The People Under the Stairs

"In every neighborhood there is one house that adults whisper about and children cross the street to avoid."

Presumably on Wes Craven's street that is his house! Welcome back to The Tagline everyone, today I will keep the ball rolling with more sort of horror, brought to you from the master of poor timing and genre confusion, Wes Craven! To be honest, I had previously not seen enough Wes Craven movies to entirely connect the dots. I had seen the Freddy movies, I'd seen Vampire in Brooklyn (more on that disaster here) and I'd watched cumulatively maybe like 2/3rds of a Scream movie (of which I believe there are approximately 700 thousand). Looking back now, I can see a common pattern of terrible timing, intermixing scenes of gruesome brutality and child abuse, with goofy Home Alone style kid's movie humor and slapstick. So just as we saw in Vampire in Brooklyn, so too shall we see today in The People Under the Stairs, a heartwarming tale about a young boy nicknamed Fool, who goes on a mission to steal gold from the cruel rich landlords trying to evict his family from their tenement in the ghetto. That sounds like a kid's movie right? Well hold on, let me add a little more context and then we'll see if you still feel the same way.

This is not how normal people behave.
Fool's mom is dying from some treatable disease that they can't pay to have treated, and his teenage sister is a prostitute. Her pimp is Ving Rhames, and as you might imagine, him being a pimp of young girls and all, he's a real cool guy who robs liquor stores sometimes. That's when he discovers the secret gold coin collection in the basement of this house, which is also the place where the landlords of Fool's hellhole tenement live. The movie explains the scummy way they got all their money, mostly from being slumlords I wasn't paying super close attention to that. Also there's probably some weird incest stuff going on, the landlord lives with his sister and they call each other mom and daddy or some other similarly weird thing. Also the guy likes to chase people in his house around in a leather gimp suit while he tries to shoot them to death. So that's a pretty demonstrably creepy thing. You can see how we are now moving away from the kid's movie angle, and into Wes Craven weirdo territory. Yet at the same time there are a lot of moments of wacky "I'm gonna punch this guy in the nuts and run away laughing" moments that leave you wondering if Wes Craven is actually twelve. I am always wondering that. Also, another important feature of this house is that its basement is filled with inbred children who have been banished for disobeying mommy and daddy's rules, and who now eat corpses to survive, or any other bodies that might descend into the basement (which has a set of stairs that flip down into a chute, isn't that fun?) Fool meets their daughter Alice, who explains to him that he's just stumbled into military grade crazy, lucky him. We get to enjoy heartwarming scenes of Fool trying to explain to Alice what he means when he asks if she's ever seen a brother before, and also her being seriously abused by her deranged incest parents. So that's great too.

Also he has no tongue. No big deal.
Also, Wes Craven is kind of a racist. That was sort of a more subtle thing, it isn't like black and white movies with characters in blackface kind of racism, but ultimately it's kind of similar. You see, I realized that Wes Craven uses characters who are black and from urban settings because he thinks that they are funny, and that is how he uses them. They're wise-cracking, street talking, fast dealing, you know, the way you might imagine if you were a RACIST WHO STEREOTYPES AFRICAN AMERICANS. After Vampire in Brooklyn, I thought maybe it was just a fluke, but The People Under the Stairs was made four years earlier. Two points don't form a line, but I mean if someone came to me with a movie pitch and it was "A little black boy and his sister's pimp break into a home to steal gold from rich white people so they can save the ghetto" I would be like "Listen man, nothing about that sentence was okay. You can't make that movie. OR vampire in Brooklyn. Ever." It's possible I was being overly sensitive. It's also possible Wes Craven is kind of racist, in addition to having the sense of humor of a 5th grader.

While not as egregious as in Vampire in Brooklyn, the People Under the Stairs suffers from similar issues of timing, and a bizarre mix of unfunny humor and unscary horror. While the prospect of some sketchy gimp with a basement full of cannibals and abused children is certainly awful, it doesn't exactly fill me with dread when it's happening in a movie, especially when half the time the author seems to be playing it for camp. What it seems is offensive and sort of makes me uncomfortable, like when a co-worker makes an off color joke about and you just sort of try to go hmmmm and get away from them forever because you can't just come out and tell them that they're awful because you're trapped in this work environment with them and need to hope someone who can fire them hears that joke someday. That sentence is how Wes Craven sometimes makes me feel. Thanks Wes.
That's how I feel too Fool, that's how I feel too.

As a final aside, I have to note that the feral cannibals from the basement escape at the end, which is swell except for the part where they are now dark dwelling cannibals who when left to their own devices will most likely you know hunt and eat people. That's the start of another horror movie I think. At any rate, my conclusion here is that I have now seen another Wes Craven movie that I did not find good or especially enjoyable. I enjoyed the dog that they used and tried to make seem mean and scary, because it was clearly a very nice dog that was having a really fun time pretending to be a scary dog with dubbed over mean dog noises. That was probably the best part of the movie. Watching a girl be thrown into a scalding hot tub of water was not my favorite thing.

That's it for today! Join me again on Thursday, when I may try to take a break from horror and watch a movie that sucks less. Or not, you never really can be sure!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Project Wonderful Ad