Friday, September 11, 2015

Direct Craven Direct: The People Under the Stairs

Don't think that I wasn't going to do a tribute post.  I was tempted to do this sooner, but decided to wait a little while.  I don't like to 'follow the crowd,' you know.  Today's Film is The People Under the Stairs, a 1991 Film by the late Wes Craven.  This is one of his less noted Films, falling in that space between A Nightmare on Elm Street made him huge and Scream made him huge again.  That obviously doesn't mean that he didn't make good Films between then- they are just less famous.  This Film tells the tale of a young boy who gets dragged into a dangerous situation.  When he fights back, he may just be able to change his station in life.  This is part-Horror, part-Social Commentary and, at times, part-Comedy.  Needless to say, the Tone and feel of this one is pretty weird.  To find out if this is more of a lost gem than a forgotten failure, read on...
This kid- nicknamed Fool- is stuck in the Ghetto with a sick Mother he can't afford to help and a Step-Dad (Ving Rhames!) that abuses him.
Alongside his friend/cohort, Rhames takes the kid to rob the local Slum Lords.  Unfortunately, he finds some creepy kids in the basement, a house full of traps and even Dutch Angles.
The man- Big Ed from Twin Peaks!- shows up in his full gimp suit and starts shooting everywhere.  He eventually kills Rhames!

Yes, Ving Rhames was in a Film with a guy in a gimp suit 3 years before Pulp Fiction.
The woman- Nadine from Twin Peaks!- abuses her 'daughter,' while the guy tries to kill one of 'their' kids that escaped and is hiding... the walls.  Does every house have such wide and diverse wall space?
Fool eventually escapes, but without the girl.  Despite the Police being useless tools- Commentary or lazy Writing?- the first time, he calls them for real this time.  They find nothing, since the pair are apparently super-rich and adept at hiding evidence.

I should note that they currently have a drained Pond in their backyard filled with rocks and broken glass.  Does that not raise any attention?
Fool discovers a stash of money, coins and gold hidden in the house.  Being Slum Lords pays off- right, Donald Trump?
Fool and the girl try to turn the duo's traps and tricks against them, aided by some people from the neighborhood.  Big Ed and Nadine continue to rack up major injuries, but they don't slow down since they are borderline-comic antagonists.
In the End, the titular People Under the Stairs escape to kill Nadine, while Big Ed is blown up by an explosion big enough to rock the house and send the money flying everywhere...but not big enough to destroy his body completely or injure Fool in the next room.  Logic!

The People are now free, which I guess is a happy ending.  They are cannibals though, so...Hills Have Eyes Prequel?  The End.
Good, but confusingly-uneven.  The People Under the Stairs is a curious Film for a number of reasons.  It is an attempt at Social Commentary done by updating an old Folk Tale.  It tries to be serious, but has 'Big Ed' and 'Nadine' acting super-over-the-top.  It tries to be topical, but includes a number of unexplainable moments and contrivances.  For example, Rhames hits a window with a Crowbar and nothing happens.  The Film never explains why the Glass didn't break at all, so it just appears like the sight gag from Top Secret! where the Crowbar breaks against Glass.  As a bonus, 'Nadine' later puts down some metal shutters...which seem unnecessary if the Glass is actually Adamantium!  I can somewhat defend the part near the End with the Cops, since the House is rigged with all sorts of cover and they do actually explain why nothing was discovered.  However, the first time that the 2 Cops check on the Van and just take the couple's word that nobody was inside (they said that they check already) is a bit ridiculous.  If that was Commentary, it wasn't handled in a serious manner.  There would obviously be the famous incident with the Cops returning Dahmer's last victim to him, although he didn't speak English.  Combined with the odd (but fun) performances of 'Big Ed' and 'Nadine,' strange tonal stuff like this makes the Film a tricky recommendation.  It is kind of a mixed bag of crazy.  You may love it for that or just be put off by it.  Either way, the decision about whether you like it or not is less obvious than Ving Rhames' Stunt Double in the Dog Attack Scene.
Next up, I finally get around to doing the Death Note Live-Action Films.  Will it be less convoluted as 4-hours of Live Action?  Stay tuned...

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