The People Under the Stairs is a horror/comedy film that was written and directed by Wes Craven, it released in 1991. The plot follows Poindexter “Fool” Williams, a young boy and resident of a dilapidated Los Angeles Ghetto. The rent is due and his mother is suffering from cancer, unable to afford the lifesaving medical care. Fool decides to join two local burglars in the robbery of the landlord that continues to drive his family and the community further and further into poverty.
The Robesons are a wealthy, long standing family who own many of the local properties. They reside in a huge house and are believed to be a married couple. Their house is heavily secured with every window being padlocked from the outside. Fool attempts to gain entry by pretending to be selling cookies but the lady of the house is having none of it. He returns to Leroy & Spencer, the local burglars. Spencer decides to go undercover as a gas worker and he manages to convince the woman to let him in. After some time, The Robesons go out. This alerts Leroy as he doesn’t want Spencer solely getting his hands on gold coins that he believes are in the house. He & Fool break into the property but Spencer is nowhere to be seen.
After a frantic encounter with the Robesons dog, they split up to find Spencer. Fool stumbles into the dungeon-like basement where he finds Spencer’s body. However, he finds much more. Imprisoned are a large group of pale people, who can do nothing but grunt at him. He flees to find Leroy and does but the Robesons have just returned home. They discover their van and begin to hunt for the intruders. The man known as “Daddy” finds Leroy and shoots him dead. Fool escapes and comes across a young girl named Alice who explains the horrible truth.
She tells him that the people under the stairs were children who broke the “see/hear/speak no evil” rules of the Robeson household. The children have degenerated into cannibalism to survive and Alice has avoided this fate by obeying the rules without question. Check out The People Under the Stairs to find out what happens next.
The People Under the Stairs is the type of horror film that literally has a little bit of everything. It blends so many genres and somehow manages to make it work. You’ll laugh and be disturbed but be entertained by the action, all at once. This is a film that isn’t afraid to deal with some very sensitive themes. Although, whether or not that meshes well with the comedy is a matter of opinion. This is intentional comedy even drifting into slapstick at times. I feel it was done this way to potentially offset the seriousness of the situations.
Certain ideas that it presents are aspects that you may see taken much more seriously in other horror movies. The People Under the Stairs deals with just about everything and anything you might expect to see in a horror film. However, it’s unique in that it attempts to make light of it all. At times I felt like I was watching Home Alone, except if it had cannibalism, child abuse, mutilation, animal abuse, racism etc. My point is, this film could test your sensibilities. It could have done a better job of separating the comedy from the more serious aspects. Still, it’s undeniably entertaining.
Also, I really liked Brandon Quintin Adams as Fool. He has some killer one liners and is just genuinely charismatic throughout. Furthermore, the two actors who play the Robesons really ham it up but in an intentional way that is equal parts funny and terrifying. Additionally, I really enjoyed the design of the house itself. It’s full of trap doors, hidden passages and strange devices, like a sort of funhouse from hell.
Finally, I got the impression that the film was attempting to make some kind of satirical statement about social class and capitalism in society. It’s definitely interesting to analyse that aspect of the film. For example, you may expect the people under the stairs to be the monsters but it’s in fact the people above who should be feared. It handles a lot of these messages intelligently.
If you haven’t see The People Under the Stairs then I definitely recommend giving it a watch. I can see it being one I go back and rewatch in the future.
The People Under the Stairs