Christmas may not technically be the focal point of the movie, but Home Alone has long been as synonymous with the festive period as mince pies and eggnog.
Every year, people around the world tune in to watch the 90s classic, starring Macaulay Culkin as a young boy who transforms his home into a death trap in order to outsmart a pair of dimwitted burglars Marv and Harry (played by Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci).
Home Alone is packed full of heartwarming sentiments, but if we’re honest with ourselves, its success is mostly down to the ingenious booby traps Kevin sets up for the crooks and the subsequent pain that they’re made to endure… in fact, the film is kinda sinister when you really stop to think about it.
What we’re here to discuss today is the accuracy of these scenes. Answering the burning questions such as, ‘What kind of permanent physical damage would a blow torch to the head really do?’ Luckily, The Week spoke to Dr. Ryan St. Clair of the Weill Cornell Medical College in a bid to find some answers.
First up: the BB gun to the forehead. From Kevin, with love.
Marv is shot in the head at an extremely close range, while Harry gets one in the groin – and according to St. Clair, the level of pain and injury shown were actually pretty accurate.
“A BB fired at close range from such a weapon could break the skin,” he says, “but will not penetrate the skull, and is unlikely to penetrate Harry’s scrotum, especially through fabric.”
Phew! So what about an iron to the face? Surely that’s gonna cause some damage. As you’ll remember, it’s Marv who gets smacked by the appliance after pulling a door handle, one that Kevin had attached to a rope and a steam iron. Yeowch! Although Marv seems to experience a lot of pain, St. Clair reckons it could’ve looked a lot worse for him.
Estimating that the distance from the first floor to the basement is 15 feet, and the steam iron weighs four pounds, and that it strikes the burglar squarely in the mid-face, he says: “This is a serious impact, with enough force to fracture the bones surrounding the eyes.
“This is also known as a ‘blowout fracture,’ and can lead to serious disfigurement and debilitating double vision if not repaired properly.”
Next up, it’s the old classic – the burning hot doorknob. This was the fate suffered by Harry while Marv is busy getting an iron to the face. St. Clair explains that if a doorknob is glowing bright red, it’s probably at around 751 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning Harry’s reaction would’ve looked avery different IRL.
St. Clair explains: “The temperature of that doorknob is not quite hot enough to cause Harry’s hand to burst into flames, but it is not that far off… Assuming Harry doesn’t lose the hand completely, he will almost certainly have other serious complications… Kevin has moved from ‘defending his house’ into sheer malice, in my opinion.”
Well, young Kev did get left behind by his parents at Christmas, after all – he’s bound to have a chip on his shoulder.
While we’re on the topic of fire, another set-up from Kevin sees Harry receiving a blowtorch to the scalp, with a reaction that St. Clair describes as ‘interesting’.
He says: “Rather than remove himself from danger, he keeps the top of his skull directly in the line of fire for about seven seconds. What was likely a simple second-degree skin burn is now a full thickness burn likely to cause necrosis of the calavarium (skull bone).
“That means the skin and bone tissue on Harry’s skull will be so damaged and rotted that his skull bone is essentially dying and will likely require a transplant.”
He’s not gonna be able to afford one of those on a burglar’s budget.
Meanwhile, Marv experiences pain at the other end of his body when he tramples barefoot on some Christmas tree ornaments. Apparently this is the least severe punishment served up in the whole film, with St. Clair stating: “Walking on ornaments seems pretty insignificant compared to everything else we’ve seen so far.”
And last, but by no means least, the final scenes in the film see Kevin’s elderly neighbour saving the day by delivering an almighty blow with his shovel to the back of the heads of the bandits, knocking them out cold.
“Seriously? At this point, Marv and Harry have both suffered potentially crippling hand and foot injuries,” says St. Clair, who goes on to point out that both burglars have endured burns, fractures and injuries far worse than what looks like a fairly light tap with a shovel.
“Suddenly, a frail elderly man appears and weakly slaps them in turn with a flimsy aluminum Home Depot snow shovel. And, somehow, this is too much for them, and they collapse. This movie was way more believable when I was eight.”