Brandon Adams as Fool
Everett McGill as Man; Dad
Wendy Robie as Woman; Mom
A.J. Langer as Alice
Wes Craven has given the world lasting horror classics ( A Nightmare on Elm Street), forgettable attempts at creating a horror franchise (Shocker – see the end of this review) and everything in between.The People Under the Stairs qualifies as “in between”.
The story surrounds a young boy and his poverty-stricken family, living in low-cost housing and struggling to make ends meet. The boy’s older sister has a love of tarot cards and one particular card consistently comes up while doing readings for her brother, The Fool. So, the boy’s nickname is “Fool”…and he doesn’t complain about that at all. Okay, I buy that…
Life is bad for Fool. His mother is deathly ill with no money to seek medical attention, there is no reliable source of income for food or utilities and the landlord of their battered apartment building has posted an eviction notice. What’s a Fool to do? Join forces with his sister’s boyfriend and enter a life of crime, that’s what. The first score for the new thief is a collection of gold coins owned by the same evil landlord that would have Fool and his family out on the street.
Unfortunately the crew of hapless bandits gets more than they bargained for with this particular landlord, or landlords as the case may be. The owners of the dilapidated building live in that old house on the street…you know, THAT old house that children dare each other to go near on Halloween. Not only that, but these two, along with their “daughter”, are very odd to say the least, and their house is a fortress designed to both keep intruders out and the inhabitants in. There have been quite a few inhabitants.
Fool becomes trapped inside and forced to use his wits and some very strange alliances to escape with his life.
The People Under the Stairs is a very interesting concept, reportedly conceived of after Craven read a news story about a family that locked their kids inside the house and never let them venture out. Goes to show you where a deranged imagination can go after reading a single news item.
Aside from the campy elements that mark Craven creations, there is also a good bit of socially-liberal commentary in The People Under the Stairs. The struggling family is poor and black, the evil landlords are rich, wacky and lily white. The oppressed neighbors that descend on the house to demand fair treatment are predominantly dark skinned and the landlords use racial expletives here and there. This movie was made in 1991, a time when a social statement could be made where specific racial elements were defined specifically to the statement – something that could never happen in today’s (2008) politically-correct atmosphere without a visit to Al Sharpton’s radio studio. This film is a dinosaur in terms of PC sensibility, but don’t blame Craven…nobody knew how easily offended people were back then.
The disaster of political correctness aside, The People Under the Stairs is a great film for what it is – a horror film with camp and fun. I recommend this one for movie marathons, Halloween parties and as a film to keep in your collection as a reminder of the days when horror could be fun without caring that someone may take offence.
Note on Shocker: Regardless of what “they” say, I LOVE Shocker and it remains one of the movies that I will watch when nothing else sounds good. Don’t listen to the nay-sayers and check it out if you haven’t yet.