When a young struggling kid named Fool jumps at the chance to make some quick cash. He soon learns that all the riches in the world mean nothing when you’re dead! Stuck in an old dark house with murderous hosts, Fool must do all he can to get out of this crazy house. Sometimes in is out.
The People Under The Stairs was a 1991 film written and directed by Wes Craven and starring Brandon Adams, Everett McGill, Ving Rhames, A.J. Langer and Sean Whalen. The film received both positive and negative reviews and gained nearly thirty one million at the box office. Some critics panned it for it’s use of terror mixed with a comical element, while others praised it for it’s diverse cast and setting.
We follow our young antagonist nicknamed “Fool.” No, that’s not his real name. His real name is Poindexter… wait, who names their kid Poindexter? The last time I heard that name was in Revenge of The Nerds. Things are tough for Fool and his family. They are being evicted from their home and Fools mother is sick with Cancer. A guy named Bad Bad Leroy Brown (Ving Rhames) says he has a chance to make some money by robbing a home owned by a rich family named the Robesons. They’re this secretive household that owns a great deal of the property in their district. This home is known to have a vast collection of riches. Fool agrees to tag along with Leroy and his pal Spenser as a way to make some cash and help his family. When they finally make it into the house they quickly realize not everything seems right. The house is locked down safer than a country prison and there’s no way to get out. The Robesons turn out to be a demented married couple that are actually brother and sister and boy are they nuts! They kidnap children in pursuing the “perfect” child. Ones that break the rules are tortured and left in the basement to feed off of human flesh. Fool discovers a young girl named Alice and her friend Roach, a boy that roams the inner walls of the house and has no tongue. Fool must do all he can to escape this torture prison. Yea, kind of crazy.
The People Under The Stairs might be one of the most mixed bags of horror I’ve ever seen. It has lots of gore, crazy incest breeding religious zealots, cannibalism, creepy inbred freaks, a guy with an impressive receding gum issue, a killer dog, closeted pedophilia, over the top usage of leather and a dark inescapable claustrophobic setting. I really don’t know where to classify it under the sub-genres? It could be a slasher film because the Robesons are complete psychopaths that kill anyone that steps in their house. But it has a comedic like feel to it as well when I don’t think it’s actually intended on being a comedy. The Robesons are so odd and sick that they’re mannerisms are often times seen as funny. It’s not choke on the popcorn ensuing jokes. Just the absurdity of the events are what makes it comedic.
Fool or Poindexter
Fool is an interesting character and one of my most favorites in film. Right up there in the bad ass hero like Charles from The Deadly Spawn! I don’t know if there are many R rated horror films that actually feature a kid as the lead of the film. Normally I would shy away from that kind of film but The People Under The Stairs really nails this kid. Any kid from the 90’s knows he’s Jesse from 1992’s The Mighty Ducks and 1994’s D2. He was flying with the flock in those films but in this he’s practically alone and killing it.
Fool’s story is a good example and ideal as the heroes quest. Here we have this kid who is down on his luck. Life sure does suck right now with his mom being sick and them losing their place. But chance comes knocking at his door for him to accomplish something for him and his loved ones. He takes it despite all red lights flaring. But then meets an immeasurable amount of resistance and eventually has to overcome his fear by doing what is right. He goes from down on his luck thief to the hero that frees a tortured people. He even has that old mentor that puts him on the right path! The character arc is so familiar with us because it’s a story we’ve always heard and love. Like Beowulf fighting Grendel, King Arthur riding to his doom, Luke standing to the emperor or Harry Potter fighting Voldermort. Neo, Johnny Rico, Alex Rogan, Ash Williams, Frodo, Bilbo, Clarice Starling, John McClain, Billy Peltzer, Ripley, Moses, Noah and Shrek! All heroes that fit the mold and manifest the hero in us all! These are concepts are ones we relate to and find pleasure in watching. It’s why we love Fool! It makes sense that his two names are Poindexter and Fool. The story begs him to think either foolishly/selfishly or smart/brave. It’s in his decisions that determine his fate, the very thing that gave him his nickname from the very beginning of the movie! He may go into the house as Fool but ends up leaving as Poindexter. Meaning things aren’t left to fate, that the outcomes of our lives are based upon the choices we make. Fool makes his own fate and is victorious for it. I love the hero story!
The People Under The Stairs is a movie with great tone, excitement and ever looming terror. The house is a dark and vast setting that will make you feel like a gerbil stuck in tube-like hallways that seem to go in circles. You can never stop moving from one location to the next because something is always waiting to snare and kill you. Either it being a viscous man eating canine or a leather clad psycho with a shotgun. The creepy house plays on our fears of those strange houses we all grew up with. That one house down the street we all parked our bikes in front of and just watched in wonder. What could be inside this place? We barely see the owners and they’re curtains are always closed. Could they be doing something inside that would make us sick or are they just private people with normal lives? This movie answers that question with a big fat ‘yes!’ They’re doing terrible things to others and to one another! Be glad you didn’t knock on their door on that dare!
You can see the underlining message of class warfare in this film. Fool comes from the ghetto of Los Angeles living in conditions no human should ever experience. While these rich people are living high on the hog, actually going beyond the hog and are now eating those they deem “sinners” or “inferior.” They sit on their vast fortune and never help anyone and have nothing but hate for everyone that aren’t like the Robesons. It may be an exaggeration and one I see as gray area, but it does offer a commentary to the general ideas and sentiment of America’s past. A struggle for humans of a different race to be given respect and compassion from others. Those that seek to be terrible in nature will get their comeuppance. Which is why this movie is a pretty good “stick it to the man!” style film.
The People Under the Stairs is a great movie that can satisfy anyone that hates haunted house ghost movies, but still want a creepy house setting. You’ll laugh at certain points and that’s due to Everett McGill’s ability to express a psycho. His character is so extreme and deranged that he’s as unpredictable as the wind. One moment he’s wearing a polo shirt with slacks and then the next he’s in a tightly bound studded leather gimp outfit and shooting twelve gauge rounds into the drywall. He may be an evil antagonist, but one I enjoy watching.
So on the seventeenth day of Horror Movie Marathon, we’re watching The People Under the Stairs and making sure we think twice about going into that creepy house down the block!