A young boy ends up trapped in a house by a sadistic brother and
sister who have dozens of stolen kids locked in their basement.
The People Under the Stairs (1991)
Written and Directed by Wes Craven
Starring Brandon Quintin Adams, Everett McGill,
Wendy Robie, A.J. Langer, Ving Rhames, Sean Whalen,
Bill Cobbs, Kelly Jo Minter, Jeremy Roberts
Wes Craven's career is full of horror classics and oddball cult favorites, as well as the occasional total misfire. The People Under the Stairs, I believe, falls into the oddball category. It's not at all what I expected, and is tonally all over the place. There's freaky moments, and then there's slapstick moments. Not all of it blends together that well, but it doesn't really hurt the film. This one is made to be weird and hard to explain to people who haven't seen it. Plus, it's got Big Ed and Nadine from Twin Peaks as crazy, murderous landlord siblings who are definitely banging.
A kid named Fool (Adams) is guilted by a thief named Leroy (Rhames) into robbing his mom's landlord, who everyone believes is sitting on a goldmine of rare coins. When they break into the house, they find that the place is wired with enough locks and bolts for a small prison, and there are strange noises coming from the walls. Leroy is killed immediately, and Fool ends up in the walls himself, avoiding the crazy ass owners of the house, who have been kidnapping kids and locking them under the stairs for decades, all in the name of God. Their daughter Alice (Langer), whom they stole as a baby, befriends Fool and tries to help him escape. It's a fairly tense movie, made funny from time to time by the off-the-wall slapstick comedy that Wes Craven seems to always throw into his films in some fashion.
With this film, Craven attempts some sort of inner city subtext, but it never really bubbles to the surface. Most of the time, you're just waiting for the monstrous villains to die horribly, which does pay off. I don't think I'd list this one among his best work, but it's still a decent watch with some memorable moments, and a very satisfying ending.