The People Under the Stairs – USA, 1991: updated with ’10 Things You Didn’t Know’

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The People Under the Stairs is a 1991 American comedy horror feature film written and directed by Wes Craven. The movie stars Brandon Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie, A. J. Langer, Ving Rhames (Julia X; Piranha 3D; Dawn of the Dead) and Sean Whalen.

Young Poindexter Williams, known as “Fool”, is a resident of a Los Angeles ghetto. He and his family are being evicted from their apartment by their landlords, the Robeson’s.

Leroy offers to plan a robbery of the Robeson’s residence in order to get medical care for Fool’s mother, who has cancer, and to get even with them. The Robesons, who refer to themselves as “Mommy” and “Daddy”, live in a large home with their daughter, Alice.

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Leroy and his associate Spenser take Fool to the house for reconnaissance, posing as a Bear Scout, but Mommy will not let him in. Spenser, posing as a municipal worker, gains entry, but arouses suspicion with Mommy.

When the Robeson’s leave the home, Fool and Leroy became suspicious when Spenser doesn’t return and decide to break in. Fool ventures into the dungeon-like basement and finds Spenser dead on the floor and a large group of strange pale children in a locked pen.

Terrified, Fool flees and reunites with Leroy as the Robeson’s return; Leroy is discovered and shot to death by Daddy, while Fool is drawn into another section of the house, where he meets Alice. She tells him that the people in the cellar are the former children of her parents who have disobeyed one of the three “see/speak/hear no evil” rules of the household. The children have degenerated into cannibalism to survive…

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Review:

A fascinating and fairly successful slice of social horror. It wears its political ideals as openly as a George Romero film (though with more subtlety, thankfully) as the film rips into the class system and social inequality in America.

The film markedly compares the miserable lives of the slum residents, who live in overcrowded, crime-ridden buildings and are effectively doomed to a life of poverty and petty criminality, with the luxurious lives of those who own the buildings and see their tenants as barely even human, unwilling to be even slightly flexible when they struggle to pay their bills.

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The contrast between the black underclass of the ghetto and the white upper class – an upper class morally and mentally rotted through in-breeding, it seems – is present throughout the film, though for the most part Craven avoids overdoing it.

David Flint, HORRORPEDIA

Other reviews:

“A pretense of social responsibility and most of the necessary tension get lost in a combination of excessive gore and over-the-top perfs… House of horrors includes cannibalism, McGill cavorting around in a leather suit and a blood-crazed Rottweiler. Cartoonish villains quickly thaw pic’s initial chill, in the process trivializing the more serious issues (child abuse, poverty) that might have been raised.” Variety

“Though the new movie has its share of blood and gore, it is mostly creepy and, considering the bizarre circumstances, surprisingly funny.” Vincent Canby, New York Times

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Buy: Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com

High Definition digital transfer of the film by Universal Pictures
Original uncompressed Stereo 2.0 audio
Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Audio commentary with star Brandon Quentin Adams
Fear, Freud and Class Warfare: Director Wes Craven Discusses the Timely Terrors of The People Under the Stairs
Behind Closed Doors: Leading Lady A.J. Langer Remembers The People Under the Stairs
Silent But Deadly: Co-Star Sean Whalen on The People Under the Stairs
Underneath the Floorboards: Jeffrey Reddick, creator of The Final Destination series, recalls the lasting impact of The People Under the Stairs
Original Trailer
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Stephen R. Bissette
Collectors booklet featuring new writing on the film, illustrated with original archive stills

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” …it gamely switches between playful and menacing tones, action and social commentary – Craven’s exploration of the rich-poor divide making the movie as relevant now as it was in the early 90s. Admittedly, not all of the creative choices work – Fool and Alice’s constant brushes with Prince, the Robeson’s bloodthirsty dog, become grindingly repetitive, for example, and the last third brings with it some glaring plot holes…” Ryan Lambie, Den of Geek

“Over the last couple of decades, The People Under The Stairs has shown some staying power in the culture, inspiring a hip-hop outfit of the same name, and it’s distinctly of a time when left-leaning filmmakers were venting their anger over a lost decade. It also affirms Craven as carrier of the Romero torch, a genre director who likes to operate on one more than one level.” Scott Tobias, AV Club

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Categories: 1990s, Blu-ray, comedy horror, old dark house

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