The People Under the Stairs (1991)

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Wes Craven directs Brandon Adams, Everett McGill and Wendy Robie in this horror comedy about slum landlords who kidnap the local kids and trap the rejects in the basement. 

A dense and dark romp, almost spoofing the like of The Goonies or It (kids versus baddies), while flirting with an on-point social message. The capitalists who run down black areas with liquor stores and exorbitant rents are the monsters, the child abusers who the police can overlook as a nice, white couple are the real criminals. Now it does brush against some pretty controversial subject matter, and I’m not entirely sure merely raising big issues is the same as exploring them, Wes. But what all this real world meat adds to the often cartoonish chase flick, is a miasma of compelling risk to the proceedings. Horrific honky couple chase a plucky, streetsmart kid around their booby trapped house… in a standard Hollywood flick I reckon the kid is going to make it. But once you bung in all the incest, the cannibalism, the racism, the abused teen girl in the attic, the attack dog, the brutalised troglodytes in the basement, the fact our hero’s own home isn’t any less threatening an environment… suddenly you aren’t so sure the resourceful Fool is going to be able to keep dodging the shotgun wielding, hollering killer in a gimp suit long enough to reach any kinda “happy” ending. Tonally, it is a very silly film – full of salty dialogue and game, pantomime villainy from Twin Peaks’ McGill and Robie. Craven is adept at keeping the cat and mouse pursuits moving at a breakneck pace without becoming too repetitive and he adds a nice subtext of fairytale myth on top of all his other themes. The gold coins, the tarot card prologue, the princess in the turret to be rescued, the misunderstood beasts under the stairs… Why, it could all be a Disney film!? 😉

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My Top 10 Wes Craven Movies

1. Scream (1996)

2.  A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

3. The People Under The Stairs (1991)

4. Scream 2 (1997)

5. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

6. The Last House on the Left (1972)

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7. The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

8. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

9. Scream 4 (2011)

10. Red Eye (2005)

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