Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: The People under the Stairs


Film: The People under the Stairs (1991)

Written and Directed by: Wes Craven

Starring: Brandon Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie


With all due respect to Freddy Krueger, I think The People under the Stairs is my favorite Wes Craven film.  It’s absurd without being moronic, disturbing without losing the plot, and best of all it has a wonderful sense of claustrophobia and dread.  Even in its silliest moments that dread is there, which is all the more punctuated by the moments when the tension gives way to silliness.  This is a great horror movie.

The story centers around a ghetto kid named Fool, who in appearance and demeanor resembles the brashly intelligent kids from The Boondocks. With his mom dying and the family facing eviction from their apartment, Fool gets taken in by a young Ving Rhames and taught the burglar’s trade.  Rumor has it that the slumlords responsible for the family’s predicament are sitting on a horde of gold coins, and Fool’s mentor intends to collect.

Problem is, the landlords are a bit more than simply greedy ghetto aristocrats.  The mom-and-pop opportunists are an awesome display of insanity.  First of all, Mom and Pop are also brother and sister.  Nice.  In fact, they come from a long and almost entirely vertical family tree, which clearly had an effect.  Their labyrinthine house is also home to a human-eating Rottweiler, a molested and perpetually terrified “daughter,” and the titular People, failed attempts at abducting a properly moral son which end up mutilated and dumped in the basement to starve when the parents get disappointed.

As a pair, they spend most of the movie running around their house, screaming “Burn in Hell!” at the top of their lungs as they try to stop poor Fool from defiling their daughter.  Individually, they’re even greater.

Mom is a monster housewife, sporting big red hair, thick-painted eyebrows, and a hooker’s crooked mouth.  Her psychotic attempts at imposing moral order may be less overtly frightening than her counterpart’s, but she’s the real terror in this story.

Dad, however, is simply amazing.  He looks every bit the perverted pastor, and he runs with the prejudice to amazing heights.  His role is to be the muscle, and much of his time on screen is spent storming through the house and blasting holes in the walls with a shotgun.  Even better, he does much of the rampaging in a full-body leather Gimp suit.  Fantastic.

As much as I got behind Fool’s desperate attempts to get out of the house, there’s no denying that Mom and Pop are the heart of this film.  The joyous terror they infuse every scene with makes this one of the best fright flicks ever.


The Designer’s Drugs: Meghan McCain – Dirty Sexy Politics

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Meghan McCain – Dirty Sexy Politics

Anno: 2010

Meghan McCain’s story of her dad John’s 2008 presidential campaign is easily comparable to Danica McKellar’s math books directed toward teenage girls.  Though she admits to swearing like a sailor and falling far short of the feminine ideal put forth by her Republican Party, Meghan’s account of political life is clearly directed toward McKellar’s audience.  When she’s not taking her party to task or discussing her growing disillusionment with her old man’s campaign, McCain tends to spend her time obsessing over her hair, wardrobe, girlfriends, and the ubiquitous UGG boots which she mentions at the slightest provocation.  The title’s not exactly accurate; the Sexy in Dirty Sexy Politics is actually more about gender than hookups, but I suppose Dirty Girly Politics doesn’t have the same ring.

On the surface, getting something out of this book depends on the reader being able to do one of two things: enjoying fashion-centric tales of girls on the campaign trail, or being able to roll one’s eyes at these bits and move on.  The former isn’t for me, but McCain’s book stays on its political task enough to hold me over through the eye-rolling.

When she discusses her alienation from the Republican Party or the damage caused to her family during her dad’s 2000 campaign, McCain provides a cogent case for moving conservatism beyond its closed-minded, reactionary, and youth-dismissing current state.  While unmistakably right-wing on infrastructure issues, her views on social issues come dangerously close to liberal.  That McCain isn’t a pundit and doesn’t have a political background works to her benefit.  Some chapters feel more guarded and use more political speak than others (it’s hard for me to take seriously anyone under 30 using the phrase “young people”), but McCain tends to stick with forthrightness, without the entitled moral trolling that accompanies much of today’s popular conservative writing.

When the discussion moves to her dad’s 2008 presidential campaign, it becomes harder to agree with every point made.  Meghan is hardly objective, but that’s the point.  She provides a sympathetic insight on John McCain the person, even as she criticizes the vultures and opportunists who commandeered his campaign as it gains traction.  As could be expected, a big part of this story focuses on Sarah Palin’s running mate effect on the campaign.  While Meghan quickly sours on Palin’s blatant lunge for the limelight, she steers clear of catty tabloid trash-talking.

Those expecting slick diatribes and reinforced party lines from Dirty Sexy Politics will come away empty-handed.  More than anything, this is a tale of a girl put out of her element, expected to be a campaign prop and rebelling against it.  It doesn’t always work, but this is a nice change from the usual shouting of political literature.