by Alex Smith
I wrote HIVE in conversation with the home invasion narrative. Not necessarily a big fan that sought out such examples of the trope, I’d nonetheless read, watched, and gamed in worlds where something or someone was trying to get in. The idea of an urban home invasion drew me to closer to the challenge. What happens when someone gets into your building, your apartment? Where do you go; what do you do?
I thought I’d touch upon the works that are woven into the DNA of HIVE—superior works that I had aspired to in telling my own story. I didn’t embark upon creating hard and fast rules that define home invasion stories for my list. On considering the notion, I quickly understood that I would rub up against several sticky boundaries not worth delineating, and would rather stretch into other subgenres to collect what I was looking for.
My hope is that the same curious reader who might have enjoyed the stories below might enjoy HIVE, or vice versa.
Intensity (1995) – Dean Koontz
If you’ve seen Haute Tension (2003, dir. Alexandre Aja), then you know the first section of Intensity well (save the hackneyed twist in the end of the film). Chyna and Laura are inseparable friends, en route to visit with Laura’s family. Chyna finds comfort in the safety and security of Laura’s more normative, peaceful upbringing, which stands in comparison to Chyna’s traumatic history. When a sadistic killer breaks into Laura’s house, this intact, loving family is destroyed one person at a time.
Koontz utilizes the home invasion trope masterfully. The characters live and breathe and worry and love before us. The house is a puzzle that Chyna must push herself to analyze and understand in order to survive. Each decision she makes feels limited by the doors and rooms and light and dark of this once-idyllic setting. Chyna’s resourcefulness, her miserable past, and her determination bring us incredibly close to her, and we want her to make it.
While Intensity inevitably flows into a larger, town-and-road, tables-turning tour, the first section of this book is something of a master class in the invasion narrative. Koontz shows us that the most profound way to create tension in the home invasion trope is to make us care deeply for the people involved.
The Turn of the Screw (1898) – Henry James
The Turn of the Screw stretches into ghost story territory, but the overlap of the genres here is inextricably linked. A young vulnerable governess (sort of an au pair and a teacher at once) is terrorized by two shadowy figures that appear to her throughout an isolated mansion. The very presence of these stalking visions threatens to corrupt or kill her charges and drive her mad.
The psychological stakes are high, and exceptionally rendered. The governess—sheltered, carefully protecting her innocence and afraid of her own fantasies—sees these ghosts as invaders who would reveal her dark impulses and turn them into desperate actions. The children—seemingly innocent yet dangerously defiant and extroverted to the governess—are viewed by the governess as on the brink of sexual corruption and total loss of innocence. The governess must protect her last remaining charge in the chilling conclusion. Whether she shields her nephew from her own internal madness, or the invader at the window, is left to the reader to surmise.
That these visitors seem to exit and enter the boundaries of this Victorian estate at will plays on the themes of home invasion we see today, where the soft, messy insides of reality can be exposed, attacked, and made dangerous.
Beowulf – Unknown
Let’s go full Iron Age for a moment. The story of Beowulf and Grendel is the ultimate home invasion tale for me. A great hero, Beowulf, travels to a distant land, where a king and his people are under attack by the human-devouring beast, Grendel. The beast invades King Hrothgar’s mead hall nightly to devour human prey. He appears to be invincible. He is psychotic, soulless, hungry.
Grendel isn’t only just a monster, a slasher, and a hunter. Grendel’s been driven mad by the noisy drinking and celebrating at the mead hall, and Grendel has a loving mother. Reading some children’s version as a boy, I found that as soon as Beowulf had defeated Grendel, I pitied the beast more than championed the hero. And the mother’s revenge pushed me ever farther into this psychological place.
A glorious hall under siege by a cunning predator, with legendary heroes attempting to fend off the invader, certainly qualifies this as an ultimate home invasion narrative, one in which the threat looms incredibly large, putting an entire village, if not nation, at risk of destruction.
The Nightrunners (1987)– Joe R. Lansdale
Following her brutal assault at the hands of possessed teenager (and “Goblin”) Clyde, Becky and her husband Monty pull up stakes and make their way to a quiet, isolated house in east Texas. Clyde hanged himself in jail after his arrest, and the couple is keen to push on into the healing process. But Becky holds an ineffable link to her attacker. She suspects that Clyde lives on, and is hunting her.
The incredible pain that Becky suffered has distanced this couple. Their heads filled with angst, numbness, and rage, their journey is intractable and futile from the get. When Monty and Becky face off against their invaders, it is Becky’s low-burning strength, and the remainder of hope she holds, that seems the most vulnerable and scary thing to lose, should they succumb to the Goblins.
While Lansdale would craft wider, deeper narratives later in his career, The Nightrunners has that irresistible feel of youthful, unbridled talent. The fever with which this book was written still astounds me. Lansdale had something that needed saying—that demanded to be written and read immediately. So it felt when I picked up The Nightrunners, a book that reads fast as hell, punching you repeatedly in the gut as you go.
Alex Smith is the author of the urban invasion story HIVE, published by Muzzleland Press.