Monday, August 13, 2018

Short Attention Span Review: The People Under the Stairs (1991)

Short Attention Span Review: The People Under the Stairs (1991)

Wes Craven was one of the biggest voices in horror for those of us fortunate enough to be fright fans in the 80s and 90s, and he kept on trucking until his demise in 2015.  The People Under the Stairs is his ode to that creepy house in the neighborhood that everyone speaks of in hushed tones, and it is one of his most energetic and offbeat pictures.  There are so many strange things happening in this particular house of horrors that the ghastly people under the stairs for whom the tale is named are merely bit players in a gleefully gory chiller.  It takes about ten minutes for Craven to establish the scenario and the next ninety minutes are devoted to some of the most outlandish and grisly carnage he ever captured on film.  While the supernatural elements that graced most of his spooky movies are absent from this shocker, it is no less frightening and perverse, and may even be a bit freakier than his typical fare.  This is largely due to our main heavies, a devious pair of sinister outcasts played to the hilt by Everett McGill and Wendy Robie.  Initially this demented couple register as more than a little quirky, but as the story progresses they go from kooky to sinister, and in the third act they graduate to vile, vicious, and unmistakably evil.  They do so with guns blazing, but neither performer crosses the thin line into parody, and they are the chief architects of this film's unique legacy.  However, young star Brandon Quintin Adams is also a great find, and both A.J. Langer and Sean Whalen aid him into providing the protagonists of this frightfest with a lot of heart, innocence, and courage.  These heroic adolescents are a far cry from the horny teenagers who so often occupied those roles in horror flicks from this era, and that is another big victory for The People Under the Stairs.  Maybe it runs just a bit too long, and maybe the ending goes off the rails a little here and there, but there can be no doubt that this is a wild ride from one of the genre's brightest minds.  Any horror fan should enjoy a trip to this house where strange terrors lurk behind every corner, but do leave your expectations at the door.  Craven surely broke new ground when he crafted this bloodthirsty oddity with a heart of gold.

Final Grade: B

As it turns out, the titular people under the stairs aren't the biggest threats in Wes Craven's subversive house of horrors.

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