The People Under The Stairs (1991) - Rotten Tomatoes

The People Under The Stairs1991

The People Under The Stairs (1991)



Critic Consensus: Held aloft by gonzo black comedy and socially conscious subtext, The People Under The Stairs marks a unique -- though wildly uneven -- change of pace for director Wes Craven.

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Movie Info

Wes Craven wrote and directed this surrealistic horror-comedy, which was inspired by a true story of parents keeping their children locked in a basement for years. Fool (Brandon Adams), an African-American teen, breaks into the home of the wealthy landlords who evicted his family from a ghetto tenement. A fortune in gold coins is rumored to exist inside, but Fool discovers that the mansion is a chamber of horrors presided over by a pair of incestuous, serial killer siblings (Everett McGill and Wendy Robie). The twisted couple has also tried to raise a succession of kidnapped boys. Each botched effort is handled the same way -- the victim's eyes, ears and tongues are removed, and he's sent to live in the sealed-off basement, where a colony of similarly deformed "brothers" resides. Fool is able to avoid the evil lovers as he moves through the house's maze of hidden passageways. He discovers that the occupants have a daughter, Alice (A.J. Langer), who has survived their abuse, so he rescues her and they attempt to free the "people under the stairs." Adams, who made his feature debut with in film, was familiar to viewers as the star of rock singer Michael Jackson's Moonwalker (1988). ~ Karl Williams, Rovi

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AJ Langer
as Alice
Bill Cobbs
as Grandpa Booker
Joshua Cox
as Young Cop
John Hostetter
as Veteran Cop
John Mahon
as Police Sergeant
Theresa Velarde
as Social Worker
Yan Birch
as Stairmaster
Wayne Daniels
as 1st Stairperson
Michael Kopelow
as 2nd Stairperson
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Critic Reviews for The People Under The Stairs

All Critics (30) | Top Critics (7)

A pretense of social responsibility and most of the necessary tension get lost in a combination of excessive gore and over-the-top perfs in The People Under the Stairs.

March 26, 2009 | Full Review…

There are a few push-button frights, but a total dearth of mind-disturbing terror; the humour, too, is broad, crowd-pleasing stuff.

June 24, 2006 | Full Review…
Top Critic

Perhaps the most staggeringly incompetent movie in the director's uneven canon.

June 3, 2005 | Rating: D | Full Review…

Though the new movie has its share of blood and gore, it is mostly creepy and, considering the bizarre circumstances, surprisingly funny.

August 30, 2004 | Rating: 3.5/5

Craven has been directing downhill since his terror triptych of "Last House on the Left," "The Hills Have Eyes" and the original "Nightmare on Elm Street," so it's hardly surprising that he hits bottom with "The People Under the Stairs."

January 1, 2000 | Full Review…

While The People Under the Stairs may leave some horror fans unsatisfied and other horror detractors repulsed, it ought to satisfy those viewers who appreciate a thoughtful and visceral movie entertainment.

January 1, 2000 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The People Under The Stairs

Like a neophyte, blunderbuss George Romero, Wes Craven often merged social commentary into his macabre tales. The difference is Romero never forgot to also be suspenseful and not veer to far from the intent of terror. In the frustratingly dawdling horror-comedy People Under The Stairs, he deconstructs the Reagan-Era fantasy of the nuclear family with Everett McGill and Wendy Robie as facsimiles of Ronald and Nancy (especially disciplinarian McGill's oil-slick black hair). It's a bit of a muddled stretch (with night-vision air raid footage from the Persian Gulf) but Craven is more incisive with the racial gentrification and ghettoized motif. It's Stygian circumstances that coerce the main character to align himself with Leroy (Ving Rhames). It might seem incendiary to postulate that because the characters are black, they are disregarded by the landlord and verging on eviction, but there is a ring of truth to Craven's urban portrait in the vein of Spike Lee. It's a skin-crawling anti-yuppie nightmare with the minorities literally being enslaved by the WASP-y blue-bloods. One of my pet peeves is overly resourceful, feisty children and Brandon Adams' jive-talking Poindexter "Fool" Williams is a nuisance with the attitude of a miniaturized Richard Roundtree. For his role, Craven manipulates us with the ill-advised child-in-peril ploy but "Daddy" and "Mommy" are bumbling ignoramuses for the most part so they barely pose a threat since they don't eliminate him when they have a chance. Meanwhile, Everett and Robie are the possibly incestuous showstoppers. In his introduction, Everett is gnashing on a mound of meat while spitting out the buckshot shells which is suggestive of trespasser cannibalism. The gimp mask rampage is another gonzo set piece but the repetition with the Rottweiler chases rapidly wear thin our patience. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre quest is fatuous and once Rhames is ejected from the movie, it devolves into a geek show with another one of my debilitating issues: inbred, freakish cellar-dwellers who are secretly sidekicks to the protagonist (ex. The tongue-less Roach who prowls through the walls). The music sounds like low-grade Bernard Hermann reinterpreted for a Lifetime movie. Ving enlivens the film's booby-trapped first half ("Maybe the president will make me Secretary of Pussy") but his early departure bodes a glossy do-over of The Hills Have Eyes.

