For moviegoers of a certain age, the holiday season wouldn’t be complete without the dutiful viewing of a certain classic Christmas film. No, not It’s A Wonderful Life or Die Hard: Home Alone, the 1990 John Hughes-penned comedy about an inadvertently abandoned Macaulay Culkin systematically torturing two would-be robbers and picking up the milk, eggs, and fabric softener. But for two friends who had bonded over a mutual love for Home Alone while in college, simply watching, enjoying, and quoting the film for the umpteenth time wasn’t enough. It was time to remake it.
That full-length remake, Abode Solo, is directed and produced by Liz Smith and Milwaukeean Kari Houghtaling—both of whom play nearly every part in the film. Far from a professional production—the film was shot on an old digital camera and edited in iMovie—it’s more akin to amateur fan-made remakes of Star Wars or Raiders Of The Lost Ark, with only a deep love for the film in question holding things together. Abode Solo will make its Milwaukee premier Sunday, December 14 at The Hotel Foster, bookended by performances by Jaill and Minneapolis glam band Suzie. Admission is $5. The Kenosha Kickers may or may not make an appearance.
“I think there was something about Home Alone that spoke to both of our individual, and now collective, senses of humor,” Smith says. “We sort of became best friends through our constant quoting of lines and then realized how much we had in common through the amount of detail we each picked up from the movie. It was just something that we both loved and then came to represent the love we have for each other in our friendship.”
Shot mostly in Smith’s hometown of Guttenberg, Iowa during the frigid Polar Vortex of early 2014, Abode Solo isn’t quite a shot-for-shot remake of the Chris Columbus classic, but it’s close. “It’s not a shot-for-shot in the sense that we had to cut some scenes from the movie,” Smith says. “But I’d say it’s a shot-for-shot of 85 percent of the original film, maybe even 90 percent. We’re still editing, but I’d say our movie will be about 75 minutes with credits when it’s finished.”
Using creative camera angles, homemade props, and plenty of costume changes, Smith and Houghtaling managed to recreate Home Alone with almost no outside help. Divvying up roles between only two people proved to be a challenge. “I played Macaulay,” Smith says, “mostly because throughout my whole life people have told me I look like him, which I always take as high praise, regardless of intent. Then it became strategic as far as who was on camera with whom. Kari had to be the mom because she and Kevin have a lot of scenes together. The same was true of Harry who has more scenes with Kevin than Marv. Also, Kari has a GREAT Joe Pesci impression.
“Then it just came down to our own preference,” Smith continues. “Actually, the weird fringe characters turned out to be the most fun for me to play, because those are the weird lines we’d always quote. Like the old man in the Paris airport: ‘She’s got her own earrings at home, a whole shoebox full of ’em, DAAAAANGLY ones.’ And the old lady at the pharmacy: ‘Herb? I’ve got a question here about a TOOTHbrush.’”
“We just recently were able to utilize Milwaukee people and connections for the film,” Houghtaling adds. “We added the John Candy scene from the original Home Alone. We didn’t film it earlier because of time restrictions and also, neither Liz or I could play a very good John Candy, but my friend Chris Boles, who I met through improv workshops at ComedySportz, is a good dude from Racine, and he agreed to play the part at the last minute. He had the Midwestern charm and Wisconsin accent down for that part. We were also somehow able to film in the lobby of the Milwaukee airport. It worked out great.”
The fact that the pair are premiering Abode Solo at The Hotel Foster is an interesting coincidence, as Culkin’s Velvet Underground/pizza tribute band, The Pizza Underground, performed at the venue just last month. (A Guttenberg screening is set for Friday, December 19 at the Guttenberg Creativity Center’s Rathskeller Theater.) Sadly, neither Smith nor Houghtaling could manage to get the attention of the man who, as a boy, was once deemed “les incompétents.” “We bombarded The Pizza Underground Facebook page with plugs for our movie,” Smith says. “Kari went to the show in Milwaukee and even flew to San Francisco for their show, but both times we were stopped by fear and Macaulay’s pint-sized body guard who whisked him away immediately after the show.”
So what have family, friends, and loved ones made of the fact that two grown adults decided to not only create a home-movie remake of Home Alone, but to screen it for strangers? “I’d say the reaction has been equal parts bewilderment and enthusiasm,” Smith says. “We figure if we’re this obsessed with the movie, there has to be another community out there that feels the same way, and we just want to celebrate the original work and all it represents to us: friendship, the Midwest, nostalgia for being a kid, the holidays, family, etc.
“I had no film experience before this, aside from a family tree project I made in 8th grade using iMovie,” Smith confesses. “But I have a little bit of a background as a visual artist, and Kari and I have a lot of experience with just being huge freaks, which can easily be channeled into creative projects.”