Journalist Amy Lavelle wonders whether there is a dark underside to one of our favourite Christmas films...
We need to talk about Kevin...McCallister. The star of Home Alone, or as I like to think of it, the prequel to Mindhunter, since Kevin is a murderer in the making.
Since 1995, Christmas cheer has become synonymous with torture and attempted murder committed by an eight-year-old in aftershave. If facing up to that spoils anyone’s Christmas memories, then that’s too bad, but the evidence is there: Kevin McCallister is a tiny child psychopath. He starts the film fighting with his brother and an entire sequel later, has yet to learn a single lesson about not trying to murder people.
Maybe it’s not his fault. The film is a study in abandonment issues, after all. As someone who once got lost in ASDA, parental neglect is deeply traumatic. It’s also a common factor in many future serial killers’ lives: Ted Bundy’s, for example; Edmund Kemper’s, whose victims included his mother and grandmother; and Charles Manson’s.
Granted, there are plenty of people have horrible childhoods and don’t go onto become killers, but Kevin McCallister isn’t one of them. He has both his upbringing and genetics working against him. After all, his whole family is horrible. He’s bullied by everyone he interacts with, including his adult uncle (who only gets worse as time goes on). His own parents don’t seem to want him around and that’s before they leave the country without him.
When they finally remember he exists, said uncle equates forgetting a child with forgetting his glasses: a response so lacking in empathy, it can only suggest he’s sociopathic. Then there’s his brother, Buzz: an up-and-coming pervert who has a pet tarantula. Conclusion: Buzz spent his 20s in prison.
Serious side-eye also goes to the cousin who joyously wets the bed. Do you know who else wets the bed? Serial killers, that’s who. Just look at the Macdonald triad: it’s right up there with arson and cruelty to animals.
But back to Kevin, because at some point, everyone needs to face up to their own mistakes. Except for Kevin, that is, who refuses to ever admit he was in the wrong (a trait that features on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, by the way, right along with refusing to say sorry).
Kevin wishes his entire family were gone forever and wakes up to see his wish has come true. Immediately, he is thrilled. There are no concerns that he might have somehow murdered them all with his mind and a Christmas wish, just pure happiness his entire family is possibly dead. He might as well be called Lizzie Borden. Let’s tick a lack of empathy and callousness off that checklist, too.
Kevin celebrates by rifling through his brother’s possessions and it’s here that an entire set of shelves collapses on him and we get the second link with serial killers: a head injury. (Although seeing as his whole family hates him, this might not be the first one.)
Research conducted by mental health specialists at the University if Glasgow into serial killers and mass murderers found that of the 239 killers studied, 21% had suffered or were suspected to have suffered a head injury.
Henry Lee Lucas’ mother hit him with a block of wood. John Wayne Gacy’s dad beat him unconscious using a broomstick. And Fred West fractured his skull in a motorcycle accident and was left unconscious for a week at 17.
Kevin, meanwhile, is ordering a pizza and unnecessarily traumatizing the pizza deliveryman for life, by playing a gang film and making him think he’s getting shot at. You may ask why. Say what you will about murdering criminals, the pizza guy has done nothing wrong. And yet, young, evil-willed Kevin makes him wet himself (implied) with fear.
It’s this gang film that precipitates Kevin’s descent into crime. The link between playing video games or watching horror films and child killers might be questionable, but clearly no one told Kevin that. He emulates the hell out of it.
Kevin gets guns. Kevin gets fireworks. And when Kevin hears his house is going to be broken into, he doesn’t call the police; Kevin starts his career in sadism. But not before he steals a toothbrush and casually, but charmingly lies to some shop attendants. Much like Ted Bundy: another noted charming liar. Tick those off on the psychopathy checklist, too.
He then proceeds to shoot one burglar in the groin, the other in the head, while smiling and looking him in the eye, before starting his torture campaign.
What follows includes dropping an iron on someone’s head, smashing them in the face with paint cans, blowtorching a head (that’s a tick for arson) and a tarantula-to-the-face scene that is impossible to forget.
Granted, he doesn’t actually kill anyone, but this is not for lack of trying. Guantanamo Bay could take pointers from Kevin. Seeing as he doesn’t end the film in prison or in serious therapy, maybe he’s working for them now, while wearing someone else’s teeth as a necklace.
As it is, we get a chilling end: Kevin, happily smiling and waving his victims off, before his family returns (who seem shockingly blasé about the entire child abandonment thing, by the way) for a rewarding family Christmas. Kevin is left free to continue his life of crime. This time, in New York City.