Good ol’ Wes Craven has done it again. His name lit up when it hit the screen. I knew I was in for a good time. Supposedly a cult classic, The People Under the Stairs is a dead-on 80s horror flick complete with mystery, a time-appropriate soundtrack, and just the right dose of humorous absurdity.
The plot follows a young African American boy named Fool on the day of his thirteenth birthday. His family is having some troubles (cancer, money issues, eviction and possible homelessness) and two men (Leroy and Spenser) suggest he learn how to burgle homes in order to keep his family afloat.
Fool reluctantly agrees. Leroy takes him to the house of his family’s evil rich landlords, who are the reason his family is unable to afford rent. During the burglary, Fool becomes trapped inside the house and discovers the dark secret the family keeps hidden in their cellar – the people under the stairs.
I won’t give it all away, but I will tell you that the moment I queried out loud what their purpose was, it was answered. This movie is not slow. It gives answers in all the right places and leaves just enough mystery to keep you wanting more.
McGill and Robie are grade A psychopaths. They played their parts quite well. It was clear that Robie was definitely the one in charge. Their nicknames – Daddy and Mommy – were sickeningly creepy. They were clearly mad. McGill’s facial expressions just rammed in that notion and really made the character fun to watch.
The entire film was quite demented and I think that is the key to its success – not the scariness of the movie, but the idea of what the antagonists are doing. The humor makes it easier to swallow (I really don’t think this movie would have worked as a drama), and the antagonists are quite wacky with their dark-humored slapstick and crazy outbursts.
The feel-good ending was fabulous and not exactly what I expected. Though you would think the neighbors would have done this a long time ago, it felt like the right time. They had had enough. It was the last straw.
The sociopolitical undertones were present, but not pushed over the edge. Craven utilized it to tell the story, not to make a political point. It was effective and I felt it was necessary. More so, it established the idea that economic class and status does not a good person make. Success does not equate to goodness, as made evident by McGill and Robie’s characters. The true monsters might not be who you think; everyone has secrets.
Overall, it was a fun flick sprinkled with dark slapstick comedy that left me feeling great at the end, but it wasn’t Craven’s best.
I give this film 3 out of 5 hearts.
The Good: Fun. Great characters. Good pacing.
The Bad: The gore was excessive. It felt like it didn’t fit.
Gore Rating: Medium. Body parts, blood, and weapon violence.
DISCLAIMER: Some adult language (F word) and gore. Viewer discretion encouraged.
Lights Out Challenge: I watched the entire thing with the lights off. Not very scary. More shocking than terrifying.
Here’s some more reviews from IMDB that you might find helpful: click here to read the reviews.
Here is a NY Times review of the film by Vincent Canby: click here to read the review.