Opening on a close up of Tarot cards being read for a young boy on his thirteenth birthday in a grimy and rundown apartment in the LA ghetto The People Under The Stairs tells the story of a boy nicknamed Fool (Brandon Quintin Adams) who has a strange and disturbing adventure that even the cards couldn’t predict.
On the brink of eviction from their home and desperate for money to support his sick mother he is cajoled into helping the no good Leroy (played by the very good Ving Rhames) into breaking into the home of the rich and strange landlords who are unfairly persecuting his family.
With a simple plan to steal some gold coins the house allegedly holds Fool is apprehensive but reluctantly joins in on the robbery. However the home of the gruesome twosome known as Mommy and Daddy Robesons (Wendy Robie and Everett McGill) contains far more than anyone could have ever expected.
Filled with traps, a literal man eating dog and the psychotic gun totting pair themselves Fool also finds Alice (A.J. Langer) a young girl imprisoned and abused by the evil owners. Trapped and pursued all this is nothing however compared to the horrors that await him when he final come’s face to face with the people under the stairs.
A crazy movie with a strange mix of elements written and directed by scream master Wes Craven the film is shot well with just the right amount of jumps and tense moments to keep the fear up.
The cast are all excellent especially Wendy Robie and Everett McGill who are genuinely disturbing as the murderous parents who cut up their kids when they misbehave. Rhames too delivers a solid performance in an early role alongside Kelly Jo Minter from The Lost Boys and Sean Whalen who went on to be in all sorts of movies from Men in Black to Hatchet 3.
A twisted morality tale pitting as it does the poor under privileged African American boy Fool against the wealthy white bigoted psychopathic Robesons The People Under The Stairs is in many ways Craven’s own updated Grimm’s fairy tale.
Just as dark and twisted the story contains abducted abused children punished by their strict and violent parents, a group of townsfolk ruled over by tyrants and a hero who does wrong at first but learns his lesson through facing and triumphing over evil.
The main problem is working out who The People Under The Stairs audience is as the kid hero, adventure streak, slapstick violence and simplistic morals point to a children’s film however the gore, cannibalism, domestic abuse and gimp suited shotgun wielding father figure give it a definite adult edge.
All this makes it comparable to childhood horror’s such as Goonies, The Lost Boys and more modern movies like Under the Bed, Haunter, The Hole and Don’t be Afraid of the Dark all films with child leads but much darker elements dealing with growing up and the evils of the adult world.
The People Under the Stairs is a wonderful horror oddity combining multiple genre’s into an entertaining if somewhat confused movie that richly deserves this amazing Blu-ray reissue by Arrow which comes packed with amazing extras all of which you can read about right Here.