Home Security Expert Breaks Down Kevin McCallister’s ‘Home Alone’ Security Setup

Can an 8-year-old teach you a thing or two about protecting your home this Christmas? Let’s find out!

A little kid, parents on vacation in Europe, and a big, empty home stocked with stereos and VCRs, jewelry and cash — what could go wrong?

Everything, it turns out, when 8-year-old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) decides to take home security into his own hands and foil the two dim-witted thieves determined to break into his house. That’s 1990’s iconic “Home Alone” in a nutshell. Most of us know the rest of the story.

The question we had this Christmas was: could little McCallister’s home security tricks actually work against real-life burglars? (Sorry, we’re all home security nerds around here.) Here are our findings, as we lead you tactic by tactic through each of McCallister’s security measures from a home security expert’s POV.

Important: We do not recommend you try many of these tricks in your own home, folks. We strongly recommend you install a reliable home security system instead. This isn’t the ‘90s. Today, we have plenty of affordable home security options you can set up yourself in under an hour.

First Ruse: Flip on the Light

Home Alone burglars

Let me set the scene. It’s night one of the stakeout. Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern), our wannabe burglars, lurk past the McCallister’s living room window and down to the basement door, crowbars in hand. Pint-sized Kevin McCallister, alone by himself, flips on the lights. The bandits back off.

Our take: This is spot on. Unless you’re dealing with a psychopath, stirrings of life inside your home should drive 99 percent of thieves away. (This doesn’t apply to automatic light timers, however.) So kudos to Kevin McCallister. This home security trick, which doesn’t cost a dime, gets a big thumbs up from us.

Home Security Rating: 10

Fun Fact: Joe Pesci wanted 10-year-old Macaulay Culkin to fear him when the camera was rolling, so he never got chummy on set. Maybe Pesci took his method acting too far. In the scene where he hangs Culkin from a door hook, threatening to bite off his fingers, he actually bit one of Culkin’s fingers hard enough to break the skin.

Second Ruse: Simulate a Party (aka, the Michael Jordan Cardboard Cut-out Scene)

Home Alone Fake Party

After the aftershave gag, this is probably the most memorable scene in the whole movie. On night two of the stakeout, McCallister fakes a rocking Christmas party. (All the guests are mannequins but the Hollywood thieves can’t tell.) Would it work in real life?

Our take: A party, even a fake one, would probably be more than enough to give the average cat thief second thoughts. Burglars are looking for silence and easy access, remember. But, honestly, a motion-activated spotlight and a decent home security camera with night vision on the front porch would get the job done much more easily.

Home Security Rating: 8

Did You Know? Most house burglars strike in the afternoon, and not at night,  unless they know your house is empty. That intel doesn’t necessarily come from casing like it does in movies. Many thieves get tipped off from people you know.

Third Ruse: “Keep the Change, You Filthy Animal”

Home Alone firecracker scene

I can’t imagine how many 10-year-olds tried this at home in the ‘90s, but we don’t recommend you try it. This is the scene, on day three of the stakeout, where Marv tries the backdoor. To keep him out, McCallister presses play on his favorite movie, “Angels with Filthy Souls,” dumps a load of firecrackers into a pasta pot, lights them, and scares the bejesus out of Marv, securing the homestead once again.

Our take: Not a great ploy in our book. If you’re not Macaulay Culkin on the set of “Home Alone,” lighting firecrackers in your kitchen is a bad move. A prowler at your backdoor means it’s time to call the police — especially if you’re inside. If you’re absolutely set on duping a burglar about to break into your kitchen, consider an Al Pacino Soundboard instead. You won’t even need the firecrackers.

Home Security Rating: 2

Fun Fact: “Angels with Filthy Souls,” the film that gave us one of the greatest Hollywood lines of all time — “Keep the change, you filthy animal” — wasn’t real. Director Chris Columbus created it for “Home Alone.”

The Big Showdown

This is it, the big night. Harry and Marv, our harebrained thieves, have realized that young Kevin McCallister is “home alone” and they’re going to catch him. So in this next section, we’ve tallied 12 separate home security tricks McCallister employs to beat back the “Wet Bandits.” If you want an actual medical opinion on whether or not a burglar could have actually survived this onslaught, Dr. Ryan St. Clair’s scene-by-scene breakdown is a good read.1 We’ve decided to weigh in from a home security angle.

Fun Fact: The role of Harry Lime (Joe Pesci) was supposed to go to Robert De Niro, but De Niro turned it down. So did Jon Lovitz. (What were you thinking, Jon?) If the name Harry Lime sounds familiar, by the way, that’s because it was the name of Orson Welles’ character in “The Third Man.”

