Behind the rather ominous title, The People Under the Stairs hides a charming little blend of horror and comedy. And also one of the most underrated Wes Craven movies. Simple and effective, it doesn’t rely on the supernatural to create a sense of dread or suspense. We all know that there are things in this world that are much more frightening than anything we can conjure up including Freddy Kruger. Actually, the plot of this movie was inspired by a series of very real newspaper articles. And while Wes probably read this article back in the eighties, I would like to bring your attention to a more recent tragedy.
The Turpin Case is also a very real and very fucked up case resembling this one. There are several interviews and documentaries available on YouTube, so do check them out if you want to know more. Just do so after you’ve seen this movie, not to spoil anything. The People Under the Stairs focuses its attention on the hood and the people living there. Oddly enough, most of the story takes place in a huge mansion smack-dab in the middle of the suburbs. The contrast between these two places couldn’t be bigger. I won’t go into details but you’ll figure out what I’m talking about just fifteen minutes in.
I can only think of Candyman as an example another horror movie with lead black characters. And that’s not the only thing that’s black as we will also get a lot of dark humor. This is such a strange movie with a lot of components that shouldn’t work so well together but they simply do. After all, the main star is a very young boy who must survive in this house of horrors. How he gets there is also an interesting story, shining light on many of the issues plaguing our society. And it’s really depressing to think that not only nothing has changed after more than thirty years but things have actually gotten worse. Especially for the younger generations.
Poindexter Williams is a lively young boy living in one of the big Los Angeles ghettos. Most people just call him Fool, including his family. They’re struggling financially and are about to get evicted when a local man Leroy offers a job to Fool. Now, the job is a bit unconventional but it’s not like Fool has any other choice with his mother slowly dying of cancer. One faithful day, he finds himself in the suburbs with a particular task that’s about to go very wrong.
The People Under the Stairs works on several different levels but the adventure one is the one you’ll remember the most. It reminds me of the eighties classic The Goonies in the sense that the story unfolds in a closed environment. However, this is a much, much darker affair. There will be blood, dismemberment, and some quite nasty kills here. And that fucking Rottweiler was scary as fuck. Some of the scenes look positively unnerving. Brandon Quintin Adams was adorable as Fool and played his role pitch-perfect. We also have Ving Rhames and Bill Cobbs to add a bit of street cred to the cast.
And now it’s time to talk about Everett McGill and Wendy Robie, playing the roles of Mommy and Daddy. Wes Craven chose them to play the parts after seeing them play husband and wife on the TV series, Twin Peaks. Our boy Wes sure knows how to pick them as this gruesome twosome was a hoot. They were at the same time perverse, funny, bizarre, and many other things. Very interesting characters indeed and you can explore their inner dynamic as the story unfolds. I also must mention A.J. Langer as Alice who was eerily similar to young Jordan Turpin from the above-mentioned case.
Finally, I want to leave you in the good mood as when I finished watching this movie I felt very energized. This is why I want to quote just one of the many funny lines from The People Under the Stairs:
Too old to get tit, too young to get ass. You’re fucked either way.