Cory Taylor
Cory Taylor

Super Reviewer

Leroy: Nice to see the rich folks' got rats too. "In every neighborhood there's one house adults whisper about and children cross the street to avoid." The People Under the Stairs is a classic 90's horror film from Wes Craven. Craven has made some of the best horror films and some of the lousiest, and The People Under the Stairs belongs to neither of these categories. It's not great, with weak acting and a real lack of anything scary, but it's definitely not bad. The story is a good one and Craven's direction and pace is strong. Also there's a lot of social commentary thrown into the plot as well, which always is good as long as the content works. A young kid named Fool and is family are in trouble. His mother is really sick and they're about to be evicted from their apartment. When an older gentleman named Leroy asks Fool to be the third person on his team, which is planning to break into the landlords house where a big stash of gold coins are supposed to be and steal them, Fool is apprehensive, but ultimately his families problems force him to do so. When they get into the house, it's not what they expected. Not only are the landlords crazy, but they have a bunch of prisoners locked up in the cellar. This is a fun little movie. It's one of those horror movies that you know is a product of the nineties, with the campiness of the villains and the ghetto setting. The movie has an interesting premise that the rest of the movie is able to live up to and that's saying something for the genre. Most of the time with horror films of this type, the premise is interesting, but the movie falls apart after twenty minutes. That isn't the case here. If you're a fan of horror films and Wes Craven, this one is worth a look. It's no Nightmare on Elm Street or Scream, but it's a nice, solid addition to Craven's filmography. Don't go into it expecting anything special and you should enjoy yourself. I know that I did and I honestly wasn't expecting to.

Melvin White
Melvin White

Super Reviewer


The films of Wes Craven have proven to be all over the place in terms of quality over the years, but this one falls on the more positive side of things...and it's quite a doozy too. After being threatened with eviction from their rundown tenement, a young teen named Fool decides, along with a couple of thugs, to rob the mansion where their landlord lives. The place is rumored to contain a fortune in gold, but once the trio break in, they find far more than they bargained for, and soon realize that maybe they should have just dealt with the eviction instead. This film, while it has shades of movies like The Hills Have Eyes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and even Home Alone, proves to be quite original. It's definitely uneven, and has a really long and drawn out conclusion that begins to get really overstuffed, but, if you're in the mood for something wild, off the wall, and twisted, this might be the film for you. If you can tap into the film's groove, you might have a good time. It's definitely over the top and ridiculous, but the less you know about it going in, the better and more effective it is. It's not really scary per se, but it actually does have a few moments of genuine tension and suspense. There's bits of dark humor here and there, butI wouldn't call it a full on horror comedy. Brandon Adams, also known for his work in the Mighty Ducks series, is prretty good here. He's rather compelling as a kid caught up in a horrifying and surreal situation. Ving Rhames is also pretty good as Leroy, one of the thugs that Fool goes along with. Everett McGill and Wendy Robie are deliciously demented as the main antagonists. Yeah, the film is a little rough, but it has some fun ideas, it's pretty engrossing, and even though it's quite nuts, it's worth a look.

Chris Weber
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

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