Movie Reviews 250 – The People Under the Stairs (1991)

The People Under The StairsThe essence of our deepest fears are those where the threat is sensed or hinted at, but of an unknown quantity. Based in the title alone, The People Under the Stairs harkens a tale of dark mystery and intrigue. But this Wes Craven film is nothing of the sort, though a surprise in an entirely different way.

The last family living in a ghetto tenement apartment have fallen on hard times with a mother dying of cancer. Without any source of income her young son, Pointdexter “Fool” Williams (Brandon Adams), is now the man of the house and must find a way to make the rent payment. As it turns out, his older sister recently discovered the identity and address of their sleazy landlords hoping that are trying to get rid of the distressed family in the hopes of razing the building and building a luxurious condo in it’s stead.

Fool’s sister’s boyfriend Leroy (Ving Rhames) and his buddy Spencer are small time hoods and have heard rumours that the landlords, the Robesons, a couple who call each other Mommy (Wendy Robie) and Daddy (Everett McGill), have a horde of gold stashed somewhere. Knowing that Fool is eager to help, Leroy enlists the young boy to help scout the Robeson’s home. But once inside the trio find a few surprises.

For starters the Robeson’s have a daughter, Alice (A. J. Langer), who’s never been outside of the house. Living a sheltered life and in ever present fear of her parents, her only friend is Roach, a speechless kid scampering within the walls, basement, attic and every other crawl space available.  Always one step ahead of the Robeson’s and their dog Prince the Rottweiler, the Robeson’s have been trying to recapture Roach since he escaped from a basement cell that is inhabited by a horde of shambling, grunting zombie-like cannibal dwellers. These zombies are the other offspring of the family that have also been locked up in the house, but without having even the minimal freedom accorded to Alice.

Fool manages to escape with a single gold coin, but vows to return for Alice. The coin is real and Fool then learns the origins of the fortune and the true nature of the Robeson family history. With a little help from the neighborhood citizens, Fool makes good on his promise to rescue Alice, and then some.

The movie is as crazy as it sounds but if you can forgive some of the obvious nonsense like crawl space within the entire house wide enough for kids to walk and crawl in, it ‘works’ in it’s own way. It’s mostly slapstick horror, but the Robesons are genuinely creepy and there are a few good kill scenes to keep things interesting. It all corny as hell, but this is where Craven excelled as director.

Oh, one small tidbit. Pulp Fiction is not the first movie where Ving Rhames costars with a leather clad ‘gimp’. Gotta watch the movie to see for yourself though.

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