Classic Review – The People Under the Stairs (1991)

the people under the stairs movie

Just your everyday friendly suburban neighbors

The People Under the Stairs

Directed by Wes Craven

Starring Brandon Quintin Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie, Ving Rhames

Review by Jordan

Three amateur burglars eyeing off a collection of gold coins belonging to their villainous landlords find more than they bargained for in Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs, a riotous horror/comedy beloved by his fans and representative of exactly what he meant to the industry.

Fool (Brandon Quintin Adams) lives with his family in the only inhabited apartment of a dilapidated complex, and taking more responsibility than he needs for his mothers tumor he joins Leroy (Rhames) and Roach (Sean Whalen) as they aim to steal a fortune to set themselves up and save the homes of the community. Impatient with the original plan involving Fool the boy scout, Roach dons a council uniform and invites himself into the home of the eccentric couple to check a faulty gas line, and doesn’t come out…

Fool and Leroy break in, barely make it past the rottweiler, encounter a horribly deformed Roach and notice something moving in the walls, discover that the house is equipped with a security mechanism that turns stairs into ramps, electrocutes doorknobs and has left them with no way to escape, hide when the occupants return and notice signs of intrusion and then, well, things get out of hand when “Man” grabs his shotgun and peculiar choice of outfit, and with some help from the couple’s daughter (or is she?) Fool discovers the secret of the people kept huddled among the foundations.

Craven was a writer/director who forged an enviable and well-earned reputation by bravely realizing his own ideas, resulting in the creation of multiple undisputed horror classics. This fun, original adventure with a likable child lead and welcome Ving Rhames appearance certainly isn’t among the director’s best films, but it’s audience returns over and over and its reputation still resonates due in no small part to it’s intended sociopolitical messages (those on the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic scale being trodden on, literally in this case, by the upper-middle class and ruling order), the insanity of the “Man” and “Woman” and a plot that combines siege elements with hapless opportunists (one is instantly reminded of Walter Hill’s equally fun Trespass) and a kind of coming-of-age character arc surrounding young Fool.

Romero made Monkey Shines and Carpenter They Live; movies which aren’t synonymous with their names to the extent zombies and Halloween are, but still reflect who they are as film-makers. Craven made The People under the Stairs.

4 attack dogs out of 5

14 responses to “Classic Review – The People Under the Stairs (1991)

  1. YES! I love this movie! As you said, it’s one I keep coming back to over and over.
    I wish it had attained the kind of cult status others have, with midnight showings and people interacting with the screen. I would love to be in a theater with a 100 other people shouting all of Man’s lines!

  2. Great review. I really liked this Wes Craven flick. I probably wore out my VHS. While I didn’t get a lot of the humour back then, I related to Fool. It’s rare to have a strong child hero in a horror movie. I really enjoyed your thematic analysis. It’s ripe for further exploration. I heard this is one of the last projects Craven was preparing. Will it work for serialized TV?

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