The People Under the Stairs (Wes Craven, 1991, USA)

The People Under the Stairs is a 1991 horror film directed and written by genre auteur Wes Craven. The film is from an interesting midpoint in the director's career, almost evenly in-between the massive franchise successes of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Scream (1996). People was the third film in a three-picture deal Craven had with universal, starting with the well-regarded Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) and the less well-regarded Shocker (1989). People bears several thematic parallels with Craven's earlier work - the group of underground dwellers is very evocative of The Hills Have Eyes (1977). 

What distinguishes the film from many of its predecessors is its socio-political grounding. The film is Craven's parable about race and class, with the central villains of the film, the Robesons (Everett McGill and Wendy Robie), being not only murderous cannibals but also evicting poor residents of the ghetto. The satire here is laid on in a very heavy-handed way, but there is something about the manic intensity of the film that allows it to work. Our window into the film is Brandon Adams as Poindexter "Fool" Williams, a young boy desperate to not be evicted. Leroy (Ving Rhames), an older criminal, ropes him into a robbery of the Robesons house that quickly descends into an intense game of cat-and-mouse.

People is certainly one of the more interesting films in Craven's canon, and not only for the sociopolitical themes and satire. It incorporates many disparate elements, including aspects of fairy tales, but also aspects of the haunted house movie. Surprisingly, this film hasn't already been remade by the studios yet, but unsurprisingly Jordan Peele seems to be involved in a remake soon - he is the perfect director for it. People is worth visiting for Craven fans, horror fans, and fans of cult movies in general.



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