FilmFrom Halloween to Home Alone: how John Hughes made the slasher movie safe for kids
What do Michael Myers and Kevin McCallister have in common? We make a case for Home Alone as a slasher movie.
What do Michael Myers and Kevin McCallister have in common? Well, they both wanted their parents gone and had tenuous relationships with their siblings. They also ushered in the slasher genre, for adults and kids, respectively. Just as Halloween spawned a ton of sequels and copy cats, Home Alone ushered in an era of PG-rated kids flicks that always climaxed with a young smart-ass whippersnapper serving up villains and henchman some slapstick pain.
Culture Editor, Hopes&Fears
The best reason to watch slasher films is for the well-designed kill, always. The same goes for Home Alone, which is actually a pretty fucked up movie. That didn't go unnoticed when it was first released and Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave it a "D," calling it a "sadistic festival of adult-bashing." Switch out adult with horny teen, and that sounds like a slasher to me. In fact, 21st Century Fox was actually sued and accused of plagiarizing a French film called 3615 Code Pere Noel. In the film, a resourceful kid sets traps in his home to defend himself from a homicidal Santa, hellbent on getting some yuletide blood. 3615 Code Pere Noel was more obviously rooted in horror, not the least of which was the main character losing his belief in Santa.
Home Alone actually turned our protagonist into "the killer," which isn't much different than a slasher film where, traditionally, the audience is made to root for the villain protagonist. Unlike in slasher movies, Home Alone's Kevin is the unstoppable villain-protagonist up against mostly unstoppable antagonists (the burglars who just keep getting up). He is stalked. He becomes the stalker. He is a victim and a villain. Slapstick torture ensues. Let's see what the slasher genre and Home Alone have in common.
Home Alone "kills"
A supercut of all the slapstick ways that Kevin takes out his seemingly impervious burglar foes in Home Alone
Slasher basics and the flip
There are many elements that go into a stereotypical slasher film, but there are three essential ingredients that make a good one. Home Alone has all three, flipped into a kid-friendly package without losing the qualities that make each so damn entertaining.
Slasher films are excellent audience participation events for the many opportunities to scream, "NO, NO, NO! Don't do that! Don't run up those stairs! Don't go through that door!" The slasher film makes us root for the killer; these people had it coming. Home Alone turns the prey into the predator, and our little eight-year-old hero takes on the dumbest villains to ever grace the silver screen. Harry and Marv make every mistake in the book. (Harry walks up the tar-covered stairs. Harry loses his shoes, then his socks, eventually trudging through tar barefoot. The audience cringes on the closeup of his foot slowly descending on the perfectly positioned nail. “Don’t do that! Ahhhhh!” the audience screams, as their sphincter tightens and the nail pushes through Harry's foot.) Harry and Marv give the dimwitted sorority girls of slasher classics a run for their money in the Darwin awards.
This is what Home Alone is known for—the elaborate Rube Goldberg-esque ways in which Kevin takes out his burglar play-things. But this is a kids' movie, so nobody comes close to dying. They get beat, bonked, burned and bopped in all manners of attacks that would certainly be critical if not fatal. While Michael Myers wins the brutality game and Jason probably gets the gore, the closest equivalent to Kevin's evil genius is probably Death himself. The Final Destination series is essentially like someone took the Mouse Trap-style contraptions from Home Alone and made them terminal. The one thing Kevin is missing from his elaborate kills is a tried-and-true comedic equivalent to being impaled with extreme prejudice. Admittedly, that would be tough.
Sex is bad
In slasher flicks, you can be pretty sure a character is going to die the moment they start getting it on, and only the virgin will make it out alive. Kevin's a prepubescent child. When he goes through his older brother's stuff, he finds a Playboy and isn't the least bit interested, exclaiming, "No clothes on anybody. Sickening!" Kevin lives to fight another day. The virgin survives, along with our theory that Home Alone is just a safe for work slasher movie.
Michael Myers kills
A supercut of all the gruesome ways that Mike Myers kills his babysitters and their boyfriends.
The solid tropes
Home Alone hits all the slasher notes. Helpfully, All The Tropes wiki has broken down all the tropes of slasher films, and we can confirm that Home Alone is full of them.
If you want to know whether a character in a slasher movie is dead meat, there's this handy chart that breaks down the likelihood of them biting it based on things like age, gender, race and personality. Rarely do characters fall into several categories; things are usually pretty cut and dry. Our hero, Kevin, who is alone at home hits four surefire ways of staying alive: he's white, he's celibate, he's a kid and he's cute. Quadruple threat. Certain to live.
Halloween defined the genre and Halloween is that spooky holiday so it makes sense that they would go together, but generally, slasher movies like being on holidays or anniversaries. The genre has racked up a body count on April Fool's Day, Easter, New Year's Eve, Father's Day, St. Patricks Day, Thanksgiving, birthdays and, of course, Christmas. Obviously, Home Alone has become a Christmas classic that's threatening It's A Wonderful Life with a BB gun and blowtorch to the head for top holiday pick of a generation.
