The People Under the Stairs (1991)

people under the stairs poster 1991 movie wes craven
7.0 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 7/10

Fun, goofy movie with good characters

A bit cheesy and unevenly balanced

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The People Under the Stairs

Studio:  Universal Pictures

Genre(s):  Horror/Comedy

Release Date(s):  November 1, 1991

MPAA Rating:  R

people under the stairs tongue roach sean whalen

The first rule about The People Under the Stairs is that you don’t talk about The People Under the Stairs!

Poindexter “Fool” Williams (Brandon Adams) just turned thirteen, but has a plateful of adult problems.  His family is about to be evicted from their tenement home and his mother has operable cancer that she can’t afford to be removed.  When Leroy (Ving Rhames) and Spencer (Jeremy Roberts) come to Fool with a proposition to rob the landlords the Robesons (Everett McGill, Wendy Robie) who allegedly have a treasure of money hidden in their home, Fool takes the offer.  Once inside the house however, Fool learns that others have tried to steal the treasure with little success.  Even worse, the landlords have a secret hidden in their basement and learning it could mean instant death.  When Fool gets trapped inside the house of booby-traps with the couple’s daughter Alice (A. J. Langer), he learns that getting out might be more difficult than breaking in.

Directed by Wes Craven, The People Under the Stairs is a horror thriller-comedy.  The film fared decently in the box office and with critics.  The film gained a cult following, and Wes Craven talked about remaking the movie before he passed in 2015.

people under the stairs mommy daddy everett mcgill wendy robie twin peaks

I could actually see this as a deleted scene from Twin Peaks…

The People Under the Stairs is one of those movies that has fun with its self.  It is not serious and there are some real horror aspects to it.  As the movie unfolds, it gets crazier and crazier…but it works and still is a fun ride.

Horror films get a lot of leeway.  They can be scary and still be funny.  The People Under the Stairs recognizes this and blends genres with its story.  The result is this weird almost surreal film that feels like The Goonies meets a haunted house movie with homages to blaxploitation films of the ’70s.  This is probably a result of the star being a kid and the script being a relatively light find the treasure story…with cannibals.  Granted near the end of the movie, Fool gets tough, but for the most part, he just acts like a kid that is scared.

The movie’s casting is also pretty fun.  Brandon Adams does a nice job carrying the movie for a kid actor, and Ving Rhames makes an early appearance as Leroy.  A. J. Langer who later gained famed in My So-Called Life played a nice Alice who finds herself on the run in the house.  The scene stealers however are Roach (Sean Whalen) who manages to live in the walls away from the “people under the stairs” and the landlords who are actually a brother and sister duo that refer to themselves as Mommy and Daddy.  Wendy Robie and Everett McGill actually got the role from their Twin Peaks performances and were picked by Wes Craven as the bizarre killer “parents”.

people under the stairs chimney scene brandon quintin adams wendy robie aj langer

Everyone’s eating everyone!

Some of the stuff in The People Under the Stairs looks very good and some stuff does have a cheesy appeal.  There are some very stylized shots for the movie (like Fool and Alice’s descent down the chimney) but for the most part, Craven plays it simple for the movie and it is part of the nice aspect of the movie.

The People Under the Stairs is no work of art, but it is an entertaining entry.  It probably doesn’t need to be remade, not because I can’t imagine that it would get better.  The movie goes on a bit too long, but does start quick and continues at a fast pace.  If you want a fun, goofy horror-esque movie to watch I do recommend picking up The People Under the Stairs.  It isn’t that scary, and it isn’t very gory compared to today’s standards and this is wrapped up with some laughs…something not all horror movies can pull off.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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