Wes Craven (''Nightmare on Elm Street''), who wrote and directed ''The People Under the Stairs,'' says he was inspired to do this repugnant ''horror-comedy'' when he read a news story about a pair who kept their children prisoners in their home.
''There's something about innocent children being held captive -- being abused by those they're supposed to look up to -- that touches a very large nerve in the collective psyche,'' he said. ''It seems to represent some sort of quintessential evil to most people.''
Not to Craven. To him, it seems a source of sick fun. His villains in the new film are a brother and sister who kidnap children and when they don't like what they see, mutilate the kids and send them downstairs, to the basement.
Of course, Craven has some sense of civic responsibility. His ''children'' are well into their teens in the film. Some may be in their 20s. It doesn't lessen the silliness of this movie, but it may get Craven off the larger hook.
''The People Under the Stairs'' is exactly the sort of thing you might expect from Craven, the man who did ''The Hills Have Eyes.'' It's supposed to be funny and it's not. It's supposed to be gripping and it's not. It is, however, sick. If that was another of Craven's intentions, in this instance, he succeeds.
So why make a film like this? Good question. Ask Craven. Ask him what kind of childhood he had.
Brandon Adams is the youngster who steals into a home in the company of two adults. The adults are after a priceless coin collection. The owners, the brother and sister, are greedy landlords who own lots of property and do absolutely nothing for their tenants.
Nor do they do much for the little girl in their care. She's about 14, has never been outside and when her ''mother'' becomes impatient with her, puts her in scalding water. Talk about fun. Earlier, when the woman tells her brother to beat the girl, she says, ''be careful not to leave any marks.''
The brother, who bolts the halls of the house, wearing a kind of studded, spider-like costume, fires his gun so many times you have to assume that the neighbors are all deaf.
He's supposed to be funny, even cute, particularly when he is engaging in cannibalism. Well, remember this is a Craven movie.
Brother and sister own a ferocious dog. You want to call the pound two minutes after it appears, because beyond that, it bores, but so does the film, which for a horror movie -- any movie -- is long, long, long.
''The People Under the Stairs,'' which, in some ways, plays like a sick horror version of ''Peter Pan,'' may be seen at local theaters, that is, if you are into child abuse and cannibalism.
''The People Under the Stairs''
NO STARS. A mad brother and sister kidnap children and when they don't like what they have stolen, mutilate and imprison the kids.
CAST: Brandon Adams, Everett McGill, Wendie Robie, A. J. Langer, Ving Rhames, Sean Whalen, Bill Cobbs
DIRECTOR: Wes Craven
RATING: R (violence, language)
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes