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The People Under The Stairs (1991)

DVD Cover (Universal)
Horror, Horror Comedy, Satire
Wes Craven Wes Craven
Brandon Quintin Adams Brandon Quintin Adams
Everett McGill Everett McGill
Wendy Robie Wendy Robie
A.J. Langer A.J. Langer
Ving Rhames Ving Rhames

6.5 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Chad
Added: December 18, 2006
Wes Craven is one of those directors that puts out movies that are generally hit or miss in my eyes. He's worked on a lot of great movies, but he's also had his fair share of crap as well; therefore, when I heard about this upcoming movie (circa 1991), I didn't have very high expectations. It was an obvious cash-in on the (at the time) recent flood of black-oriented films such as Boyz N The Hood, and I distinctly recall the trailers portraying this movie as both a legit horror movie and a film in which all black guys are heroes while all white guys are evil. Being the lily-white person that I am, this didn't sound like something I'd be too interested in, but being the horror junkie that I was (yes, even at the ripe old age of ten), I still checked it out.

The plot focuses on a young man living in the ghetto who has been dubbed Fool (Brandon Adams) by his older, tarot-reading sister. He's a good kid with dreams of one day becoming a doctor, but things start to get ugly when the landlord hands his cancer-stricken mother an eviction notice. Enter Leroy (Ving Rhames), his sister's boyfriend. Leroy claims to know about a stash of gold coins hidden away inside the landlord's house, and if Fool can help him retrieve the collection, he and his family won't be put out on the streets. What they don't know and won't discover until it's too late is that the landlord (Everett McGill) and his "wife" (Wendy Robie) are quite the strange couple: the house has been turned into a fortress that is damned near impossible to escape from, there's a vicious rottweiler running around, and the man of the house has no problems with shooting first and asking questions later. That's the least of Fool's problems, however, when he discovers that... well, the movie isn't entitled The People Under the Stairs for nothing.

So yes, I had my reservations about this one, but I proceeded to pick it up anyway - back when it was a new release in the early nineties - and it thoroughly shocked me: it was a damned good film. The race issue wasn't as prevalent as the trailers made it out to be, and while I wouldn't quite label the movie as a shit-your-pants horror film, it did have its moments that would put you on the edge of your seat. I also wouldn't lump this into the horror-comedy lot of films, but it definitely bordered on it thanks to the over-the-top performances of "Mommy" and "Daddy". Craven got the blend just right with this one, since it's not really a true horror, it's not a full-fledged comedy, and I'd even have trouble with labeling it as a horror-comedy: it's just a very nice mixture of all of those elements. Also, not to be outdone by the "parents", Brandon Adams turns in a good performance, and he shows here that there is indeed the rare exception to my personal "children shouldn't star in movies that are geared towards adults" rule.

The main strength of the film, aside from the all-around great acting, is the storyline itself. It's a fast-paced film that never really slows down, and as previously mentioned, the race card doesn't come into play near as much as one would expect: the heroes are black and the villains are white, but neither of these facts is repeatedly shoved down our throats in either the story or the dialogue. It's a simple story of a young man trying to escape from some truly evil people who happen to have some dark secrets hidden away in their basement, and the roles could easily have been reversed with some minor (and I do mean minor) script changes.

An overall great film, and although I stand by my statement about Craven's work being hit or miss, this was definitely one of his hits. There's scares, there's gore, there's comedy, and it's all wrapped up in a storyline that will keep you interested from start to finish. What more could you ask for? 9/10.
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QuietMan #1: QuietMan - added 12/18/2006, 10:20 PM
LOVE THIS MOVIE. I used to catch it late night on TBS or TNT when I was younger I think it's a total must see
bluemeanie #2: bluemeanie - added 12/21/2006, 03:15 PM
What a classic. I loved this movie from waaaaay back and still do. It's just so damned outlandish and over the top, but everyone seems to be having a blast. Not really a horror film, but definitely a kick ass action flick. 9/10.
Dametria #3: Dametria - added 04/24/2007, 12:30 PM
Yep spot on. I love this film but I never really can describe what genre it falls into.
Shakes #4: Shakes - added 01/22/2009, 12:54 PM
I love this flick!!!! Definitely a must see! The ending is awesome. Every scene is great though. 9/10
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