Here we go:

1. Shooting a BB gun at a prowler’s nether regions from the dog door

While we applaud Kevin McCallister for his chutzpah, we typically don’t recommend using force against home invaders unless your life is in danger, and you know you have the upper hand. Statistics show that if you resist intruders while you’re in the house, you’re much more likely to get hurt.2

2. Icing down your steps

Awesomely effective for foiling thieves, but also for breaking their backs. You might get sued (and your home insurance policy wouldn’t cover you), so we’d nix this particular tactic from your home protection quiver.

3. Booby-trapping a light string attached to a clothes iron hidden in the dumbwaiter

Again, very clever, but you could end up accidentally executing a family member this way. We much prefer a motion sensor attached to a home burglar alarm.

4. Heating up your front doorknob to a molten hotness

Ouch! Perfect against the Krampus (and your average thief). Bad if you want your house standing for Christmas — instead of a smoking pile of rubble and ash. Protecting your house from fires is no joke. So not heating your doorknobs to 750 degrees Fahrenheit is always best practice.

5. Tarring your basement stairs (so thieves have to take off shoes and socks) and then sticking a huge nail in the step to impale them on.

We really like this ruse if you’re the Roadrunner and your nemesis Wile E. Coyote is trying to break into your house. As a home security measure, we like a good indoor security camera a lot better.

6. Burning off the top of a prowler’s head with a string-activated blowtorch

This is actually pretty sick. Not even a thief at Christmas deserves this treatment. Which makes us wonder, in his backstory, did Kevin McCallister spend any time in juvie? Also, why did Joe Pesci let his scalp get toasted for a full seven seconds? Just asking.

7. Coating a plastic sheet with crazy glue and launching feathers at sticky target with portable fan

This sure gets points for its ingenuity. But if you’re close enough to a home invader to cover them in feathers, you’re way too close. Our advice here? Run!

8. Scattering Christmas ornaments on the floor under the living room window

This is a pretty easy DIY security trap, but your family will probably hate you for destroying all the holiday bling. (Santa, too.) If we were advising Kevin McCallister, we’d tell him to install a window alarm sensor instead. Alarms scare the pants off wannabe home invaders. And, if you’ve listened to us experts and gotten a security system with professional monitoring, the cops will be on your front porch before you can say, “Keep the change, you filthy animal.”

9. Dumping Micro Machines on the floor under the staircase

See previous.

10. Swinging heavy buckets of paint at thieves’ faces

At this point, Kevin McCallister has transformed from a devilish little Christmas imp into a cold-blooded, steely-eyed Charles Bronson. Would we recommend tying 10-pound cans of paint to the ceiling and then firing them at a burglar’s head? In good conscience, no. Things can get messy in more ways than one.

11. Dropping a tarantula on a prone thief’s face

Let me put it this way — if a thief had broken into my house and was lying on the ground outside my bedroom semi-delirious, and a tarantula just happened to be walking by? Bomb’s away!

12. Cutting a zip wire and sending thugs flying into a brick wall

Are you being chased by a thief in your house? Do you have a zip line outside your second-floor bedroom window? (And a pair of pruning shears in your tree house?) Is the scalpless, toothless thief with the broken back stupid enough to follow you outside onto the zip line? Please cut that wire.

Overall Home Security Rating:

2/10 — for us grownups in the 2020s. Again, don’t try this at home.

9/10 — for an 8-year-old home alone in the ‘90s (we’re deducting one point for Macaulay Culkin’s sadistic impulses).

Fun Fact: That tarantula Macaulay Culkin tosses onto Daniel Stern’s (Marv) face was real! Stern allowed one cut only. What wasn’t real was Stern’s bone-tingling scream. They dubbed that in later.

Wrapping Up

“Home Alone” is a great movie, and pint-sized Kevin McCallister does a bang-up job protecting his home from a pair of bumbling thugs. But out of the vast store of home security ruses McCallister deploys, the only tactics we’d really recommend are flipping on the lights and calling the police. OK — and maybe using physical force (depending on the situation) and tarantula dropping. All the rest we’d leave to Hollywood.

It’s also worth pointing out that back in the ‘90s, setting up automatic timers on your lights and locking the doors was about the best you could do to keep the thugs at bay. Home security systems weren’t affordable or accessible to the masses like they are today.

These days the situation is a lot better for vacationing homeowners. DIY home security is cheap and you can get professional monitoring (that’s where your alarms get routed to an emergency center) for as little as 10 bucks per month.

If you had to choose between affordable, round-the-clock professional security for as little as $120 per year and a tarantula and a couple of paint cans, we’re guessing you’d side with the experts, too.

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  1. The Week. (2016, Nov 30). Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in.

  2. Pub Med. (1995, Jun 14). Weapon involvement in home invasion crimes.