Horror review: The People Under the Stairs

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, NOV. 7, 1991

By Steve Newton

Since blasting onto the horror scene in 1972 with the crude and shocking Last House on the Left, Wes Craven has had a few hits (A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes), a few misses (Deadly Friend, The Hills Have Eyes Part II), and a few in-betweens (The Serpent and the Rainbow, Shocker). But he appears to be on the upswing with the often scary and hilarious The People Under the Stairs.

In a fine performance, newcomer Brandon Adams stars as a 13-year-old ghetto kid named Fool who—despite his good intentions—gets railroaded into helping his sister’s loser boyfriend commit a burglary. Fool needs the money to pay for his mother’s cancer treatment, and, besides, the house that’s targeted for break-in belongs to the greedy slum lord (Twin Peaks’ Everett McGill) who’s just evicted Fool’s family from its ghetto home for being late with its overpriced rent.

But what Fool isn’t counting on is uncovering the secret of the demented landlord’s scuzzy mansion—a secret that the owner and his equally callous wife (Wendy Robie) are prepared to keep at all costs.

After a bit of a slow start, The People Under the Stairs takes off when Fool gets trapped in the cavernous mansion and has to use all of his wits and street-smart wiles to survive continuous run-ins with both the cannibalistic couple and the swarm of flesh-eating folk they’ve imprisoned in the basement.

The movie’s funniest moments invariably feature over-the-top performances by McGill and Robie, a couple of real loonies who get madder-by-the-minute as they try to ferret Fool out of the building’s walls and crawl-spaces and keep him from rescuing their abused young “daughter” (A.J. Langer).

The performances combine with Craven’s witty script and energetic direction to make The People Under the Stairs a spooky, laugh-filled release most horror fans should get a kick out of.

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