THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991) review – Halloween Special 2018

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It’s Halloween month, y’all, and you know what that means! It’s time to catch up on our favorite horror movies and gear up for Halloween! Last year, I did a Halloween special where I reviewed some of my favorite horror, or Halloween-appropriate movies and I had so much fun doing that, I wanted to do it again. Sadly, I don’t like a lot of horror movies, so my pool of material is about as deep as a puddle in summer in California. So in order to rectify this, I’ve reached out to the deepest and darkest corners of the internet and asked for a little help. And by that, I mean I went on Facebook. So, a very special thanks to the Movie Talk community, as well as my friends and co-workers, for your horror movie suggestions. I won’t be able to get to every single recommendation, but you’ve all left me with great ideas and there’s always next year! This is my Halloween Special 2018!

Cast: Brandon Quintin Adams (THE SANDLOT [1993] and THE MIGHTY DUCKS [1992]), A.J. Langer (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of), Wendy Robie (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of), Ving Rhames (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT [2018] and THE STAR [2017]), and Sean Whalen (JERSEY BOYS [2014], TWISTER [1996], and upcoming films UGLY SWEATER PARTY [2018] and RICH BOY, RICH GIRL [2019])

Director/Writer: Wes Craven (SCREAM 4 [2011] and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET [1984]) Rest in peace, sir.
Composer: Don Peake (KNIGHT RIDER [1982 – 1986])
Cinematographer: Sandi Sissel (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of)
Editor: James Coblentz (CURSE OF CHUCKY [2013] and FINAL DESTINATION [2000])

This is my honest opinion of: THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS

 

(SUMMARY)

Poindexter “Fool” Williams (Brandon Quintin Adams) is a boy living in a rough neighborhood living in an even rougher home. He has no father, his mother is dying of cancer and the surgery is too expensive to pay for, and even his older sister Ruby (Kelly Jo Minter) has her own children now. However, local thug Leroy (Ving Rhames) has a plan to break into the Robeson home, headed by odd couple Mommy (Wendy Robie) and Daddy (Everett McGill). When they break in, Fool ends up discovering Mommy and Daddy’s abused daughter Alice (A.J. Langer), constantly evading a vicious attack dog, and the cannibalistic men in the basement.

(REVIEW)

At first, I walked away thinking that this was a pretty enjoyable movie. Tonally, it was all over the place, but I was still kind of having fun with it. The over the top hammy acting and some of the wacky visuals, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it. But then I started thinking a little more about it and then I was wondering if the movie was supposed to be a satire. After all, Wes Craven is actually kind of known for that, ain’t he? So I poked around on the internet, and I saw that this is exactly the case. It was supposed to be a satire of gentrification, social class warfare, and something else that I didn’t retain. I didn’t quite connect with that, but I suppose that stuff was in there. But… I thought a little bit more about it and this is what I walked away with: it’s a satire, alright, but it’s a satire of Disney films.

Yeah, this might take some explaining. Specifically, Disney movies from the Disney Channel. You know, the ones with the stories that are so G-rated that even the Disney Corporation is all like, “Yeah, we’re going to give this to our TV cousins. We at least kill Bambi’s mom and gave Snow White an acid trip through the forest.” Think about it, what do most of those Disney Channel movies consist of? White, middle to upper class families, mom and dad, a kid or kids, white picket fence, and insert that conflict that no one’s ever going to remember or care about. Now this is what this movie does, it takes that concept… and then fucks… it… up. In the best way possible.

There’s a white, middle to upper class family… but here’s the thing. The mom and dad are sadistic sociopaths… and they call themselves “mommy” and “daddy,” but they’re actually brother and sister. Yeah… not that you see anything, but I feel like there’s some incredibly ewwy implications. Especially since Daddy has a full body leather outfit… granted, he totes an assault shotgun, but seriously let that soak in for a minute. Now, look at the daughter. Alice is abused physically and horribly malnourished. Oh, but she’s got siblings. Brothers. Where are they, you may ask? They’re in the basement… their tongues and ears cut off… and they’re cannibals. They eat people. Yup, that’s a thing. Crazy, right? So all that’s well and good… er, relatively speaking, but here’s another thing. Who’s the main hero of our story? A young black kid. Hmm, Disney’s been around for decades and we didn’t get a predominantly black cast until 2009’s PRINCESS AND THE FROG. 2009, people!! But never mind that. Who is this black kid? This is where that G-rated plot that no one cares about comes in. Most of those movies don’t feature real problems. Fool is in a home with a mother who is dying of cancer and an older sister who has kids of her own. They live in a rundown neighborhood, are about to be evicted from their home, and are not exactly swimming in cash. Pressure is put on Fool to be the man of the house and what does he do in order to make money? He breaks into a middle to upper class home. Real problems. Problems that actually exist. Hey, maybe I’m overreaching, but that’s what I ultimately took away and that’s what’s helped me enjoy this movie so much.

Beyond all that, there’s plenty of wonderful humor to enjoy. Some of my favorite moments come from Fool himself. Exactly how many people does he punch in this movie? That terrorizing dog, Prince, that constantly hounds (pun intended) the poor kid? Yeah, that kid literally punches that dog in the face once. He also takes a shot at the balls of Daddy… who immediately charges Fool and runs into a wall. Dude, I was howling with laughter. McGill stole the fucking show for me. His over-the-top, hammy-ass acting cracked me up every time he was on screen and I was having a blast. Don’t get me wrong, everyone churns out a great performance, especially Robie, Langer, and Whalen for as brief as he was in the movie, but no one captivated me nearly as effectively as McGill. I’d have given a standing ovation if I didn’t feel self-conscious about standing up in my room all alone, but know that I did it in spirit.

***SPOILERS***

 

 

 

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The closest thing to a problem that I have with the movie is the ending. Not that I mind Mommy getting her ass ripped apart by the cannibals, or the large and violent explosion that Fool survives for no discernible reason (actually, that’s pretty stupid), but that the movie just sort of stops and doesn’t really end. Really look at what happens. Everyone’s cheering while grabbing rich-people money… while CANNIBALS ARE RUNNING AROUND AND NO ONE’S SAYING A FUCKING THING!!! This is how the movie’s going to end? What happens to those cannibals? Do they go to jail? Rehab? Do they continue their cannibalistic ways and eat more people? Dude, Wes! You’re an asshole for leaving this shit so open! And what about Alice? Does she reunite with her real parents? Do she and Fool have a cute preteen relationship? Does Fool’s mom get cured of cancer? Way too many things to leave to my imagination, bro! I’m all for a deep meaningful ending that confuses and challenges me to think a little differently, but this leaning a little too heavily on the confusing side of things.

 

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***END SPOILERS***

Overall, I wasn’t expecting to like this as much as I did. I really have to thank my co-worker and friend for this suggestion. Regardless, this movie is a lot of fun when the good shit gets going. Even the slow build-up isn’t all that uninteresting. While I disagree with certain choices in the ending, this is about as solid a horror-comedy can get and will likely add this to my yearly watch-list of Halloween movies. If it isn’t obvious, I say this is as strong as a recommendation can get if you’ve never seen it, or have desired to return to it.

My honest rating for THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS : a strong 4/5

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