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The People Under the Stairs (1991)

Written and Directed by Wes Craven

Personally, I think there are too many of Wes Craven’s films that become underrated as the years pass. Because besides being an excellent Writer/Director, he’s aware of the ways of the world, the genre he films for and what works best on-screen. Getting the idea for this film after reading of an incident occurring in which two men were reported breaking into a house located in a predominantly white neighborhood. However upon the Police arriving and checking out the house, discovered children being kept hidden away from the outside world. The year was 1987 and having written an 80 page first act, it wouldn’t be until years later that he was able to finish such while manifesting overnight in a dream.

The story has its way of showing the underbelly of society and how classes are divided within such. Revolving around 13 year old Dexter, nicknamed Fool (Brandon Adams), with his mother’s illness combined with their impending eviction seeming to fall into his hands; told he’d be the man of the house now. Forced to tag along with his sister’s friend Leroy (Ving Rhames) and colleague who insist on having an idea when finding a treasure map that belonged to the renters forcing them out into the streets. Upon arriving however, find that the entrance wouldn’t be the only troubling factor in their matter. Owned by a brother (Everett McGill) and sister (Wendy Robie), who initially ran a funeral parlor out of their house but faired far better once getting into real estate. Greed kicking in, taking over, and with an unbeknown history, producing the siblings seen that referred to the other as Mommy and Daddy. A insight to their past or simply the roles they had transpired to once in the midst of the relentless chaos surrounding them. Disgusted by what their community had come to, though claiming to be people of God, there didn’t seem any measure too drastic for the duo.

While having a “daughter” named Alice (A.J. Langer), any chance in finding a male counter didn‘t seem possible thus far. Though trying and cutting out all the bad parts (i.e tongues, ears, so forth) these men were banished to the cellar and given flashlights with cannibalism left as an only choice food wise. One referred to as Roach (Sean Whalen), who had escaped Daddy’s wrath and found solace within the walls of the house where he was unable to be captured. Suffering at the hands of the devilish pair, Alice had been able to survive by not seeing, hearing or speaking any evil that went on inside the house. Making friends with Fool who while does escape, bravely makes his way back to help her. Losing the two originally arriving with and reporting the house to the cops who only saw what the surface showed, leaving without so much as a hint of anything being astray. Having sedated those under the stairs with horse tranquilizers and playing into what they needed to hear in order to go about their deceitful ways. Far too easy it seemed.

How often in society do instances as such go unnoticed or unreported for simply fear of ignorance. The first Police that arrived on scene didn’t even check the household; being told it had already been done seemed to suffice. But it’s the presumptions of race being associated with crime or religion saving certain people from being further investigated that Wes displays adequately. What irony to believe one thing and later find that you couldn’t be any more wrong about the situation. In the end, all the people taken out of their homes arrive with Fool’s sister to fight the evil that had all along been clear as day to them. Despite the immense security system installed around the house, justice was served as only could be; relinquishing the power to those in the cellar and using the bombs implanted around the house to tear down the evil once and for all…or until the next batch of crazies moved in.

Most might find the film to be a bit theatric, and it certainly can be at times. Especially with the way our antagonist often pounces about the house and yells every 5 minutes for everyone to burn in hell. But I just found the seemingly random S&M outfit Daddy wore to be the only thing I could have done without. Wendy Robie was especially a memorable character, certainly my favorite, with her way of needing life to be the supposed perfect dreamt up. Failing to realize her upbringings and selfish ways never gave her a chance and in turn, ended up taking out any transgressions on Alice and the others that entered her home. She was the perfect combination of Mommy Dearest and Margaret White all rolled into one. And though the antics and partial dialogue were a bit silly, considering it was a grown man fighting a just turned 13 year old, one couldn’t truly expect an all out grisly behavior fight to the death. Sean Whalen, while memorable, was simply not shown enough but had a nice entrance and I loved when they show his tongue of which had been cut out. It’s as well marked as Comedy so shouldn’t be so surprising in certain deliveries as was no doubt, intentional. The momentum doesn’t relent and the angled shots used to display the tense and often sadist moments helped in creating the suspense so rightfully missing from other Horror films.