Essays · Movies

31 Days of Horror: ‘The People Under the Stairs’

By  · Published on October 28th, 2010

When the calendar page turns to October, we Rejects have only one thought: horror. To celebrate this grandest and darkest of months, we’ll cover one excellent horror film a day for the entirety of the month. That’s 31 Days of Horror and 31 Films perfect for viewing on a dark, chilly, October night. If you, like us, love horror and Halloween, give us a Hell Yeah and keep coming every day this month for a new dose of adrenaline.

Synopsis: Threatened with eviction for his family, the young Fool (straight from the projects) teams up to rob from the landlords. Unfortunately, those landlords are inbred religious nuts who are packing serious heat, major security, and a herd of cannibals under the stairs. Getting out alive is going to take the help of a cannibal who sneaked into the walls and an adorable girl who is a different kind of prisoner in the house.

Killer Scene: There are so, so many great moments in this movie, but the one that knocks it out of the park every time is when Dad finally dons that ridiculous BDSM gear and storms down the hallways blowing giant holes in the walls with a military-grade weapon. It’s a frightening freight train of pure destruction and sexual deviance.

Kill Sheet

Violence: Much of the violence in the film is shocking in different ways than most horror films. There’s the cringe-worthy child abuse of Alice (played by A.J. Langer), the after effects of some serious violence against little failed children who get their tongues and ears and eyes cut out, and a great deal of destruction to the house. Plus, there’s the vicious dog, the violence against Mom and Dad (which we cheer for), and the cannibals under the stairs are utilized to full effect, too. It’s a bloody cornucopia with a flavor for everyone.

Sex:Even though they keep promising to get it on, Mom and Dad never do. Thankfully. There’s also the massive crush that you’ll get on A.J. Langer (which continued well into My So Called Life), but it’s all told from the perspective of a young boy, so there’s really nothing sexy about it.

Scares: This movie is absolutely terrifying. It’s key to note that there’s nothing supernatural going on here. Instead, it’s the equivalent of taking your vulnerable flesh to the tight space of the slasher’s home turf. There’s nothing like that claustrophobia, the frustration from being trapped, and the lunacy of the zealots who make Glenn Beck look like Mary Poppins.

Final Thoughts: I was tasked to defend the ending of the movie – the infamous ray of sunshine that comes after a heart attack worthy story. Yes, it’s over the top with its money billowing out of the chimneys and saving the neighborhood. Yes, it’s a little hokey. That’s because the movie is a fairy tale that has to have a happy ending.

The People Under the Stairs is the closest thing Wes Craven will get to an adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland.” In this case, the main girl’s name is Alice, but the one exploring the land is Fool – a young boy who enters a strange world and meets some very odd (very deadly) characters. Some of whom want to chop off his head (with a shotgun). In the end, he crawls back out of the rabbit hole, and the happy ending commences. After all, the movie is more about the struggle of that neighborhood than it is about one young man trapped inside a house run by crazy people.

In fact, that situation is as clear a metaphor for poverty as there ever was. The neighbors play a large role in the saving of Fool and Alice near the end, and as a result, their purity is rewarded when Fool makes it rain.

On a side note, the actor that played Roach (the inmate who had his tongue cut out but managed to escape into the walls) was also in the “Got Milk?” commercial playing the man trying to win the radio quiz question about who shot Aaron Burr. After seeing the movie several times, and seeing him moan and groan his way through lines as a tongueless cannibal, it was hilarious to see Sean Whalen try to talk with his mouth full of a peanut butter sandwich, desperately reaching for a milk carton that would prove to be empty.

Scary stuff.

Wipe the blood off your hands and read more 31 Days of Horror entries by clicking below:

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