Panic Room (2002)

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Divorced mom Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) are no sooner moved into their new four-storey NYC brownstone than the previous owner’s grandson Junior (Jared Leto), caretaker Burnham (Forest Whitaker) and psychotic Raoul (singer Dwight Yoakam) have broken in to steal millions in bearer’s bonds belonging to Junior’s grandpa – now the Altman money (much more) happens to be in the eponymous space where the ladies have decamped. Trouble is, these guys really want that money and are arguing amongst themselves and in the panic room little Sarah is going into diabetic shock … This was part of Foster’s reinvention as a paranoid action woman – triggered only when Nicole Kidman had to withdraw from the role due to injury.  Screenwriter David Koepp wastes absolutely no time in putting the ladies in jeopardy and it’s a face-off between their ingenuity and the desperate men’s resorting to violence that fuels the narrative which is disrupted again by the arrival of Altman pere (Patrick Bauchau). After a taut mid-section it descends into a rather predictable shootout at the conclusion but not before there are some genuinely thrilling moments including a visit by the local police force following Meg’s phonecall which she has to disavow because the thieves are watching on the extensive CCTV system. A good example of the home invasion thriller and nice to see a blonde Kristen Stewart pre-nose job! And a nicely ironic physical example of what the snowflakes would call a safe space …. (ha!) Directed with his usual flair by David Fincher.

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Home Alone (1990)

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Sensational, kinetic, lively action comedy from the late and beloved chronicler of childhood and adolescence, auteur John Hughes.  Little Kevin is terrorised by everyone in his family – and they forget about him when they depart for a trip to Paris for Christmas, leaving him on his own in their big suburban Chicago house to deal with a pair of bungling thieves. Macaulay Culkin is brilliant as the kid whose dream comes true – to be spared his awful family, even for a short time. This held the record as the biggest grossing live action comedy in the US until Hangover Part II came along to spoil the party.  Simply sublime entertainment for any time of year.

Krampus (2015)

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Ever dreamed of spending Christmas without your family when everything seems like it’s going to Hell in a handcart? Well young Max (Emjay Anthony) swaps one kind of home invasion (aunt, uncle, cousins and great-aunt) for another (a German folkloric nightmare) when he wishes exactly that. Grandma Omi (Krista Stadler) knows it’s all down to what she did as a kid back in Austria but that doesn’t stop the demons being unleashed, starting with an ominous looking snowman in the yard, a power cut and a big sister kidnapped on the way to see her boyfriend in a snowstorm. There are noises in the attic and suddenly there are psychotic gingerbread men, Teddy bears and porcelain dolls on the prowl and that’s before the elves get started. Way to see your obnoxious cousin disappear up the chimney! NRA supporting uncle Howard (David Koechner) figures there’s only one way to deal with the invaders, since you can’t placate a crazy cookie.  I know how you feel about family at Christmas too (aw! really?!)  but even I find this veering on the violent end of the spectrum – tho hey, what about that staple gun! Starring Toni Collette and Adam Scott as the put-upon PC hosts who become really quite ingenious with their home cleaning solutions. Written by Todd Casey, Zach Shields and director Michael Dougherty, responsible for Trick ‘r Treat. Only if  Gremlins really doesn’t do it for you. I must start looking for those baubles …

What About Bob? (1991)

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If you’ve ever had the misfortune to be acquainted with someone in therapy then you’ll know that they use their acquired techniques to manipulate, bully, threaten and terrorise their innocent target. Unbeknownst to myself, a much older friend was an alcoholic analysand. And I was the utterly innocent (admittedly obtuse, people had warned me) target her therapist told her to terrorise – apparently this is what they do. I found out when summoned out of my office (to discommode me) by this talentless self-obsessed madwoman when she announced it loudly in public (an essential component) that her therapist revealed to her that I was professionally jealous of her (she was unemployed until the grand old age of 51 when she finally got a temporary job) and I endured twenty minutes of crazed vitriol. I stood up, told her to have a drink and felt a spring in my step as the weight of five horrendous years of her narcissistic attacks lifted from my shoulders.  I ran for ten miles on the treadmill at the gym. Three days later I got a letter from a literary agent I’d never heard of issuing a legal threat on behalf of my now former friend claiming authorship to one of my works to which she now exclusively attached her name (her notion of co-writing being to smoke in my face, drink coffee like an addict and snigger). I then (self-therapy alert) wrote a study on authorship. Ahem. So when I first saw this film many years ago I found it funny. Now it’s about as funny as a funeral and practically a documentary. And all that trauma has come flooding back … Bill Murray is narcissistic divorced Bob who’s driven his last shrink nuts with his phobias and is taken on unwittingly by Dr Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss) who’s about to become mega-famous thanks to a forthcoming interview on Good Morning America to publicise his new book, Baby Steps. Through a series of cunning acts Bob hunts him and his family down at their lakeside retreat where they’re vacationing until Labor Day and proceeds to drive the doc crazy … Tom Schulman’s screenplay is based on a story by veteran Alvin Sargent and co-producer Laura Ziskin (with Jay Tarses and Tom Patchett). Being Hollywood vets I can only guess at the real stories they could tell. Like I said, I used to find this hilarious and Murray is of course brilliant as the nutcase but Dreyfuss has the real acting moments here, turned inside out and crazy by his gifted sociopathic charge, finding himself put on Librium and in a straitjacket in the lunatic asylum. They hated each other on set but how it plays on screen as the nutter alienates the doctor’s family, marrying his sister and appropriating his life. How nice it is to see a doctor victimised with their own tools for a change! Starring Joan Lunden as herself. My ‘friend’? You won’t have heard of her. Obviously.

