Sunday, March 8, 2009

The People Under the Stairs (1991)

Ostensibly, this was a horror movie, but in fact it was a highly entertaining satire about impoverished black people overthrowing their rich--and evil--white landlords when threatened with eviction. Besides the tensions between urban blacks and suburban whites, a major theme was money being the root of all evil.

I regret not seeing this movie back when I was a kid because that seems to be the common factor among a lot of the movie's fans. Not only was it recommended to me by someone because it freaked them out as a kid, I also found a handful of reviews on Netflix that say the same thing. For me, it worked as a dark comedy.

Breakdown: A pair of rich white landlords are tearing down a dilapidated apartment building in the ghetto in order to make more money off of expensive condominiums. One of the tenants, a young boy called Fool, teams up with a couple of older con artists who intend to steal valuable gold coins from the landlord's house. What they find is a pair of twisted maniacs who have a dark secret...there are people living in the walls and under the stairs!

The story behind how the people got there is revealed to us by Alice, the well behaved daughter of the two landlords. Apparently, her mother and father had tried over and over to have the perfect boy, but each one was bad in one way or another. So, the father "cut out the bad parts" (e.g. their tongues) and locked them in the basement, giving them nourishment by taking people prisoner and cannibalizing them. Finally, they had Alice who succumbed to their outrageous demands and keep her confined inside the house.

Though released in 1991, the movie is dated and shows just how far the genre has come in such a short amount of time. The special effects are terrible and the "scary music" reminds me of those old instructional videos they used to show in P.E. class. The acting was so bad, and the lines so cheesy, that the gore was incongruous. At one point, the landlord was running through the house dressed like a dominatrix Power Ranger, and in the next moment he was acting like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. The woman shouted "ka-ka" after Fool jammed his fingers up her nose. Of the twenty-some men locked in the basement, one of them, named Roach, zips around inside the walls with a hyperactive disorder while the rest of them appear to be evil zombies.

After getting the story behind the people under the stairs out in the open, the movie becomes predictable and a tad boring. It seemed like an hour of people running around in a labyrinth, shouting, gouging, chasing, cursing, falling, sliding, and spouting off lame threats and insults. By the last twenty minutes of the movie I found myself dusting my bookshelf and cleaning the mirror in my bathroom. To top things off, the ending consisted of the rich people's money showering over all the ghetto folks while a hip hop song played into the credits (Do tha right thang!). All I could do was laugh and double check the director's name to make sure this was the right People Under The Stairs.

All the aforementioned aside, what made this movie enjoyable was Fool's humor. Here are some quotes that amused me:
"One day I'm gonna buy you a Cadillac for each foot and you gonna skate around town lookin' so bad!"
"You thought he was white before, you should've seen that sucker now!"
"Your father's one sick mother, you know that? Actually, your mother's one sick mother, too."
"No wonder there's no money in the ghetto."
"You ever seen a brother before?"
There were so many humorous lines that I couldn't keep up with them all. Please comment on this post and add your own favorites from the movie!

The People Under The Stairs is a great starter movie for those who are thinking of getting into horror flicks but are easily frightened. It has a lot of horror movie elements with enough humor to overshadow the otherwise grim parts.


  1. Maybe i don't want to watch it again. i have such fond memories of being totally freaked out by this movie and i would hate to ruin them.
    I don't remember anything funny but i do remember the freaky 'twist' about the parents at the end.

  2. Yes, definitely cherish the memory of it in that form. I think you'd be pretty surprised at it if you watched it now. How old were you when you watched it?

  3. I actually still enjoy the flick to the fullest, despite the akward dialogue and zany plot twists with the parents. Its unique and different from most others films in the genre, and to some extend reminds me of a horror version of The Goonies. If nothing else, I would recommend giving it a single go!