, Don’t Breathe, Funny Games, and more rank highly among horror fans; the very concept of someone or something forcing their way into the one spot that should feel the safest, your home, is a terrifying one. The realistic thrills of home invasion films can offer some of the most intense horror, and some of the biggest surprises when the formula is subverted in films like You’re Next or Better Watch Out. With the highly anticipated The Strangers: Prey at Night releasing in theaters next week, we’re celebrating the subgenre with 10 underseen home invasion horror movies worth hiding under a blanket in the perceived safety of your own home to watch:
Alone in the Dark (1982)
Releasing close on the heels of Halloween and Friday the 13th, this home invasion thriller/slasher mostly slipped through the cracks. Which is a shame considering how smart it is, and a surprising A-list cast for a film of this type. Starring Jack Palance, Donald Pleasence, and Martin Landau, the plot sees a foursome of psychos escape from a mental hospital to lay siege to Dr. Dan Potter’s house, all based on the incorrect assumption that Dr. Potter murdered their psychiatrist Dr. Merton. Directed by Jack Sholder (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge), it begins as a sort of horror-comedy satire before transitioning into a full-blown home invasion, made even more unique by its cast really letting loose in their roles. This underseen gem is worth watching for Palance and Landau as psychopaths alone.
Wait Until Dark
You wouldn’t think this classic home invasion horror/thriller film starring Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman whose home is invaded by a trio of criminals seeking their lost heroin stash is underseen, but it’s surprisingly overlooked in the subgenre. Originating from a stage play, the film was one of the most popular during its release in 1967 and earned Hepburn an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. In the present, it may not have held up as well because Hepburn’s character is way too trusting toward the criminals that attempt to fool her, but it’s high on atmosphere and delivers one of horror’s best jump scares of all time. Wait Until Dark may not be anywhere close to the level of intensity and brutality that we’re accustomed to now in the subgenre, but it’s a foundational classic that many have borrowed from since.
Like You’re Next, this home invasion horror follows the subversion that the trio of criminals that break into a woman’s house to rob her soon realize they chose the wrong victim, but without any humor. Anna suffers from severe agoraphobia and hasn’t left her childhood home in over a decade. As the caregiver of her brother, who’s dying of cancer, her only other connection to the outside world is Dan (Rory Culkin), the guy who delivers the groceries. They bond over feeling trapped, and she offers him a large sum of money to free him. When her brother dies, her agoraphobia won’t even allow her to attend his funeral, and that’s too bad considering Dan returns with two friends that planned to rob her while she was away. The trio of erstwhile robbers realize the error of their ways when they discover Anna has a very dark family past, and a very twisted basement lying in wait. While not perfect, it’s a well done thriller bolstered by a great cast that really sells their parts. Martin Starr plays against type as one of the criminals out for Anna’s blood, Culkin as the most sympathetic, and Beth Riesgraf is great as Anna.
You Are Not Alone
A first-person POV thriller from the perspective of Natalie, a college student visiting her hometown over the 4th of July holiday turns horrific when a sociopathic killer begins to stalk her while she’s home alone. It begins like a quaint small-town reunion among friends, with only few hints in the background of the night of terror that’s to come. Once Natalie returns home, while her family is still out celebrating the holiday, her sleep is interrupted by an unexpected guest looking to come inside. It’s this moment that the film turns from indie drama to atmospheric creep fest, the sociopathic killer unnerving and the POV angle lending to some very effective scares. Fans of The Strangers will find this just as intense, as the masked killer looms outside, patiently waiting for his window while he toys with his prey. As the cat and mouse game escalates, though, Natalie’s intelligence level drops dramatically, deflating much of the tension with it. Even still, the entire middle is spine-tingling.
