Reviewing a Christmas Classic – Home Alone (1990)

OK, so I missed Christmas but I hope that everyone had a lovely Christmas and got just what they wanted from Santa. That fat git needs to stop giving me deodorant because I got the picture more than a few years ago.

Anyway, since people still have their decorations up then I can still talk about something that’s a bit Christmassy and when I say ‘a bit’ Christmassy, I do of course mean that ‘Home Alone’ is as much of a Christmas film as ‘Die Hard’. Both films take place at Christmas but the central plot has almost sod all to do with Christmas.

Take ‘Home Alone’. The plot involves a nine-year old boy, Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) having a row with his absurdly large family the night before they are set to leave on a plane to Paris for Christmas. Due to a clock related cock-up, the family rush to the airport and board the plane a little too late to realise that they’ve left little Kevin behind. Meanwhile, ‘The Wet Bandits’, Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern), local burglars who are infamous for robbing private homes and flooding them afterwards, target the McCallister’s home. It’s up to Kevin to protect his family home with some elaborate and some might say ‘deadly’ traps.

I’m well aware that this film is a classic and is fairly light-hearted in it’s delivery but when you look underneath the surface, there’s something quite malevolent going on here and not just on the sides of the burglars.

I’m fairly certain that Kevin McCallister is an evil genius. In a very short space of time, he’s rigged his house with so many traps that a Health and Safety inspector would have to produce a ‘Risk Assessment’ sheet about seventy thousand pages long and then have a heart attack. In the opening scenes, he doesn’t show any kind of prominence in creating traps but once he realises he’s in danger, he’s quick to pull out the Christmas tree ornaments and blowtorches as a means of defence.

The casting of the two villains was second to none. I was fairly surprised to see Joe Pesci (not when I was a kid because I didn’t know who he was) who rose to prominence by playing foul-mouthed gangsters in ‘The Death Collector (1976)’, ‘Catchfire (1990)’ and ‘Goodfellas (1990)’ to name three but I’m pretty sure that every other character he’s ever played has been in the mafia. I’m not judging him for it, he’s very good at it. The point is that I think that this film and the sequel were the only ‘kids’ films he’s ever done. These two and arguably ‘Moonwalker (1988)’.

Also, if it weren’t presented in such a light-hearted and comedic tone and done in a more sinister way, this could easily be a horror movie. I’m reminded of the final act of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)’ when Nancy prepares her home with improvised weaponry so when she pulls Freddy Krueger into the real world, he’s in for a surprise.

Think about it. A small child, home alone, in a big house and two burglars are trying to get in. If I were them and the kid has just shot me in the face with a BB gun and then I’ve slipped down a flight of stairs, I’d give up and go home. You’d also think that thought would arise again once you’ve taken an iron to the face. Or had you’re head burned with a blowtorch. Or stepped on a nail. Or had a tarantula placed on your face. That last one would be the last straw for me. No amount of stolen goods is worth having a massive, poisonous spider placed on your face. Game over.

What I like about this film is that because it’s told from a child’s perspective the writer (John Hughes) must have asked himself the pivotal question. If I were a child at home with no parental supervision, what would I do? And the answer to that question comes across via events in the film. Kevin invades his big brother’s room; he eats a lot of ice cream, he watches violent films, he sleeps in his parent’s bed and to cap it all, he goes sledding down the stairs which must have been where ‘Jackass’ got the idea to do it.

Embedded in the film are also a few ‘child-like’ traits. Kevin is scared of the furnace in the basement that looks like a huge face that breathes fire and there’s the rumour of ‘Old Man Marley’ (Roberts Blossom) who the local kids say murdered his family. Of course this turns out not to be true and he’s really just a lonely old man who’s estranged from his son and meets up with Kevin in the church where he goes to watch his granddaughter sing in the choir.

The film also focuses on Kevin’s mum, Kate McCallister (Catherine O’Hara) trying to make her way home from Paris. On the way, she has to hock a lot of her jewellery to buy a ticket to Chicago from another passenger and travel with a kindly Polka band in the back of their truck.

What else is there to say about it? It’s ‘Home Alone’. It’s a Christmas classic and the very nature of having a headstrong, savvy child outwit a couple of almost buffoonish criminals with clever, dangerous but funny traps became the basis for another four sequels.

‘Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (1992)’ took place one year after the events of the first film and was essentially the first film done again but with a bigger budget. It once again centred around the McCallister family as they fly to Miami for Christmas and Kevin accidentally gets on the wrong plane. Harry and Marv return as the villains but the second film became a much more ‘star-studded’ affair with such appearances as Tim Curry (Rocky Horror Picture Show) as the Concierge of the Plaza Hotel; Rob Schneider as the bellhop, veteran actor, Eddie Bracken as the kindly, toy shop owner, Mr Duncan and a cameo appearance of the then millionaire businessman and current President of the United States, Donald Trump. You can take that last one as either a good thing or a bad thing depending on who’s side you’re on. Nevertheless, the second ‘Home Alone’ pressed all the same buttons and it just felt like they’d taken the script of the first film, changed the city, changed the traps and broke up for lunch. I liked it because I liked the first and it was basically that. Just bigger.

Although early drafts of ‘Home Alone 3(1997)’ had a teenage Kevin facing Harry and Marv once again, I think it made sense from a story-writing perspective to focus on a different family rather than the McCallisters since leaving/losing your child for a third time might warrant a visit from social services.

Instead, ‘Home Alone 3’ focuses on Alex Pruitt (Alex D. Linz), an 8-year-old boy who is left at home by his working mother as he is struck with the chicken pox at Christmas time. He is given a remote control car by his elderly neighbour lady as payment for shovelling snow for her and inside the toy car is a computer chip that is being hunted by 4 international criminal masterminds.

People were down on this instalment but you know what? I didn’t think it was that bad. The 4 bad guys offered a satisfactory comedic element whilst the traps were fairly intuitive if maybe a little bit extravagant for an 8-year-old to put together. Are you expecting me to believe that a child can lift a giant trampoline, place it on a motorised trailer and position it over a swimming pool? One thing that I did appreciate was the that Alex was already perceived from the beginning to be a ‘tinkerer’ who goes to the trouble of fixing together a contraption that flings fish-food into a gold-fish bowl.

The other two I haven’t seen but they were ‘direct to video’ and by all accounts were shit anyway.

Nevertheless, the original ‘Home Alone’ is a classic and the first two are always on TV around Christmas time. I watched them this year as adult and really enjoyed them so I suppose they are ‘fun for all the family’. Happy New Year! May 2019 bring you all happiness and prosperity.

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