Two seperate tropes and Home Alone has them both. For slasher flicks this usually means that the adults or cops just won't listen to the kids about the terrifying stalker who's come back from the dead or whatever. In Home Alone's case, pretty much all of the adults and cops are idiots. In the opening scene, cops are painted as untrustworthy: Joe Pesci, the burglar, poses as one to case Kevin's house before his parents leave town. The parents fly all the way to Paris without noticing he's been left behind. When they contact the police to check on him, the cops are disinterested and inept, doing a quick stop by the house and calling off the search. Drug store clerks can't tell Kevin if a toothbrush is approved by the American Dental Association, and when Kevin accidentally shoplifts the same toothbrush, a bumbling cop can't catch him.
He can't stop, he won't stop, he can't be stopped! The cornerstone of the slasher film: a man who just keeps coming and will not be deterred from killing. Usually, he is stopped by the end only to have a little stinger—a mild hand twitch or an eye opening—tacked on to imply that he has not actually stopped. Home Alone has two sets of slashers: the bumbling burglars and the unbeatable kid. While Kevin will always win, the burglars just will not go away forever. (Bonus: the Not Quite Dead trope.)
Jason is kind of the king of improvised weapons. He's killed his victims with harpoon guns (the whole gun; not shooting a harpoon), ice picks, crochet needles, lighting rods, sleeping bags and even other victims' bodies. Halloween kicks off with a first-person perspective of Michael Myers going through the kitchen to find his first weapon.
All of Kevin's weapons (nail guns, blow torches, heat lamps, paint bucket wrecking balls, good old-fashioned bricks) are improvised.
A staple in slashers, the creepy basement might hold a terrible secret or serve as a brilliant escape route that offers no way out but death. Kevin is frequently terrified by a radiator in the basement. It's there to remind him of his fear of being alone in between celebrating having no one to tell him what to do.
That wasn't always the case; the original script included an elaborate dream sequence in which the house comes alive. That had to be cut for budget reasons, one more common slasher-film reality.
A supercut of all the creative kills that Jason pulls off with his improvised and not-so-improvised weapons.
That's a bit of a stretch
The case for Home Alone as a slasher movie for kids is looking pretty tight at this point, so it's probably safe to throw in some other tropes that aren't totally present but get a nod.
Horror movies in general like to pay homage to other horror movies. A man in a hockey mask with a chainsaw is a common is an understood signifier. Even though this is cramming two films together (Friday the 13th and Texas Chainsaw Massacre), it's an understood cliche. It shows up in the fake movie shown on a theater screen in the 80's remake of The Blob. In John Hughes' script for National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, the main character wears a hockey mask, for safety, when cutting down a Christmas tree with a chainsaw. While Home Alone doesn't explicitly use this trope, Buzz's bedroom does include hockey gear, horror film action figures and a horror movie poster.
Slasher films love to kill the asshole who "had it coming." This could apply to a lot of the victims but you can definitely be sure someone's on their way out if they kick a dog or make fun of a person with a disability. In Home Alone, Kevin's sibling Buzz is a bullying jerk. He doesn't killed or bonked on the head, but his room does get trashed and his life savings are sacrificed to Kevin as a shopping budget.
There comes a point in the majority of slasher films when the killer suddenly just isn't as efficient and unstoppable as he has been up that point. After slicing and dicing people without a care in the world, suddenly they slow down to think about what they are doing or toy with the victim, and get taken out. In Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, Harry and Marv are foiled at every point as they desperately try to stop an eight-year-old from hurting them, and then, suddenly, out of nowhere, they grab hold of Kevin. As they are about to take him out, the old man with the shovel and the old lady with the pigeons, respectively, step in and save the day.
Freddy had his knife fingers. Jason had his machette. Leatherface had his chainsaw. Kevin had his B.B. gun. (At least in the original film.)
This the stretchiest of all the stretches.
Home Alone 2: Lost In New York
Living and dying
It seems like the age of the child who hits villains on the head for sadistic slapstick pleasure is kind of over. Kids have the highbrow pleasures of Pixar and the lowbrow world of cheap YouTube series to keep them entertained. But the slasher movie has gone out of style before as well, only to prove itself not quite dead. There was the ironic self-reference of Scream clones, a phenomen explained by the popularity polynomial. One day, we might have some kid running around a house setting traps and constantly recalling where Kevin McCallister went wrong, reminding himself that the basement is totally chill, that guy outside is just a friendly snow shoveler and it's all going to be alright. Maybe not.
But maybe, Kevin never went anywhere. The second time the slasher film died it was overtaken by torture porn stylings of the Saw series. Here's very convincing argument that Kevin actually grew up to be Jigsaw. Seems legit. Have audiences truly "given up? or are they thirsty for more?"