Two words; Bill Paxton. This ‘90s horror comedy doesn’t play at all like your typical home invasion horror/thriller, but it still counts. Starring Bill Paxton as a yuppie businessman, Grant, who buys a new home only to find the homeless bum that squats in the lot next door keeps inviting himself in. It begins as a psychological horror comedy, as the vagrant keeps breaking into the Grant’s house and playing mind games as the body count starts to pile up. The inept police investigate, thinking Grant is responsible, and eventually, even Grant can’t be sure if he’s the one killing people in his sleep or if it’s the vagrant. The second half drops the psychological in favor of all-out war as Grant flees. Which doesn’t exactly scream home invasion, but it’s soon revealed that the vagrant continues to invade Grant’s life in a similar way. It’s a hammy ‘90s horror comedy executive produced by Mel Brooks, so emphasis on the comedy, but Paxton is great in it. As usual.
The House on the Edge of the Park
Though it borrows heavily from Last House on the Left, fans of Rugero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust will probably also love this Video Nasty. One of the more infamous exploitation horror that follows a psychopath/rapist Alex and his slow-witted friend that get invited to a snobby upper-class party, where they take over with extreme, exploitive violence. David Hess (Krug in Last House on the Left) manages to get even creepier and more demented under Deodato as the psychopath Alex. When even Deodato felt the script was too violent upon first reading, you know it’s going to be disturbing.
The Uninvited Guest
Writer/director Guillem Morales (Julia’s Eyes) delivered a unique, psychological twist to this home invasion thriller from the outset. Recently separated from his wife, architect Felix is unnerved living alone in his large house. When a man shows up one night and asks to use the phone, Felix leaves the room, only to return to discover the man is nowhere to be found. Over the next few days strange sounds and occurrences take place, fueling Felix’s suspicion that the man never left. Creating a tension fueled paranoia, Morales’ story twists and turns its quiet home invasion story as the victim of the home invasion, Felix, slowly becomes the home invader himself as he obsession with the man takes hold. A suspenseful thriller that proves that it’s the silent invaders that lurk in the shadows of your home that are the most chilling.
Mother’s Day (2010)
A very loose remake of Charles Kaufman’s 1980 horror film, director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV) ups the brutality in spades. After a botched bank robbery, three brothers and their sadistic mother retreat to their childhood home, where its current inhabitants are in the midst of a birthday party. Starring Frank Grillo pre-Purge days, Rebecca De Mornay as Mother, Jaime King, Shawn Ashmore, and many more recognizable cast members, Bousman’s adaptation continues to escalate the violence in exhilarating ways. It’s an effective home invasion thriller from beginning to end. If there’s one flaw, and there is, it’s that the payoff feels frustrating over satisfying, and some of the characters can be very grating. Even still, there’s enough entertainment here to warrant a watch.
Jaume Balaguero is more well regarded for his work on the [Rec] franchise, but Sleep Tight is one of his more slept on features that’s terrifying in a completely different way. Especially if you live alone. Luis Tosar is one of horror’s most underrated, and scariest villains as apartment concierge Cesar. He’s miserable and all he wants is for everyone around him to be miserable too. He revels in making the tenants’ lives a hell, and they’re typically easy to agitate. But the unflappable Clara, with her sunny outlook, becomes the object of Cesar’s fixation in his fervent desire to induce a mental breakdown in her. Which means consistently breaking into her apartment, often with her there at night sleeping peacefully in her bed, to find new ways to inflict suffering without her being aware. It’s bleak, disturbing, and one of the most uncomfortable viewing experiences ever.
Also known as Secuestrados, this Spanish horror film delivers one of the most harrowing and most realistically rendered vision of a home invasion. Upper-class couple Jaime and Marta have just moved into a new home with their daughter Isa. Life is great until a trio of men break in. The leader takes Jaime with him to an ATM, forcing Jaime to empty his accounts, while the other two stay behind with the mother and daughter as ransom. From there, things devolve into one of the most breathless, relentless experiences as the family attempts to break free from their captors. Kidnapped grabs you by the throat and never lets up for even a minute.