Home invasion films have been with us since the silent film era. The very first recorded effort, The Lonely Villa (1909), was a short directed by none other than D.W. Griffith. In this particular crime drama, a gang of criminals lures a man out of his home so that they can rob him and hold his wife and children hostage.
Throughout cinema history, there are many examples of this particular subgenre. Some are classified as thrillers, horror, westerns and comedies like The Ref (1994) starring Denis Leary as a cat burglar who ends up taking a dysfunctional family captive.
The concept of outsiders with nefarious intentions preying upon innocent people in their residences is obviously not a new one. It can be traced back to Greek literature with Virgil’s Aeneid and the famous story of the Trojan Horse.
As everyone knows, this bit of strategic military subterfuge was a gigantic, hollow wooden horse which was used by the Greeks to conquer the city of Troy during the Trojan War. A select group of soldiers hid inside the structure which the unsuspecting citizens mistakenly thought was a victory trophy.
So, they brought the horse inside their fortress. That was the beginning of the end as the Greeks emerged from their hiding place to destroy Troy. Game over.
Horror movies have also employed the home invasion convention starting in 1971 with the terrifying, low budget Lasky/Carlin production of The Night God Screamed. A crazy cult leader (standing in for Charles Manson) named Billy Joe attacks an Evangelical church congregation with his creepy followers.
They proceed to terrorize the parishioners which culminates in the crucifixion of the church’s preacher. In the end, the fanatics are brought to justice and sentenced to death for their crime. Often, the invaders escape without any consequences for their bloody deeds. Bryan Bertino’s frightening The Strangers (2008) sees all of the masked intruders evade their fates after stabbing their victims and leaving them for dead.
While Sam Raimi’s “splatstick” drive-in classic, Evil Dead (1981) starring Bruce Campbell isn’t normally classified as a home invasion film, it most assuredly is because the trespassers happen to be malevolent spirits that emerge from the woods. What kickstarts the entire massacre occurs when Ash Williams (Campbell) and his friends find an old reel to reel tape recorder in the fruit cellar. Any hopes that they have of a peaceful weekend where they get drunk and laid go out the window.
Curiosity gets the better of the college kids and they end up playing a tape of Professor Raymond Knowby reciting incantations from the Necronomicon which summons Kandarian demons. One by one, Ash’s friends are possessed by these malicious entities who are out to kill him. He ends up having to destroy each and every one of them including his beloved girlfriend in order to survive.
Evil Dead has the same set up as any of the tales above except the criminals are replaced by ancient dark spirits. Not only is the siege of a physical nature, it is also a spiritual one as well where the outcome is the same. Unsuspecting individuals end up in a life-threatening situation when the safety of their abode is breached.
One could even assert that Raimi’s 1987 “requel” (recap/sequel) to Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 is also a home invasion film. Yes, the cabin is at the center of the second attack as well. This time, Ash and a new crew of hapless folks are left to fight the Deadites again.
Which leads us to the last part of Raimi’s trilogy, Army of Darkness (1994). At the end of Evil Dead 2, a portal is opened after Professor Knowby’s daughter Annie reads the last incantation from the missing pages of the Necronomicon. Ash gets thrust into the vortex and propelled into 1300 A.D. where he has to save a kingdom from the army of the dead.
While the setting for the third film is not intimate like the first two, it still meets the criteria for a “home” invasion venture because Ash is fighting to protect the village from the undead. It’s just on a grander scale.
In the end, the hero from the sky saves everyone in Army of Darkness by defeating the Deadite warriors utilizing scientific principles from some of his textbooks that he had stashed in the trunk of his Delta. The intruders are vanquished and order is restored leaving everyone wiser and infinitely more aware of the next threat that might be lurking in the shadows…