Horrorfest 2013 Presents: The People Under The Stairs (1991, Wes Craven)

Young Brandon (Fool as he’s called) has a massive problem: his family is in danger of being evicted from their crappy apartment in the ghetto. Also his mother has cancer and his sister cannot provide for the family, so Fool goes along with Leroy’s (Ving Rhames in a typical quality and humorous performance) plan to rob the slumlord of the building. Rumor has it the man lives with his sister and they have gold coins, coins that would pay for Fool’s mom’s operation and also prevent the family from becoming homeless. So Fool desperately goes along with the plan, not knowing that it will lead to him becoming trapped inside a house of horrors, forced to try to survive in a hostile environment. After all there are People Under The Stairs.

Wes Craven’s second 90s movie is very 80s, particularly since it covers 80s America: its class and race divisions, the fact that white people were moving into the suburbs to avoid minorities. I liked this film even though Craven, like many other horror and non-horror directors doesn’t bother with being subtitle, as the film’s social, economical and political commentary is really obvious. Everett McGill and Wendy Robie’s creepy brother and sister slumlord duo are religious fundamentalists who hate minorities, the police, and anyone else they feel are not God fearing people. That includes the poor, who they are trying to drive out while still exploiting them to stay wealthy. Not to mention the fact that what they have trapped in the basement are, well…I won’t say but it’s not pretty.

Even though the last act is a bit heavy-handed (mobs sure pop up really quickly in movies) People Under The Stairs combines campy bleak humor with an eerie and freaky atmosphere. Also Roach is a weird yet also sympathetic character, someone who shows up in plenty of horror movies. McGill and Robie steal the film yet I was surprised that Brandon Quintin Adams was really good in this, as too many films have featured bad child acting. I found this to be one of Craven’s better movies, and I’m a fan of his because his movies never seem to be boring at least.

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