Urban Legends (The People Under the Stairs, 1991)

People_Under_the_Stairs_PosterIn 1988 Wes Craven explored Voodoo, but it was through the eyes of a white man in Haiti.  With the People Under the Stairs,  Craven looks at the plight of under privileged communities and the underlying causes of crime (poverty).

There are rumors of a creepy house that hides a fortune. Leroy wants to get into the house in the hopes it is true and recruit’s his girlfriend’s younger brother Fool. But when they break into the house, they discover that it is booby trapped. Once trapped inside, Fool has to dodge the disturbed couple who live in the house.

Fool discovers a teen girl locked in the house, a victim of abuse…he also discovers there is something in the walls…something dangerous.

I feel like this is an under-rated film from the Wes Craven catalog.  It is creepy to the point of uncomfortable.  The couple, simply named Man and Woman appear to be bondage loving racists (saying more is revealing too much). Fool is a fun character, he begins as a pawn for a crime and becomes a hero.  Craven’s choice to focus on a young black boy is pretty bold.

I really like the film, Fool is a character that is pretty easy to root for and when he teams with Alice (the teen girl) it makes for some good old fashioned comeuppance for the bad guys.  I do wish this one got more respect, and think it is one of Craven’s more interesting films.

I Love L.A. (Escape From L.A., 1996)

Escape-From-LA-posterJohn Carpenter’s first sequel.  Escape From L.A. brings back Snake Plissken.  The setup here is that in the late 20th century, a Presidential predicts a major earthquake will hit California and Las Vegas because of their sinful ways.  Unlike Pat Robertson, his prediction comes true.  American makes the now island of Los Angeles a one way prison.  The president was elected to a lifetime appointment.  They instituted a theocracy.  If you were to sinful you were sent to L.A. (but you get the option to repent of your sin and be immediately electrocuted).

In the future of 2013, the President’s daughter (oddly named Utopia, because a hyper-religious parent would name their kid Utopia?  Or is the implication that he used to be a hippie?)  has stolen an important prototype and run off to L.A.  Like before, the government calls in Snake Plissken and forces hm to make a deal to go into L.A. and get the prototype back so a potential invasion of America can be averted.

Plissken runs into all sorts of Oddballs, such as evil plastic surgeons and a surfer gang.  He gets help from the morally ambiguous Map to the Stars Eddie and the sexy Taslima.  He takes on Cuervo Jones in an attempt to get the prototype.

Like most sequels, Escape From L.A. mimics Escape from New York a lot.  There is even a scene where he walks into a club and finds a dead Rescue Team member he was tracking.  On the other hand, the film really amps up the action.

The film has stuff that does not really make sense.  The Evangelical President outlawed eating of red meat?  I mean, it might make more sense if the laws were based in Old Testament.  The effects are not..well…effective.  Many scenes are clearly green screened.  The basketball sequence just does not compare to the gladiatorial combat of the first film.

This is not to say the film is terrible.  The cast, including Steve Buscemi, Valeria Golina, Pam Grier, Stacy Keach and Cliff Robertson are all good.  And Russell slips right back into the skin of Snake Plissken with ease.  One of the most entertaining moments is when Snake is captured by the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills (Played by Bruce Campbell).  He leads a group of surgically enhanced misfits…they need to keep replenishing their body parts and look like the surgical disasters of nightmare on E! Television.

Escape From L.A. is fun, but comes no where near the classic status of Escape from New York.



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