Retro Horror – The People under the Stairs (1991)

Extremely dark creepy tale mixed with humor, suspense & violence makes this a mish-mash of a film. Written and Directed by the brilliant Wes Craven I guess there’s only one question we need to ask… it good? Find out below.



A young 13 year old boy named Fool from the Ghetto reluctantly helps Leroy (played by ‘Ving Rhames’) to break into a house and rob a wealthy couple. Unfortunately for Fool & Co. the owners of the house are far more dangerous than any burglar & the house is rigged with insane security and traps to contend with along with a vicious dog with a taste for human flesh. Fool finds himself well out of his depth quickly and running for his life.



Flesh eating dogs, S&M gimp suits for hunting, Brother & Sister implied incest, Cannibal corpse kids under the stairs, Mute half-dead teen trolling others inside the walls, intricate tunnel systems with hiding spots, booby traps, shotguns, knives, gold and buckets of blood!! Sound a bit nuts….yes,yes it is! This film has everything and it throws it at from from the outset. Not to mention it mixes all these dark terrifying themes with a healthy dose of pitch black humor. Craven is an expert storyteller and it’s a credit to him that even with the insanity turned up to eleven, there’s still levity and chuckles to be had along the way.



Both Mommy & Daddy (who are also brother and sister) are expertly overplayed by ‘Wendy Robie’ and ‘Everett McGill’. Daddy running around the house in full gimp leather outfit waving his shotgun and shouting is absolutely priceless. What’s even better is that the kids in this get the better of him at every opportunity (think Home Alone only more vicious). Mommy also croons and screams and reminds me of Cruella DeVille on steroids! Absolutely wonderful to watch and her overtly expressive face is as startling as it is terrifying.


Roach & Alice

Fool only survives with a little help from others. Roach is a rebel boy who escaped from the basement & has been living in the walls taunting Mommy & Daddy. He has no tongue as it was removed and he looks half starved to death which is creepy but he also offers most of the comedic moments in the movie as he continually trolls Daddy. Alice is a pure child who is allowed to live in the main house as Mommy & Daddy’s daughter. Her only reason for lasting so long is that she acts pure towards them. Reference is made to see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. She helps Fool and becomes the hook of the movie as he feels he can’t leave her behind.


The People under the Stairs

Did I mention there is a basement full of zombies?? Yes, this movie is crazy. Turns out, there have been plenty of kidnapped kids before Alice that Mommy & Daddy have tried to raise. But once they deem them unpure, they lock them in the basement where they feed on human flesh. THIS MOVIE IS INSANE! But it’s also insanely fun and insanely entertaining!


My Thoughts

I’ve spent much of this review just mentioning all the crazy things on display. Never have I seen a horror movie with so much going on & it’s wonderful for it. The film never settles on one genre. It’s deeply disturbing sometimes, it’s wildly entertaining sometimes & it’s hilariously funny sometimes. It’s such a hard movie to pigeon hole and for that reason I’m not sure everyone will love it as much as I do. It’s a movie that forces you to sit back and be entertained without settling on one definition or idea. If you switch your brain off and just let it wash over you….this becomes a great piece of entertainment.


Craven is undoubtedly a master of horror and the tinges of dark humor on display here hint at the genius mind that would end up creating the brilliant Scream series.


If you’ve seen Freddy & you’re a fan of Scream, maybe check this out and see yet another slice of creativity from Wes Craven.

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