Pacific Heights (1990)

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Yuppies in Peril was a real thing in the Nineties. And here we have the upwardly mobile unmarried Melanie Griffith and Matthew Modine telling some fibs on their loan application to buy a fabulous Victorian fixer-upper in San Francisco. Their cunning plan is to rent out two apartments to finance their plan to make loadsamoney. Except Michael Keaton is the psycho who turns the place into a roach motel hoping to buy it for half nothing and if only they’d checked his bona fides a little earlier and watched their cat’s movements more closely …  A fun blend of home invasion, Gordon Gekko’s mantra being given air, a horror version of Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House and a meta exercise in relations between Melanie and real-life Mom, Tippi Hedren, who’s Keaton’s next mark – we all know what happened to her in the Bay Area round about the time Hitchcock enticed her to a little avian entry. Now if only Modine didn’t turn out to be a bit of a psycho too. But Melanie has great fun ordering room service. Try it. You’ll like it. Think Rosemary’s Baby with a yen for dollars.  Made, bizarrely, by John Schlesinger from a screenplay by Daniel Pyne.

Summer of Fear (1978) (TVM)

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Aka Stranger in Our House. You know how your parents preferred an interloper to you when you were growing up – and they took over your bedroom, your stuff, your best friend, your boyfriend, your dad … sheesh, it happens to us all. YA author Lois Duncan (I Know What You Did Last Summer) took it to another level in this movie’s source novel bringing a bereaved cousin into the frame. Weirdly this TVM was directed by Wes Craven and you really wouldn’t know it: he made it between The Hills Have Eyes and Deadly Blessing. It’s a tale of middle class upset with a serious subtext. The book is straightened out to fit small screen requirements by Glenn Benest and Max Keller so you don’t get the full thrust of horror credentials that the provenance would suggest. The bad acting doesn’t help things with both Blair (fresh off both Exorcists and a drugs bust) and her nemesis Lee Purcell (Big Wednesday and 30 when this was shot!) mercilessly upstaged by sidekick Fran Drescher (yikes, that accent!) in a small role while Jeremy Slate is woeful as the besotted dad. But what a joy to see Macdonald Carey (Shadow of a Doubt and TV’s Days of Our Lives) in the role of the university prof who suspects something awry. Craven allegedly shot this to feel like a Polanski paranoia-fest and the dayglo locations in Hidden Hills just emphasise the comfortable nature of the home invasion by this inbred Ozark freak because aside from the horrible scene with the horse the most frightening thing is Blair’s hair.

The Servant (1963)

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Robin Maugham’s devastating novel about the class system receives an elegant adaptation by Harold Pinter working with director Joseph Losey. Dirk Bogarde is utterly hypnotic as the sleazy contemptuous manservant hired to keep house for aristocratic James Fox. Superior staging, performances and psychological detail make this a keeper. For anyone who’s ever feared the malevolent motivations of their occasional household help (me!), this is unfortunately recognisable, even in a small way. Photographed by the late great Douglas Slocombe – who died this very week. Look for that first shot – Dirk Bogarde exiting an establishment bearing the name Thomas Crapper. And Pinter has a small role in a restaurant.Brilliant.

The Gift (2015)

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This has been a bumper year for actor Joel Edgerton. As well as giving a great role wonderful impact in Black Mass, he has made his feature writing and directing debut in this superb suburban thriller about smug marrieds whose life is blighted when the husband’s old school acquaintance turns up with gifts … that keep on giving. Really smart writing and staging assisted by convincing performances from Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall and Edgerton himself as their nemesis. Quite the ironic home invasion film, actually.

Knock Knock (2015)

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In which torture horror helmer Eli Roth tackles the problem of fidelity in the burbs. Keanu Reeves is the smug but naive happily married architect who opens the door to two hot twentysomething ghetto bitches in the pouring rain when his artist wife and kids have left for the beach.  Think the kind of home invasion that The Bling Ring don’t have the imagination to dream of …This is what happens when smart people want to satirise their elders.