Home Alone is as edgy as extreme horror.
Friday night; there was still time before bed; so what to do? The kids are starting to punch each other and soon they’ll be grabbing blunt objects. I desperately check the movies we have in on the PVR. Lo and behold, there’s a Home Alone that my wife taped last year off of CBC. I get the kids into their pyjamas, make them brush their teeth, and down into the activity room we go. A classic of the early nineties. I’ve never seen it before, but I heard of it when it came out. I missed it; That classic face-palming shot by Macaulay Culkin was everywhere and I hate anything ubiquitous. But it’s a kids’ movie and I was sure they’d like it.
Horror is, simply, the destruction of order. Cancer, war, murder, deformity, disability, helplessness, the loss of civilization, helplessness. If you can see horror as the destruction of order, of peace, then a lot of films one might never consider to be horror become horror films, and a lot of horror films (Saw, anyone?) are just gimmicks.
The premise (for the three of you who haven’t seen the movie): The McCallisters, a large, extremely wealthy extended family, are on their way to Paris for Christmas. The evening before the plane leaves, the youngest brother (Culkin) annoys everyone so much that he is banished to the attic. In the morning, amidst all the confusion, the family leaves the boy in the house, and only realize their mistake once they’re over the ocean.
Back home, Kevin McCallister wakes up, alone, and convinces himself that he has magically wished his family into oblivion.
I said horror is the destruction of order. It must be done on a great magnitude. Kevin, a downtrodden little underdog, immediately moves into his parents’ room, jumps on beds, eats junk-food all day, raids his older brother’s room for cash and skin-mags, watches violent movies before noon while eating cake and ice-cream, and makes a terrible mess of his upper-1% family home. A storm has taken out the phone lines. The concept of a wealthy family’s comfortable Christmas, the great privilege of the western world, is dashed as effectively as if zombies staggered out of the woods, or a meteorite thundered down and wiped out Washington DC.
Then the burglars arrive.
Two thieves (Joe Pesci an Daniel Stern), collectively called The Wet Bandits (known for leaving the taps on and flooding the houses of the people they burgle. As a homeowner, that infuriated me), have arrived to rob the the houses of everyone who has left for the Holidays. Kevin’s home is the largest and most ostentatious on the street. Kevin has to defend himself and his home.
Beforehand, there is a brief and touching scene when Kevin sadly sits in a church pew and watches the choir rehearse for Midnight Mass. He meets his neighbour, an old man who is rumoured to have killed his family, and discovers that the rumours are false and that he is kind and wise. He leaves the church, that symbol of timeless order, and runs home to deal with The Wet Bandits. What follows is pure horror for the adults watching, and pure, anarchical delight for younger viewers.
Kevin comes just short of killing the two burglars. He sends them crashing down iced stairs, makes them step on rusting nails, attacks them with blowtorches, shoots one burglar in the crotch with a pellet gun, bludgeons another with an iron. The invasion of a secure environment, the transfer of power into the hands of a violent little second-grader, the silent woods outside, the family marooned in Paris and trying unsuccessfully to contact their youngest - this is a horror film. This is a breakdown of the ruling order.
When it is over, only Kevin and the burglars know what has happened. When he is reunited with his family, the grown-up little Kevin, that whirling dervish of destruction, forgives his mother for leaving him home alone. But it’s his choice to do so.
For all of you who can find it, I would highly recommend Home Alone. It is a violent and unexpectedly sophisticated film of rebellion. It has also become standard Christmas TV for stations who don’t bother to screen their programming choices. If your local station is blindly broadcasting it for the Christmas lull, record it and prepare for a wonderful ride.