Tuesday, September 1, 2015

THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS: My favorite Wes Craven movie.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, I’ll let the trailer speak for itself:

Or if you're in a place where you can't watch a preview for a horror film, I'll let Netflix do the talking:

Master of horror Wes Craven brings an urban twist to the classic fairy tale in the story of Fool, a 13-year-old lad who succumbs to ghetto pressures to steal from a local house. Fool's instant karma comes in the gruesome form of the house's residents -- an insane, deformed family of murderers. The perils of latchkey kids and warnings about absentee parents are the subtle social subtext as Fool and other victims try to escape the deadly home.

 My first encounter with The People Under the Stairs was when I was a kid and would (like many of us) sneak into the “Horror” section of the local video store to stare at the unsettling VHS covers until I was thoroughly freaked out.  Granted, People’s cover was relatively tame.   

But it was the title that caught my attention.  Not that I was a horror movie expert at the age of 8 mind you, but I thought that they should have names like Vampire Sorority Babes.  

Everything I learned about the way things should be I learned from Calvin and Hobbes

The People Under The Stairs sounds more like a children's story.  It's almost whimsical. 

I never got around to actually seeing the movie until a few years ago.  It was the morning of a wedding (not mine) and I had a couple hours to get ready before my girlfriend (now wife) would pick me up.  I noticed that this movie I’d been meaning to watch was on Netflix instant (sadly it is no longer) and I turned it on just to have something in the background. 

Now typically you’re supposed to watch Horror late at night with a couple of beers while your cats make creepy noises in the next room (at least that's how I watch it).  In this case it was 10 AM on a beautiful Saturday morning, but the movie still sucked me in.  Before i knew it I was sitting on the floor, unable to take my eyes off the laptop while my jacket and tie lay forgotten on my bed.  (Don't worry, we made it to the wedding on time.)

 Granted, this isn’t Wes Craven's scariest film and it probably isn't his best.  What makes it stand out to me personally, though is that it manages to combine typical horror tropes, with serious social issues (that are unfortunately still relevant today) and stick them into the plot of a dark fairy tale.  Also, while I love horror, there are too many cheap films where frankly I just don't care if the "heroes" live or end up hanging on the end of the killer’s meat hook.  This is one horror movie where I legitimately wanted to see them get out and (SPOILER) it hurts that they don't all make it. 

In a way, I'm glad that this isn't one of Wes Craven's better known films.  It has been spared the endless parade of sequels and reboots (although there were rumors) until it’s hard to remember that the first Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream were  legitimately good movies.    

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