The People Under the Stairs Review from The Massie Twins
thejoelmeister | www.GoneWithTheTwins.com | 11/01/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Wes Craven's The People Under the Stairs presents a unique idea for a horror film, but isn't quite able to pull it off. Phenomenal acting by the damnable ghetto owners and an unlikely 13-year-old hero add to the singularity, but the repetitious hunting through the walls of the prison-like house of horrors and the lack of victims makes the film more of an adventure than nail-biting horror. It's a fun little film, but not nearly ambitious enough to rank amongst the best of Craven's works.
13-year-old Poindexter (Brandon Adams), nicknamed "Fool" by his friends, is looking for an uncomplicated way to help his family pay for rent and his mother's operation. When older accomplice Leroy (Ving Rhames) and his buddy Spenser hatch a plan to rob the house of the seldom seen family that owns the entire ghetto area where they all reside, Fool is in for more than he bargained.
Dressed in electrician's garb, Spenser manages to con his way into the mysterious home of "Mom" and "Dad" to look around. But when he doesn't come back, Leroy and Fool break in - only to discover that the sadistic parents have stored away dozens of zombie-like tortured captives in their enormous basement. Battling Prince, the ravenous guard dog, the shotgun-toting Dad and the knife-wielding Mom proves to be the horror of a lifetime as Fool and a young prisoner girl named Alice struggle to escape the fortress of fright.
The highlights of the film are Everett McGill and Wendy Robie who embody the terrifying Mom and Dad with such over-the-top depravity that audiences can't help but laugh and shiver. Dad parades around in bondage gear yelling up a storm, claims to serve a greater good, and allows little Alice to live provided she stays mute and blind to the atrocities around her. In his attempt to nab the perfect boy child, he keeps the lobotomized rejects locked away in the basement - but one has escaped, and now clambers through the crumbling walls of the house, aiding Fool and Alice in their plight. Mom is equally crazy, intent on killing anyone who sets foot in the house, and making sure the doorknobs are electrified, metal shutters are sealed, windows are barred and deadly booby-traps are in place.
The People Under the Stairs is a combination of a grand escape adventure and a slasher flick; there are moments of bloody violence, but ultimately Craven has chosen to stick with suspense and mystery to keep the viewer glued to the edge of the seat. Although much of the film is too exaggerated and over-the-top to be scary, the suspense garnered from helpless children trying to elude armed adults is undeniably effective (think of Misery, in which James Caan is reduced to a defenseless nature). It may not stand out as the best of Wes Craven's body of horror films, but it's grown on audiences over the years - enough to coerce Hollywood into making a sequel, tentatively set for 2010.
- Mike Massie