The People Under the Stairs (1991)

I honestly don’t know when I had the opportunity to watch this film when I was younger.  In 1991 I was in middle school.  And, as I’ve said before on this blog, my film-watching was closely scrutinized by my mother.  Perhaps I saw it in rerun on TV when I was in high school.  But most of my high school memories have been securely blocked behind a firewall of repressed teen angst and denial, never to be retrieved again. It’s lost to me.

But, I remembered it enough to know it was creepy–I mean who can deny wanting to watch people exploit other people by locking them in the basement?!  Craven created a recipe for success with that plotline, is all I’ve got to say!

I was surprised to see two actors from Twin Peaks in there!  (Currently I’m watching the full series with friends).  The man who played “Man/Dad” in Stairs also played Big Ed in Twin.  And Big Ed’s crazy monocle wife, Nadine, played “Woman/Mom” in Stairs.  What a crazy pair!  Perfectly cast.

The film did not disappoint.  It was suspenseful AND funny.  The funniest parts were with “Man/Dad” who would come out wearing a full-body bondage outfit (black leather with silver buckles, etc.) and would shoot up the house with his shotgun, yelling after “Mamma,” which was really his sister.  Something about the insinuation of brother-sister incest just makes you laugh. And the fact that they were uber-conservative “Christian” cannibals just made it all the more funny.

But ridiculousness aside, this film had a message. One need not break out the Enigma machine to decipher Craven’s code:  that rich, white, incestuous capitalists are literally devouring the inner-city ghettos, viciously consuming human lives and throwing the scraps down to their helpless prisoners whom they force to partake of their abominable crimes. 

But the question then becomes:  are WE those prisoners, kept under the stairs, shackled by flimsy boards and given flashlights to see our limited way around in the darkness?  Sure, why not.  Are we like Alice, being beaten day in and day out for trying to abide by the “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil” edicts of our oppressive “parents”?  Sure, why not.  Even seventeen years later, we’re still witnessing ravenous big businesses out there ripping poor people, and middle class people, and everyone else, to shreds with their financial schemes. 

Is it really us, and not the boy-hero in The People Under the Stairs, who have accepted the nickname of Fool, even today?  Sure, why not.  One day we’ll wake up and realize that we’ve been living under the stairs all this time, and knowing about Plato’s Cave hasn’t helped us a bit.

2 thoughts on “The People Under the Stairs (1991)

  1. It has been about 5-6 years since I have seen this movie, but I remember really enjoying it. I remember thinking that it embodies most parents’ need to have perfect children and to shun those children that are not perfect. Maybe it signifies children’s need to please their parents. I think that I have always felt like a failure in the eyes of my parents while at the same time I know that they do not think that way about me. I really haven’t have not thought about “The People Under the Stairs” in a long time, but when I read the title it reminded me of Plato’s cave and I was amused that the review mentioned it.

  2. Ahhh…I got misty eyed reading that you too thought of Plato…our time together was spent wisely P.B. Very wisely!

    I think you’re completely right about the drive to please our parents and their insistence (sometimes) that we are absolutely perfect in all ways. I think the film presents this very critically with the fact that the parents were actually siblings (and therefore perverse) who were trying to push a perfection onto “their children” that they were incapable of embodying themselves.

    I suppose we should learn to embody difference and embrace imperfection in others and in ourselves!

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