The People Under The Stairs is a Comedy/Horror film Written and Directed by horror icon Wes Craven. The People Under The Stairs while a hit at the time of its opening release reaching the number#1 spot at the box office and stayed in the top 10 for a month after has since fallen into a bit of obscurity. I remember renting this movie when it first came out in 1991 and it scared the shit out of me. For years this film fueled my nightmares but upon recent viewings how it managed that alludes me. I’ve come to appreciate it somewhat differently since I’ve grown up. When talking about Wes Cravens body of work a few select films seem to be always brought up Nightmare on Elm Street, Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes and Scream. All great films but no one seems to bring up The People Under The Stairs in fact more than a few self described Craven Fans have admitted to have never seen this film. I find that just a little upsetting.
The plot goes as such Poindexter “Fool” Williams (played by Brandon Adams) family is being evicted from their low end apartment by their greedy landlords Eldon “Daddy” Robeson and Mrs. “Mommy” Robeson (Everette McGill and Wendy Robie) who want to tear down the building to put up condos. So Fool along with Leroy (played by Ving Rhames) and Spenser (Played by Jeremy Roberts) break into the Robesons home to steal an expensive coin collection. The three bungling burglars learn quickly the Robesons aren’t what they seem to be as their house is littered with booby traps, a vicious dog named Prince, numerous other hazards along hidden passages. But the biggest challenge are the Robesons themselves as they are bat shit crazy. Spencer and Leroy perish at the hands of Daddy but “Fool” manages to escape with the help of Alice Robeson (played by A. J. Langer) the “daughter” of Mommy and Daddy as well as that of Roach (played by Sean Whalen). Roach is one of the Robesons former children who spoke back and got his tongue cut out. Roach is an escapee from the basement, oh yea by the way the Robeson have a bunch of their “kids” locked in the basement who were bad and had to be punished. The children have since gone a little crazy and turned cannibalistic. Fool escapes the home after receiving some of the coins from Roach but Alice is captured by Mommy and Daddy during the escape. So Fool returns to the house to save Alice and confront the insane couple.
Like I said earlier I saw this movie as a kid, a lot. So it has a large amount of nostalgia attached to it so it’s a good thing that my opinions here are always biased. So that said, I love this movie and I consider it among Wes Cravens best work. Apparently he came up with the idea for the film after reading an article about police finding children locked in their rooms and were never allowed out while searching the home after a pair of burgers broke in. That makes this movie slightly more chilling for me as the core basis of film is taken from reality.
The vast majority of this film takes place inside the Robesons home. With the viewer being trapped there along with Fool. While the house is large it’s what I would call spacious with cramped dark hallways and cluttered rooms make for a claustrophobic atmosphere. Parts of this film even takes place inside the walls. That’s where Roach lives after his escape. It reminds of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys home in Never-Never Land.
This movie balances horror and comedy really well. In fact it’s among the best I can think of off the top of my head. It jumps back and forth effortlessly. One moment its Fool hiding for his life and the next Daddy is running around in a gimp suit blasting the walls with a shot gun hunting for Roach. That might sounds weird to you, which is good because it is. Every single time I see it my jaw drops and I just crack up laughing.
People Under The Stairs has one draw back that’s so close being a perk that it becomes maddening and that’s the acting. Everyone feels like they are just slightly overacting the whole time. But due to the ridiculous of the whole situation every character is seems to be playing straight man with the situation being the funnyman. McGill and Robie don’t hold anything back as the Robesons as the pair just keep on delivering the crazy.
Like I said I simply love this movie so I wont keep going on about it. Wes Craven really brought his A game making it a must watch for almost every horror fan.But this film does have more then its share of plot holes and the overacting even if it helps sell the comedy does grow a bit tiresome. I’m going to give The People Under The Stairs 7/10.