people_under_the_stairs

Review: THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991)

.
Best Bad Quote:
“If you thought he was white before, you should see that sucka now!”
.
Well, it’s official: no one, ever again, will be able to make it a Blockbuster night. Oh, the tales we’ll tell our children. “When I was your age, I used to go to a movie rental STORE. So many colorful covers aligned the shelves, each story encased in artistic mystery…” Most of my adolescent selections were made based on cover alone. Others… Others I waited for patiently until the hungered for film left theaters, became available, and finally, sensually penetrated the family VCR. The People Under the Stairs is in the latter category. I remember seeing the trailer as a kid and going, “h-whaaaat?! ” This, if you aren’t aware, is the best possible reaction. To anything. I was not disappointed when I found out h-whaaat, btw. It was amazing.
.
The People Under the Stairs is a bold film that chooses to explore the strange racial line drawn in most horror films. The ongoing joke is that the begrudgingly diversity-friendly black character is going to bite it almost immediately, probably first. Strangely, this characterization is contradicted by the other ongoing joke that the African American community has: no black character would even participate in any of the horrific situations caught on tape. He or she would book it the minute sh*t started getting freaky and leave the dying to the stupid, blond bimbos with heaving bosoms. Director Wes Craven puts both these clichés to the test by making the lead character a precocious and street-savvy African American, and a 12-year-old one at that. Fool (Brandon Adams) is– gotcha– not a fool. He grew up the hard way– dodging drug addicts, drug dealers, and inner city bullets! You know, authentic fearful situations and not white people problems, like invented slasher villains that ruin senior prom. So, upon discovering that his mother is dying of cancer and that he and his sibs are soon to be evicted, Fool joins up with two crooks, Leroy (Ving Rhames) and Spenser (Jeremy Roberts), to rob the landlords of their, wait for it, gold coin collection. Burn in Hell, Ebenezer! Needless to say, the plan goes awry.
.
Fool quickly finds himself locked inside an oversized funeral home turned chamber of horrors with the two crazy owners, Mommy (Wendy Robie) and Daddy (Everett McGill), their adopted/kidnapped daughter Alice (A.J. Langer #MySoCalledLife), a rage-fueled Rottweiler, and a creeper named Roach (Sean Whalen) who spends his time crawling within the walls of the house and causing a ruckus. Turns out Roach wants to escape just as much as Fool, but neither can get out because the place is built like a safe and padlocked from the outside with soundproof, bullet-proof glass to boot. This brings us to the ‘people’– all rejected boy children who never adapted to the maniacally enforced, twisted, uber-religious rules of Ma and Pa, namely “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” The bad boys were mutilated accordingly and sentenced to imprisonment in the basement, left to feed cannibalistically off whatever their fake parents feed them. Poor Alice is left equally trapped upstairs, getting sexually assaulted by pappy and bathed in steaming hot water by mumsy-poo. The peeps, living in the dark, both hungry and unbathed, are none too pretty. Fool no likey. To get out of this WTF house, hopefully with the coins, he is going to have to use his most crafty, “Whatchu talkin’ bout Willis” smarts.
.
In case you haven’t picked up on it, this movie is incredible. I mean, it’s ridiculous, it’s plot is paper thin, and Craven’s knowledge of aforementioned ‘inner city life’ is clearly not that acute. (It’s obvious that the wardrobe department had to have a serious table session to discuss how “the black people” dress, which led to Ving Rhames’ multi-colored shirts and Kwanza happy Kofi hats). But, while the beginning comes off like a creepy after school special for social studies, the meat of the matter is managed with hysterical comic artistry by McGill and Robie, both of whom starred in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and bring that exaggerated wonderfulness with them into the film. Robie is like Carrie’s mom meets Cruella de Vil, and McGill is David Byrne of the Talking Heads meets all three stooges— in gimp costumes. They are so committed to their lunacy that the extravagance perfectly reflects the absurdity of the genre at its worst, which in turn paints a pretty disturbing portrait of how we are viewed by “the other half.” This is how Compton brats view the kids of The Hills– take that Spidey. (Note, that was probably the scariest thing that I have ever written). Anyway, it is a ham-tastic gem.
.
The entire cast performs nobly, despite the very poor story development, and Adams carries the movie like a champ, with Langer holding her own as the suppressed little Alice. (No wonder she turns to alcohol and starts slutting it up in High School). There are some definite unintentionally ridiculous moments, like when Alice appears out of nowhere and bashes Mommy’s head into the ground… and the entire community is watching through the front door like, “Dafuk?” But, you can easily table that to make this work. It’s amazing. I’m watching it in my head right now, as I plan to do until the end of time.
.
Rating: 
4 out of 5 Charismatic Cannibals
roach roach roach roach
.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply