Fright Fest Review #14: The People Under the Stairs (1991)

A Couple of Psychos
A Couple of Psychos

Subgenre:  Horror-Comedy

Summary:  After being roped into a home robbery plot, a ghetto kid is hunted by a pair of insane landlords.

Review:  The People Under the Stairs begins with our young hero, Fool (it’s a nickname), reluctantly agreeing to help some older thugs in their attempt to rob the house of the local slumlords.  He isn’t a bad kid, though; his mom has cancer and his family is in danger of being evicted by those very same slumlords.  After they break in, Fool and his accomplices soon find out that these landlords aren’t just mean – they’re crazy.  Not only have they locked their only daughter in a room for years, but they also house a bevy of feral boys in their basement.

Though The People Under the Stairs is ostensibly a horror movie, it has several moments of physical comedy that wouldn’t feel out of place in Home Alone.  The evil landlords, hammily played by Twin Peaks alumni Everett McGill and Wendy Robie, are more homicidal versions of the bumbling bad guys usually seen in children’s movies.  It’s an unexpected choice by director Wes Craven, and I found myself enjoying it.  The movie never quite settles on a tone, but it has a loose, experimental quality that’s hard not to like.

The Verdict:  The People Under the Stairs isn’t without its flaws, but it’s funny and unique enough to get a recommendation.  I give it six loony landlords out of ten.

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