Face-Off: The People Under the Stairs vs. Don't Breathe

The Fede Alvarez-directed, Sam Raimi-produced DON'T BREATHE, which I found to be incredibly intense, is now out on DVD and Blu-ray - you can order your copy HERE. If you haven't seen it yet, I need to give you a SPOILER warning before you start reading this Face-Off, because some of its secrets will be revealed below. There's no way to get around spilling a few details, because DON'T BREATHE is about to go head-to-head with a film that it shares several similarities with: Wes Craven's 1991 horror offering THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS.
This film's protagonist is a 13-year-old boy nicknamed Fool, who does get involved with foolish endeavors but also displays a great deal of courage and nobility. When their landlord threatens to throw Fool's family out of their home, paving the way for a gentrification project, family friend Leroy concocts a plan that he talks Fool into being a part of: breaking into the landlord's home and stealing his collection of gold coins. Leroy benefits from the fact that he's played by Ving Rhames and has some amusing lines, but it is kind of strange how determined he is to lead Fool into crime. They have an associate named Spencer, but he's not around for long. It's really up to Fool to carry this movie, as he quickly finds himself alone when the burglary goes south.
Rocky is a troubled girl with a bad home life who wants to score enough cash that she can rescue her little sister from their situation. To do this, she has gone on a burglarly spree with her boyfriend Money, who is a bit of a scumbag, and her pal Alex, who has knowledge of the law, access to the keys of people with a certain security system, and a secret crush on Rocky. Money, well, he exits the picture right on time. It's Money who gets them to try to pull off the theft that goes disastrously wrong - break into the home of a blind military veteran and steal the $300,000 he won in a settlement after the death of his daughter. These kids are doing bad things, but we understand the motives of Rocky and Alex and even come to care about their well-being.
The Robesons are brother and sister, heirs to a real estate fortune and the latest in a bloodline where each generation was crazier than the previous. Still, they call each other Mommy and Daddy and want to raise a family together. They just can't find a child who will live up to their standards. Strictly religious, except for the "Thou Shalt Not Kill" part, these two are abusive, racist, cannibalistic, completely insane, and intensely weird.
When all you know about him is his tragic back story, you might think The Blind Man the three kids try to rob would be a very sympathetic character. He may be nursing heartache, but he quickly overrides any sympathy you may have for him and reveals himself to be one relentless, terrifying, bastard of a villain. This guy will not give up on his mission to destroy the people who broke into his home. His cold determination makes him very annoying.
The Robeson mansion is full of booby-traps and hidden passageways. Steel doors, moving cabinets, an electrified front door, stairs that will go flat underneath you. Once the Robesons have gotten an intruder trapped in their home, they'll set their dog loose to find them down while Mr. Robeson grabs a gun. If he's really into the hunt, he might even zip into his full-body leather bondage outfit. His sister is more reserved, but she's not afraid to use a gun or knife if necessary.
The Blind Man has been out of the military for a while, but his training has made him a formidable opponent even after the loss of his sight, and he has stayed in shape as well. This guy can beat and batter people less than half his age. He can use darkness to his advantage. And he's a big fan of using guns to defend himself. He sends a lot of bullets flying around in his home, whizzing past - and sometimes hitting - his uninvited guests. His seeing eye dog also doubles as a guard dog.
The Robesons have a Rottweiler named Prince who is meant to tear any intruders to pieces, but this dog is a rather hapless pup who is always being thwarted. Even when Prince has Fool on the ground and is growling and gnashing its teeth, it's still kind of hard to believe that this dog is going to do much damage. Prince's final moments are sad. He just had the wrong owners.
The Blind Man also has a Rottweiler, but there is no sense that this dog is hapless or harmless. You're probably not going to be able to call this one a good boy and make friends with it, as this dog seems to be as vicious as its owner. Not only is it utterly believable that it could tear anyone it gets its jaws on limb from limb, there's also the feeling that it would enjoy doing just that.
Formerly a funeral home, the Robeson mansion has a whole lot of space for the siblings to keep their abandoned children captive in. They had originally been trying to find a boy to raise, but the boys always messed up in some way - they were always seeing, hearing, or speaking evil. So the Robesons would remove whatever appendage the boy sinned with and toss them into the cellar. These are the titular people under the stairs. Pale, ghoulish looking people who are really abused children. One of the boys, a tongueless adolescent called Roach, has managed to escape from the cellar and into the walls of the home, and he proves to be rather helpful to Fool as he struggles to escape from the Robesons. The current child is a meek young girl named Alice, whose life is a daily torment. As the film goes on, she finds the strength to fight back.
Now this is really SPOILER territory. The intruders in The Blind Man's home eventually come to discover that he has a captive in his basement, a young woman named Cindy Roberts. The girl who killed his daughter in a hit and run incident, and whose wealthy family paid him the $300,000 in their attempt to make up for his loss. That wasn't enough. The Blind Man wants another child, and he has abducted Cindy and impregnated her (through artificial insemination) so she can provide him with that child. As far as twists go, this is quite twisted, but the presence of Cindy Roberts is really my biggest issue with the film. It raises too many questions, you have to take too many leaps in logic to try to explain how she got to The Blind Man's house and why the police haven't searched the home of the man whose daughter she killed. She is a living plot hole.
This was a tough one, and I almost couldn't bring myself to choose a definitive winner. I almost went with a tie, but the category that tipped the balance was "Thieves". That was originally a tie, as both Fool and Rocky have understandable reasons for committing their crimes. How could I choose one over the other? The thing that ultimately made me give the win in that category to Fool, and thus cause THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS to win this Face-Off, is when Fool chooses to risk his life for others in the film's third act. He escapes the Robeson house, but goes back to save their captives. He deserves the win for that.

We have a winner for this Face-Off, but both of these films are winners in my book. THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS is a film that has been troubling me ever since I was a young kid, and DON'T BREATHE is one of my favorite movies of 2016.

Do you agree with the outcome of this match-up? Do you think DON'T BREATHE should have won? Share your thoughts on these films in the comments section below. If you'd like to suggest pairings for future Face-Off articles, drop me a line at [email protected].



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