A pretense of social responsibility and most of the necessary tension get lost in a combination of excessive gore and over-the-top perfs in The People Under the Stairs. Writer-director Wes Craven sneaks in a post-Reagan era message about haves and have-nots by making his hero a 13-year-old ghetto kid. Pic’s still an old-style haunted house film with spooky couple Everett McGill and Wendy Robie terrorizing their teen daughter (A.J. Langer) and keeping a horde of ashen youths locked in the basement.
Stumbling into the ample vulgarity within those walls is the aptly nicknamed Fool (Brandon Adams), brought along by his sister’s b.f. to rob the place since the strange couple also are the boy’s landlords on the verge of evicting the family.
House of horrors includes cannibalism, McGill cavorting around in a leather suit and a blood-crazed Rottweiler. Cartoonish villains quickly thaw pic’s initial chill, in the process trivializing the more serious issues (child abuse, poverty) that might have been raised.