Straw Dogs (1971)
“I kept telling people we were doing a kids version of Straw Dogs.” That’s what Home Alone production designer John Muto said during the movie’s making, according to a quote in a 2015 Slate article. At the time, Sam Peckinpah’s thriller was probably the most well-known home invasion film. While the genre’s origins go back to D.W. Griffith’s 1909 short The Lonely Villa, it still wasn’t as common as it is today. Now one might say “a kids version of Panic Room” or “a kids version of Don’t Breathe.”
But unlike a number of home invasion movies of the past, Straw Dogs isn’t just about the terror of having your space invaded. In fact, the home invasion part is just a minor aspect of a larger narrative with more interesting themes and character dynamics than you typically get from the genre — or in Home Alone. However, Peckinpah’s movie does climax with Dustin Hoffman’s protagonist battling his attackers with clever traps. I wouldn’t say it’s more violent than Home Alone, just less cartoonishly so. And deadlier.
Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile (1974)
Old Man Marley, the seemingly menacing neighbor in Home Alone (played by Roberts Blossom) who turns out to be a kind soul as well as a deus ex machina savior, has two notable inspirations. One is A Christmas Carol, specifically the character of Jacob Marley. Hence the name, and his warning to young Kevin that he needs to change his attitude about his family. I didn’t include that on the list because there are too many adaptations of the Charles Dickens story to choose from.
The other is Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile, in which Blossom plays a disturbed man who digs up the body of his dead mother and then becomes a serial killer. If that sounds like Psycho, that’s because Deranged is based on the story of real-life serial killer Ed Gein, who also inspired the plot of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film. What does it have to do with Old Man Marley? Well, he’s rumored to be a serial killer, which if true could mean Deranged was a prequel to Home Alone.
Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile is streaming on the Epix channel on Amazon and Roku.
A Christmas Story (1983)
A Christmas movie involving a little blond-haired boy defending his home from burglars? That’s the main premise of Home Alone, sure, but it also describes at least part of A Christmas Story. Ralphie Parker dreams of getting a Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle for Christmas, and part of that dream entails fantasizing about being able to save his family from Black Bart and his gang of home invaders.
But more than that narrative connection, A Christmas Story was actually a huge influence on the filmmaking of Home Alone. In a 2014 interview with The Canadian Press, cinematographer Julio Macat acknowledges he and Columbus looked to Bob Clark’s holiday classic for inspiration for the look and tone and child’s POV: “It was the story of a little kid,” he said. “Everything was centered around him and he wanted his rifle and stuff — that was kind of the flavor…We really got into the mind of a young kid.”
A Christmas Story is streaming on HBO Max.
The Last Polka (1985)
John Candy’s role in Home Alone, which is far more than a mere cameo as it’s often labeled, seems partly inspired by his character in Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987), an earlier movie written and directed by Hughes. Both guys are on the road and away from their families or would-be families. Perhaps Gus Polinski in Home Alone is lying about his family, too, and really has nowhere else to be but traveling the land in a rental truck with the rest of the Kenosha Kickers.
But why a polka band? Well, Candy had originated a polka musician character on the sketch comedy series SCTV. But his name was Yosh Shmenge, and he was part of a duo with his brother Stan, played by Eugene Levy. The Last Polka is a mockumentary spun off from the sketch that parodies music docs and concert films similar to the previous year’s This Is Spinal Tap. Other SCTV players appear in the film, too, including Rick Moranis and, that’s right, Home Alone mom Catherine O’Hara, with whom Candy shares all of his scenes.
Deadly Games (1989)
Here’s a movie that’s so similar to Home Alone that its director called John Hughes out as a plagiarist. “I have no choice but to sue them,” René Manzor told the New York Times after attempting to reach a settlement with 20th Century Fox. Deadly Games, a.k.a. 3615 code Père Noël or Dial Code Santa Claus or Game Over (or a number of other titles) is about a young boy defending his home against an intruder. And he does so with booby traps. Also, an old man comes to his rescue in the end.
Of course, all of that is certainly coincidental. Hughes and Fox denied any connection to the French feature, which is more of a horror film and which had barely been released before Home Alone began production. Anyway, one could argue that Manzor was ripping off the old Our Gang short recommended on this list since his intruder similarly pretended to be Santa Claus. These days, curators recognize that the two movies are complementary rather than competitors and schedule them as a double feature.
Deadly Games is streaming on Shudder.
Uncle Buck (1989)
If there is one movie that Hughes recognized as instrumental in the creation of Home Alone, it’s Uncle Buck. It was this comedy, which he wrote and directed, that introduced the filmmaker to Macaulay Culkin. The story goes that Hughes got an inkling of the idea for his Home Alone screenplay from the scene in Uncle Buck where Culkin’s character stands guard at the door of his home and questions Amy Madigan’s character when she arrives to watch him and his sister.
In fact, some people likely misremember there being a scene with Kevin and a mail slot in Home Alone when it’s actually from this movie. There is a scene in Home Alone where Kevin guards a doggy door, so that likely adds to the confusion.
From the inspiration of the Uncle Buck scene, particularly Culkin’s performance in it, Hughes developed the idea for Home Alone based on his curiosity of what would happen if he accidentally left one of his kids at home alone. Once the script was finished, he knew only Culkin should have the lead but the production still had to interview hundreds of other child actors just to be fair. As a bonus, Uncle Buck himself, John Candy, also was cast in a part in the movie — see the entry for The Last Polka above.
You can also look to other prior movies from Hughes and Columbus for hints of Home Alone as well. Hughes has a bit of fun with a home invasion in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) when Principal Rooney attempts to break into the Bueller home and encounters the foot of Ferris’ sister. And Columbus’ collaboration with Steven Spielberg on the script for The Goonies (1985) features kids fighting bad guys, sometimes with booby traps.
Uncle Buck is currently streaming on Cinemax.
Related Topics: Movie DNA