With The People Under the Stairs, thirteen-year-old Fool (Brandon Ames) finds himself in a large suburban house owned by the two slum lords who are about to evict his sick mother and others from a ghetto tenement. He's in the house because he agreed to help two burglars make a score on treasure they heard was hidden there. Unfortunately for Fool (and his two grown-up accomplices), the owners are a brother and sister who call each other Mommy and Daddy. The man (Everett McGill) is a homicidal maniac who goes in for head-to-toe, studded, black leather bondage suits and pump action, single barrel shotguns. His sister (Wendy Robie) is just as looney and just as murderous, a screaming dominatrix. They also have a large vicious dog you wouldn't want to hand feed...that is, unless you had an extra hand to feed it.
Fool finds hidden in the house a young girl, Alice, who he thinks is the pair's daughter. He also finds a number of boys, stolen when they were children (and a few perhaps the product of Mommy and Daddy themselves). They've had their tongues cut off and ears chopped. Seems they were part of Mommy and Daddy's deep need for a perfect child...and when they didn't measure up, off with the tongues or their eyes or their ears. Down they were put to the basement. They seem to have been fed by Daddy on the butchered parts of unfortunate meter readers and door-to-door salesmen. It becomes a race for Fool to find a way out, rescue Alice and the people under the stairs, locate the treasure and see that Mommy and Daddy get what's coming to them. After him is a relentless Daddy, with Mommy urging Daddy on at the top of her voice.
Once the premise is established and the characters are known, the movie become one long set of narrow escapes through the house, and the house appears to have an infinite number of secret openings, narrow passages, sliding stair cases and slamming doors. But so what? Brandon Adams' as Fool does an excellent job playing a fast-thinking, brave, resourceful young boy. And there are the Grand Guignol performances of Everett McGill and Wendy Robie. They are so over the top, so demented and so murderous that I never knew whether to laugh or sit stunned at their doings.
As Fool points out to Alice, “Your father's one sick mother, you know that? Actually, your mother's one sick mother, too!”
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