November 30, 2013

The People Under the Stairs

The People Under the Stairs (1991) is one strange modern-day fairy tale from writer-director Wes Craven. It's something of an expose of white greed and the plight of the urban black family. The young hero, Brandon Adams, is remarkably plucky, and adept at evading the terrifying husband-wife-brother-sister duo (you read that right) played by Everett McGill and Wendy Robie, whose performances are some kind of perverse delight. They're the insane landlords who overcharge on sub-par tenements and then evict residents who can't pay, but they're also the owners of a thoroughly smart house, full of booby traps, hidden compartments, and gadgets that help them control the inhabitants in the cellar--people they've decided to keep as their slaves for some reason. They also have a "daughter" named Alice whom they keep prisoner and abuse, which is generally unpleasant except that we get the guilty pleasure of watching Alice eventually learn how to fight back. The People Under the Stairs is a sickly funny movie that works mainly because of its wackiness: the over-the-top story keeps things interesting even when it feels nasty (which is Craven's trademark). This is a lot more fun than most of his other efforts. With Ving Rhames, A.J. Langer, Bill Cobbs, Kelly Jo Minter, and Sean Whalen. ½

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