1. Panic Room
No stranger to keeping audiences unsettled and on very high alert when necessary, David Fincher’s 2002 thriller Panic Room is the first stop on our tour of home invasions. Focusing mainly on a single break-in gone bad, home intruders Jared Leto (those corn rows, what a Joker) and Forest Whitaker bust into a seemingly uninhabited home only to find the new residents are there as well.
Cornered in their titular safe haven, mother (Jodie Foster) and daughter (Kristen Stewart pre-sparkly boy obsessed phase) plan their escape from a room they really shouldn’t leave, that the bad guys are trying to get in to. It’s dark, it’s heart-pounding and the tension is as thick as the wall our heroines are hiding behind. When fans think of a favorite Fincher film this one gets often overlooked.
2. The Strangers
One of those horrors that either gets booed or blessed, The Strangers – much like their namesake – came and went silently, hardly noticed among the crowded scarefests of the early noughties that were fuelled on gore and gunk. This little terror draws things out slowly for estranged couple Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman, who get visted by some masked assailants who have disturbing deeds in mind. There’s little hope for them to make it through the evening let alone this rough patch in their relationship as we soon find out…
Director Bryan Bertino could’ve easily gone in loud, with a paint by numbers slashfest, but his selected route is much more spine-tingling. Having The Strangers slip in and out of the shadows is a master stroke, grasping our nerves and yanking them as far as they can go. Causing more psychological damage than physical (save that till the end, eh?) The Strangers is one of the few films in recent years best viewed at home behind a pillow. With every light in the house turned on. No later than 12pm.
3. The Night of the Living Dead
“They’re coming to get you Barbara.” He wasn’t kidding, either. An immovable classic from King of the F*cking Zombies, George A. Romero, Night of the Living Dead is a truly iconic entry of home invasion films that certainly left its (bite) mark on the genre.
Imitated but never replicated, Romero’s classic of strangers held up in house near the end of the world is the stuff of nightmares. Not only are they facing an unknown horror knocking at their door, but also the impending threats of one another and the danger they can bring (namely from the basement).
Zombies may well be a common sighting both on the big and small screen nowadays, but for its time Night of the Living Dead was groundbreaking. Even more so when the film’s hero makes it through the night only to barely see the morning. The horror, the horror!!
4. Attack The Block
Some time before he helped give the force an awakening, Star Wars star John Boyega was the silent handbag-snatcher-turned-hero in Joe Cornish’s cult classic, Attack the Block. An Assault on East-End of sorts, the sci-fi film saw Boyega as Moses, a young leader of a group of ne’er-do-wells who’d do well to survive the night when they encounter a deadly group of extra-terrestrials. It’s aliens versus Adidas tracksuits and PlayStation-obsessed antiheroes that you slowly grow attached to, who bring plenty of laughs along with them.<
Horror met with humour, it sits comfortably on the same level as Shaun of the Dead, as a genre-tweaking tale that respects the formula it’s adjusting. Also, if you ever wanted to see where Finn came from before he was drafted into and ditched the Galactic Empire, here’s your chance – you get me, bruv?
5. Dog Soldiers
Turns out aliens aren’t the only thing ruining honest British folks’ evenings, either. Back in 2002, Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers saw Sean Pertwee (Gotham’s Alfred Pennyworth) and Neil Cunningham (Game of Thrones’ Ser Davvos Seaworth) fight tooth, nail, and claw against a band of bloodthirsty werewolves in hilarious and often horrific fashion.
Leading a band of reluctant army lads through the English countryside on the night of an important (hmph) soccer match, a training exercise hits a snag when the full moon rises and the local wildlife get their scent. If you enjoyed the likes of Shaun of the Dead and Attack the Block, this is no different. An absolute howler throughout.
6. The Collector
If Kevin McCallister struggled to handle his childhood as a neglected member of the family, he’d probably have turned out to be The Collector. Home Alone meets Hostel in this film about a jewel thief who picks the wrong house to shake down. Unbeknownst to him, there’s also leather-clad nut job with a whole bag of terrifying tricks running around as well.
Lacing the window ledges with razor blades and turning a chandelier into a kitchen knife rack, the film not only does wonders in the creative killzone but plays on the idea of cat and mouse. For one, it’s the intruder that’s in trouble (the second one, anyway) as villain and victim rarely encounter one another, both silently creeping round the house evading an array of traps that Jigsaw would be proud of. Far fetched but fiendishly gory all the same.
7. Assault on Precinct 13
Cops and robbers forge an uneasy alliance in an Alamo-like effort as the last Precinct in town struggles to keep heavily armed hoodlums at bay in one of John Carpenter’s coveted thriller classics. Entertaining even to this day, Assault on Precinct 13 is one of the director’s cult classics that doesn’t have Mike Myers or Kurt Russell headlining the gig.
Running alongside a simplistic but stellar soundtrack that rivals even the Halloween theme that would follow it two years later, this was only the second effort from a director that would help define a generation. From its shocking casualty in the film’s first act to the gripping gunfights so effectively used throughout, this still stands as untouchable, even from the Ethan Hawke/Laurence Fishburne-starring remake that would appear 25 years later. If you’re ever going to visit one Precinct 13, make sure it’s this one.
8. 30 Days of Night
Sparing not a single drop of blood and freezing it as soon as it’s spilled, David Slade’s adaptation of 30 Days of Night, breathes, bleeds and bites unlike many other vampire films in the last few years. Casting the invasive net a little wider with this frostbitten fright fest, the film sees a band of vampires descend on not just a house, but an entire Alaskan town that goes dark for a month every year. Think I hear a dinner bell ringing.Slade does a wonderful job of letting terror roam as Josh Hartnett goes from house to abandoned house in this survival-come-slaughterfest. Not only does it have buckets of gore and vampire action, but it moves and murders like a John Carpenter film of old, with soundtrack to match. Also, big round of applause for the likes of Ben Foster as vampires’ human servant and Danny Huston as leader of the frightening fang-band.
9. Funny Games
Easily one of the most unsettling films on the list, Michael Haneke’s Funny Games has two prime examples of uninvited guests that can’t take the hint. Arriving at their holiday home, a family of three are badgered by two brothers who turn up without notice and have psychotic plans in mind.
Differing from the other films on this list, Funny Games makes no qualms of “will they won’t they” when it comes to its antagonists. The devils are at the door and have made their way straight in, and the fear is just how far they’re going to take things. The game is simple; the two intruders bet that the family won’t survive to make it through to the following morning, and very soon said family start wishing they were right. Haneke would eventually remake an English version of the film with Naomi Watts and Tim Roth some years later. Either way, they’re not the most cheery of viewings.
Another foreign horror and another band of whippernsnappers that are turning the trouble-making levels up to 100. Not so dissimilar as The Strangers, Them sees another happy couple end up anything but when some visitors come knocking at their doors, windows, and anything else that rattles on a hinge.
The most unsettling element to Them is the identity of the villains themselves. Of course I’m not going to spoil that for you, you’ll just have to meet Them for yourself.