TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991)

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THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991)

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The People Under The Stairs is just another example of director Wes Craven’s versatility as he treats us to a darkly humored tale of urban horror. Story finds young “Fool” (Brandon Adams) on his 13th birthday finding out his mother is ill and his family is about to be evicted from the ghetto tenement they live in. Street tough Leroy (Ving Rhames) talks the boy into helping him get payback and a paycheck by robbing the house of the reclusive rich landlords. Once entering the former funeral parlor that is home to the bizarre Robeson’s (Everett McGill and Wendy Robie), Fool finds himself in a house of horrors that includes, kidnapping, murder, cannibalism and…the people under the stairs!

While Craven certainly gives his flick some disturbing moments, he tells his story with a very twisted sense of dark humor as we follow our heroic teen as he tries to escape the virtual fortress of horror. The legendary director has a good time filling his house full of devious and deadly traps, the psychotic Robesons and the tormented souls they keep in the basement. The movie moves quickly, thought could have benefited, pace-wise, from being a few minutes shorter and there is enough action and laughs to keeps us entertained. Sure, the film’s messages about ghetto life and the vastly uneven distribution of wealth between the haves and have-nots is a bit too obvious, but we can overlook that since we are having ghoulish fun with the story those messages are attached to. Despite the humorous tone, Craven doesn’t skimp on the blood and gore and the FX portraying the carnage and the house’s hidden inhabitants are well done and shown in just the right amounts to keep them effective. The house itself is a creepy fun-house of secret doors, hidden passages, traps, bones and cobweb filled rooms…and if that’s not enough, we have Everett McGill running around in his bizarre S & M gear that he wears when on the hunt. It’s loaded with atmosphere and is a fun flick with a ghoulish sense of humor that still holds up well almost a quarter century later.

Craven also has a good cast to portray his oddball characters. Young Brandon Adams is quite an engaging and noble hero as young “Fool”. An inner city teen who, despite his nickname, is wise beyond his years and is tough when he needs to be, but has a surprising sense of honor for a kid his age and the hard life he lives. Adams does a good job making him three dimensional and very likable. Everett McGill reaches near Bruce Campbell levels with his borderline slapstick portrayal of the weird and put-upon Robeson. He may be a twisted killer, but conveys the essence of a man who truly never gets a break…especially when dealing with Fool. Wendy Robie is equally creepy as his disturbed sister and one can truly believe of the two, she is the one to really be scared of. A.J. Langer is sweet, naive and sympathetic as the Robeson’s captive “daughter” Alice. She has lived in captivity all her life, but knows she is being mistreated and bonds with Fool as she sees a possible means to finally seeing the outside world. Rounding out the main cast is Ving Rhames, who is effective as the tough, street crook Leroy, pretty Kelly Jo Minter, who is sweet and street-wise as Fool’s tarot card reading sister Ruby and Sean Whalen is likable as Roach, one of the escaped captives loose in the house’s walls. A good cast for a very offbeat film.

Maybe not the best of Craven’s work, but it is an original and fun flick. It entertains us with a bizarre and twisted sense of humor without sacrificing the tense action, chills or gore. It may get a little preachy, especially in the last act and could have had a bit tighter with it’s running time, but overall, is ghoulish fun and another example of how versatile Craven was as a filmmaker.

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Wes Craven 1938-2015

-MonsterZero NJ

3 kitchen knives.

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REVIEW: FAULTS (2015)

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FAULTS (2015)

Faults is an intriguing and entertaining little movie from writer/director Riley Stearns. The story opens with cult expert Ansel Roth (Leland Orser) as his life is falling apart, his latest book has tanked and he owes some shady characters (Lance Reddick and Jon Gries) a lot of money. He sees hope in turning things around when a desperate couple (Beth Grant and Chris Ellis) come to him to for help to rescue their daughter Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) from a cult oddly called “Faults”. For a price, Roth kidnaps the young woman and locks her in a hotel room to ‘deprogram’ her. While it seems to be going well at first, events begin to spiral out of control and the line between deprogrammer and subject blurs as does the one between deprogramming and brainwashing…but who is brainwashing who?

I enjoyed this movie. Not only do we get some offbeat characters that populate Roth’s world at the moment, but some interesting questions are posed and there are some nice twists and surprises. Claire appears content and happy when kidnapped by Roth and her parents seem a bit overbearing and controlling. It makes us question the validity of what is transpiring and if her parents have a right to force a full-grown, 28 year-old woman to adhere to their will against her own. We also question whether a man who has lost control over his own life is in any position to try to undo the effects of the cult’s influence, when he seems to be having his own issues. That’s also the fun of this film, which is played seriously, but has a darkly comic atmosphere to it. It gives us things to question, but just when we think we’ve got things figured out, it throws us some twists and curves. There are some nice surprises here and being in the hotel room with our characters in such an intimate setting, sometimes makes us too close to realize there are other things going on, until it’s too late…just like poor Ansel. Tables are turned and characters are not who they seem and Ansel is too focused on his own problems to see it…and it takes the audience awhile to realize it, too, though we do catch on long before our beleaguered ‘expert’. A clever and sometimes downright devious story that is intriguing to watch unfold and is well directed by Stearns.

This wouldn’t have worked as well without a good cast and that it has. Leland Orser really brings Roth to life as a man who is beaten-down and hitting rock bottom and who sees an opportunity to turn things around…so much so, he doesn’t see what’s really going on in front of him. Mary Elizabeth Winstead turns in another strong performance…she was so good in Smashed…that proves she is an underrated actress who really needs more recognition for her work. Her Claire is sweet and a little confused at first, but the more we get to know her, the more we realize she’s far more in control than she let’s on. It’s worth watching alone to see her slowly turn the tables on the man who is supposedly there to ‘fix’ her. Reddick and Gries are good as the oddball thugs Roth owes money to, for his self published failure of a book, and Grant and Ellis shine too, as Claire’s outwardly typical Middle American parents with their own hidden facets. A very good cast.

I definitely recommend this indie flick for those who like something offbeat and intriguing. The script is clever and the performances all strong. It’s an odd little movie for sure but, it’s involving and the story is refreshingly different. Definitely worth a look!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 kidnapped Claires (for her own good, of course!).

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