Monday, August 3, 2015
JEFF OF THE CINEFILES & UNFINISHED BUSINESS : HALL OF FAME: FILE #0041: THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991)
Written & Directed By: Wes Craven
Cinematography By: Sandi Sissel
Editor: James Coblentz
Music By: Don Peake
Cast: Brandon Adams, A.J. Langer, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie, Ving Rhmes, Kelly Jo Minter, Sean Whalen, Bill Cobbs, Jeremy Roberts
The People Under the Stairs is the story of a young boy (Fool) from the ghetto and takes place on his 13th birthday. In an attempted burglary (along with two others) of the home of his family's evil landlords, he becomes trapped inside their large suburban house and discovers the secret of the "children" that the insane brother and sister have been "rearing" under the stairs.
I believe one of the many reasons of why, I love this film is that I was basically the demographic for it. When it came out which has lead me to always have a strong love for this film. While it has a young African-American central character which is rare in a horror film. It offers up scares and violence though not as gratuitous as it could. It more shows the aftermath of violence rather then the act. It also might be that way to make the characters of the title more sympathetic for the audience. Acting a certain way out of survival, not maliciousness and cruelty.
The film also offers hints of perversion and the unorthodox. Without being gratuitous or spelling it out. Which makes me believe this film was more intended for teenagers. Though it can be appreciated by many ages even older horror fans, but it is also a film that I would say is more of a lighter expand me of horror rather than Hardcore.
I mean just the fetishistic Hunting suit Everett McGill wears through half the film is not only suggestive but an out of nowhere inspiration. That works and while not subtle. Gives an inmates running the asylum vibe.
What is also fun about the film. Is that it keeps changing from a haunted house film. To a monster film. To a deranged killer film. To a urban legend film. And so on. That once it decides to define itself it is about survival. A cat and mouse game played in a cavernous house that is booby trapped and filled with treasure. That the protagonist has to solve clues to get ahead and make it through each obstacle. Ha it's kind of an urban less sprawling THE GOONIES. Only more violent and with more deadly consequences.
It is almost like the most dangerous fun house imaginable. Yet it also presents a grim adventure throughout as essentially it is not only a quest for Escape but also treasure. It is almost a character itself.
Though the film Is set in an African American neighborhood and introduces the way of life the child is living in and is struggling through. Most of the rest of the cast of the film is Caucasian. Once he enters the titular house. Especially that is all he is around. The film introduces a social message throughout the film as here are these rich and successful white landowners trying to force all the African Americans out of the neighborhood and buying up the property and they themselves are not only prejudice but also perverse, homicidal, cruel and sick. There are no redeeming social values.
The film makes me quite nostalgic. Not only as it is rare to have an African American themed horror film. The type that you probably would never see today or maybe again. As children in Peril films seem to have disappeared completely. Though they visceral thrills they have are quite powerful. They work as adventures for children and nightmares that turn out well for parents. That show the best qualities in some kids by showing them open and resourceful. Rather than just victims.
Also most of the innocents in this film are young people. There are some adults who perish, but the victims especially ongoing, seem to be the young teens in this film. Another example in which this film plays to the younger audience. as a what is the worst that could happen scenario. --The cast of this film also helps having Everett McGill and Wendy Robie play the villains is a stroke of genius that might have also come about because of their appearances on the popular at that time show TWIN PEAKS which I was a watcher of and recognized them from. Plus it had Kelly Jo Minter. Who I was a fan of from films such as HOUSE PARTY, SUMMER SCHOOL, THE PRINCIPAL.
Through out the entire movie you hear the Man and Woman call each other "Mommy" and "Daddy". You never hear their real names. But when Alice attacks the woman, you hear her yell for the Man and she calls him Eldon.
I wasn't quite the horror fan when this film came out. So I waited for home video to watch it and was quite a re-rental for me. Until eventually I just got my own copy. It was a film I usually Liked to suggest to my friends around that time.
Me and my friend Jason were especially big admirers of this film. That was usually in rotation during the many sleepovers we had over the years.
Again to this day this is the one of the few REALLY GOOD African- American centered horror films and yes I have seen the CANDYMAN series of films.
It’s a shame The Young Lead actor Brandon Quentin Adams Didn’t get a chance to parlay this leading role into juicier and better roles or getting a chance to showcase his talents.Though he can be seen in THE SANDLOT, GHOST IN THE MACHINE, THE MIGHTY DUCKS 1 and 2 and a bunch of television such as ROC, MARTIN, FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR, SISTER SISTER, MOESHA and A DIFFERENT WORLD
Hilary Swank auditioned for the role of Roach. Roach was originally written to be either a male or female.
Graeme Revell was the original composer, but his score was rejected.
What fascinates me about this film Is that, This was when not only was Wes craven still writing his own films, but it is another film spawned from him reading a newspaper article and adding to the story creatively to be bigger. Just as he did the same thing with the horror classic, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. This is when he is at his best.
Wes Craven was inspired to write this film after reading a real-life news story about burglars breaking into a house. When authorities arrived, the burglars had disappeared but they discovered locked doors with noises coming from behind. Children had been locked up inside the rooms by their parents, never allowed to go outside.
Now I realize this film might not be aesthetically the most beautifully shot, nor has it particularly aged the best, but it is spending where all the elements come together to make something spectacular. As it plays like a child's nightmare mixed with a certain amount of freaky adult elements. As well as some well placed satire. Yes, I know the film plays a bit dated by this time, but to me it is such a rarity of creativity and hinted horror conventional and freaky that it deserves a better appreciation then what it gets.
While it isn't the gore or scare fest that some fans of the genre might require. It does fit in the genre. Though even I can admit it plays more adventurous, but does offer up enough malicious terror both physically (especially) and mentally to count as a horror film. I will say it is a dangerously enjoyable film also. One that unfortunately they don't make anymore.
I truly can't say enough good things about this film.