By Breanna Whipple
CALGARY — A dilapidated apartment building deep within the ghetto of Los Angeles has become vacated in recent months, the Williams family the sole remaining tenants. The family is composed of a sick mother, a spiritual daughter and a young ambitious son. The youngest child, Poindexter “Fool” Williams, receives the news that he and his family are to be evicted by their landlords on his 13th birthday. Seeking potential hope in Ruby’s tarot readings, the children are left defeated. A visit from Ruby’s boyfriend, Leroy, opens felonious doors of possibility. It has been rumoured that the owners of property, the Robesons, possess a large collection of gold coins within their suburban home. A battle of moral is conquered when Fool decides to place the most important thing above the law, the wellbeing of his family.
Fool scopes the home out with the ulterior motive of selling cookies, but his efforts are fruitless. Mrs. Robeson is secretive and cold, casting the boy away at once. They then return with another adult companion, Spenser, who gains entry to the home posing as a municipal worker. The Robesons leave the home shortly after, delight quickly becoming alarm when Spenser fails to return. Fool and Leroy then decide to break into the home, discovering right away that the entire house seems to be rigged with traps. Immediately confronted by a dog thirsty for human blood, they find themselves spiraling further into madness, unveiling each sacrilegious secret this god-hungry couple have been stowing away.
One of Wes Craven’s most underrated films, The People Under The Stairs (1991) provides the genre with an interesting take on home invasion horror. Iconic Canadian house horror Black Christmas (1974) created an undeniably effective formula for instilling fear upon audiences by creating scenarios in which a tormented mind invades the home of the innocent. Craven demonstrated this pattern himself before the invasion craze erupted with the savage and gruesome The Last House On The Left (1972), but what happens when the innocent unknowingly stumbles upon unfathomable corruption in the heart of suburbia? Having grown accustomed to finding such odd and disturbing family dynamics in films such as Craven’s earlier The Hills Have Eyes (1977), the 102 minutes of run-time pushes the boundaries of social norms and stereotypes in a place so close to home. Incestuous relationships, hidden cellars and child abuse create a parallel between the terror on screen to the real-life horror of infamous Joseph Fritzl’s crimes. The cannibalistic quality that the seemingly straight-laced couple possess allows a connection with shocking horror comedy Parents (1989), and to the Sawyer family in Tobe Hooper’s revolutionary Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Perhaps the most riveting aspect of the film is the ever-present influence of fairy tales. Comparison to classic adventure flick The Goonies (1985) isn’t so far fetched when one views the tale for what it is – evading obstacles in order to obtain treasure. Like The Goonies, the main characters are named with suitable metaphors, examples include “Alice” being the stolen daughter of ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’ lost in a corrupted wonderland; “Roach” living a life void of human contact, forced to scurry between the walls and “Fool” the boy who acts unwisely in search of his gold. The Goonies, however, did not have a shotgun wielding leather clad ‘Daddy’ stealing children, dissecting the parts that “aren’t good,” and feeding them the severed carcass for dinner. With only one way in and out, the Robeson home is a labyrinth of horror. Fool is forced to fight for his family and his life, terrified of the derelict people under the stairs.
The Night Terrors Film Society presents The People Under the Stairs on Friday, May 29 at the Globe Cinema. Buy tickets online at http://thepeopleunderthestairs.brownpapertickets.comAB, Alberta, Globe Cinema, Night Terrors Film Society, The People Under the Stairs, Wes Craven