Wes Craven is well known in the horror genre. But I really don’t know enough about him to analyze his overall style. I did enjoy several of his Nightmare on Elm Street films (sorry, can’t say I enjoyed them all.) Last House on the Left was “okay” – heavy on shock, light on substance, but interesting in its own weird way.
Craven fans seem to enjoy his 1991 film People Under the Stairs. I did not. It is not the movie for me. It’s billed as a horror comedy, but it didn’t scare me and it didn’t make me laugh. On the plus side, it didn’t offend, sicken, or repulse me. What did it do for me? Not much, other than annoy me a little bit.
The story is as follows – the family of a young boy, Fool, is about to be evicted from their apartment in the ghetto. He and two adults decide to break into the house of their slumlords. It is rumored that the slumlords are in possession of rare golden coins and the three burglars seek to steal them. They break in, but they can’t break out. There is this state of the art security system that seems to work better at keeping people trapped inside than it does at keeping people out of the house. There is a reason for this. The man and woman who live in the house, “Mommy” and “Daddy” Robeson, are crazy sadists. They have hostages, one of who is presumed to be their teenage daughter. The rest are teenage boys. To be honest, I forget why the sadistic couple had brought them into their home in the first place. But one by one, they were all deemed “evil” and then castaway to a boarded up area underneath the stairs. Mommy and Daddy Robeson have three simple household rules: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Well at one time or another, these boys violated these directives, and they paid for it. I think most violated the “speak no evil” directive, because they had their tongues cut off. The “daughter” follows the rules, so she is spared from receiving the severe punishments.
There are numerous chase scenes where someone is hunting down Fool. The hunter and “huntee” constantly go in and out of secret passages. These passages can lead anywhere, and they do. Almost every room in the house connects to them. Sometimes Fool is chased down by the killer dog. Other times he chased down by Daddy Robeson, who dresses for the hunt in leather fetish gear. Just when we think the dog or daddy is defeated, no – they rise again! Maybe it was scary the first time the dog attacked. Not so much the second time. By the time the film got to the 14th canine assault (I honestly don’t know how many dog scenes there were – too many), I was annoyed. It was almost as irritating as listening to “Daddy” cock his pump action gun several hundred times.
This film is overdone – too many chases, a ton of overacting (mostly on the part of The Robesons); it is a ham fest.
At this point in the review, a reader might be thinking, “Dude, you are taking this film too seriously! It’s a comedy. It’s supposed to be over-the-top.” I guess I’m old school. If I want to watch a comedy where cartoon-faced villains chase housebound victims in and out of doors and passageways then I’ll watch Scooby Doo. Or The Three Stooges.
Don’t get me wrong – “ham” can be entertaining. It just wasn’t sliced and served properly here.
As for the “people under the stairs”, once they slow down and stop jumping around like zoo-caged monkeys, viewers finally get a chance to see how they look – like the cheesiest of all Goth rock bands – long hair, white faces. I’d rather have the Lost Boys. But that’s just me!
I know many people like this film. It’s entertaining and definitely different. In that way I can see where they’re coming from. But there’s a difference between “seeing” and “feeling.” I “see” how it can be attractive to some but I just don’t feel the love.