Craven's big three contributions to horror are of course, Last House on the Left in the seventies, Nightmare on Elm Street in the eighties and Scream in the early 2000's however to the seasoned horror fan another great gem of his that conquered the 90s with it's social commentary on gentrification would be the People Under the Stairs. This film gives you the horrors of what's truly behind the doors of America's elite, the big boss man pushing out those less fortunate and exploiting them for their own benefit. It's these people who have the most to hide.
The film begins with a tarot reading for our protagonist Pointdexter "Fool" named so after the tarot card of the fool that his sister reads him. It is his thirteenth birthday as he steps out of childhood and into manhood, having dealt with many trials and tribulations that most adults deal with on a daily basis already.l, it is time for him to take responsibility head on. His family is the last living in a dilapidated apartment complex in the ghetto. He lives with his sister Ruby and her children as they struggle to take care of their mother who has cancer. Being three days late on their rent, the landlord has tripled the cost and unless they have the money by midnight the following day they are to be evicted. That's when we are shown a dark home lit only by a fire with chair legs and an assortment of different pieces of wood. In front of the fire sits a man smacking away at what we assume to be a chicken. He gnaws at it disgustingly as a young sorrowful girl approaches the man with a glass of water and the man gives her a look of anger. Behind him sits a woman sewing a dress complaining about the horrible family living in their apartment complex and that once they kick them out they can build condominiums and have "clean people" living there. That's when we see the man spitting out buckshots after eating the chicken. This is our first glance at the landlords of the slum. A friend of Ruby's, Leroy (Ving Rhames) has discovered the adress of the landlords and recruits Fool to help him rob them as he's heard stories of gold hidden within the landlord's house. Reluctantly, Fool helps him and they prepare to break into the landlord's home and steal the gold to save the family. The problem is once they get in, it is almost impossible to get out. As they search deeper and deeper into the house, they discover creatures living within the walls that might have once been human but are now more animal than man. Thanks to the sadistic tortures of the landlords simply known as Mommy and Daddy.
The film goes from heist to escape as you learn while it is difficult to get into the house, it is near impossible to escape. The house is a death trap rigged to be locked down like a prison and Daddy is the sadistic guard that warden Mommy sends to kill any intruders. Everet McGill and Wendy Robe play the mommy and daddy, both fresh off of the Twin Peaks series, they are truly strange. I've mentioned before my fear of religion taken to an unhealthy extreme. Mommy rules the household under the word of god, all those who do any wrong will burn in hell, her children shall hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil. Daddy follows her blindly wearing a crazy gimp suit relishing the sounds and feel of his shotgun which he fires crazily and uncaring of anything he hits. They have a dog that is almost more brutal than Cujo, named Prince. This dog chases Fool throughout the death maze of a house with ferocity and brutality. Kept in this hell hole of a home is their adopted daughter Alice, a poor girl who has been trapped within the house for as long as she can remember, not knowing what the outside is like. Punishing her for any transgression no matter how small. Her only companions are her "brothers" the people under the stairs. This is the family from hell living within the home that Fool has to deal with. His only salvation is learning the truth behind the people under the stairs and befriending them in fighting a common enemy.
The people under the stairs themselves have a great origin. When you learn of why they're there and where they came from, you are treated to a new level of hellish evil the family is capable of. The makeup FX are amazingly done by KNB FX group and each one looks more and more animalistic. Only one of them is able to keep his humanity and sanity, his name is Roach. He is Daddy's mortal enemy and he lives in the walls causing destruction any which way he can to the house and family. Roach is Fool's greatest ally in this fight and is a great horror hero that one would at first glance consider a monster.
I honestly don't want to reveal too much about this film as the more it goes in the more madness creeps out of it and it's better experienced upon viewing fresh. I will say Craven writes all these characters really well and all the actors bring these larger than life characters to a believable structure of a film. To watch Fool grow into a man and conquer the oppressors of the poor is a triumphant watch and it is a scary thing to ride through. The time period of which this takes place makes this film especially poignant and is why I think it deserves to give Craven reign over the decade of the nineties just as he had three other decades. 15 Days til' Halloween Halloween! 15 Days til' Halloween Silver Shamrock!