Today I watched Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs (1991)
The People Under the Stairs tells the story of a boy named Fool growing up in an LA Ghetto. With his mother suffering a life threatening illness and his landlords evicting his family, it is easy for Fool to be forced into pulling a break and entering on said landlords. It is soon revealed that the people he had planned to rob are in fact very crazy backwards fundamentalist types who keep a brood of deformed children in their basement and have secured their house like a prison. So while entering the house is a simple matter that is easily accomplished, it is the escape that is the focus of the film.
From the synopsis one can read some obvious social satire into the flick, firstly it pulls no punches in it’s depiction of the ghetto. It is a terrifying place that defines urban decay, the situation that pushes Fool into committing criminal acts is very real. There is a definite eat the rich mentality in this film and it demonstrates the ease of which the rich can get away with criminal acts through the simple virtue of appearances.
Another interesting aspect of this film is how it shifts in mood drastically and suddenly numerous times throughout. What allows the film to pull off these shifts is the well directed cast.Child actor Brandon Adams does a pretty solid job of carrying the film and he dodges a lot of child character pitfalls. Meanwhile Everett McGill and Wendy Robie have a blast playing the villains, McGill is particularly fun with how over the top he gets.
I feel like this film is due for a reappraisal considering the continued relevance of it’s themes. If it has any real problems it would lie in an unsatisfying over-poetic ending but it does not cast much of a shadow over the rest of the feature. The characters are strongly developed despite the brisk pace and it has the overall feel of the more gritty and violent of the 80’s kids films but grown up just a tad. 4/5