Reviews

'The People Under the Stairs' Is Craven's Most Original, Deranged, and Off the Wall Film

The People Under the Stairs falls into a category all its own, moving deftly from horror to comedy to social allegory, all wrapped in a wonderfully lunatic package.


The People Under The Stairs

Director: Wes Craven
Distributor: Scream Factory
Starring: Brandon Adams, Wendy Robie, Everett McGill, A.J. Langer
Release date: 2015-08-11

It’s damn near impossible to accuse Scream Factory of not giving it their all for every single one of their releases, and such is the case with their Collector’s Edition Blu-ray of Wes Craven’s 1991 horror flick, The People Under the Stairs. Perhaps I watched too many of Craven's films at too young an age, but his films had, and continue to have, a huge impact on my life and cinematic tastes. Indeed, Craven's films are a big part of why I fell in love with cinema in the first place.

In Craven’s filmography, The People Under the Stairs often gets a lost among the likes of the slasher glory of Nightmare on Elm Street, the game changing meta Scream, and exploitation classics like The Hills Have Eyes, among many others. Which is a damn shame. Though it certainly has its fans, especially among the hardcore horror fans out there, this seems to be a largely undervalued title on his CV. It definitely falls into a category all its own, moving deftly from horror to comedy to social allegory, all wrapped in a wonderfully lunatic package.

The story follows Fool (Brandon Adams), a little hood rat who gets convinced to break into the creepiest house on the block -- the one the kids avoid and the adults whisper about. Turns out, the reputation is well earned, as it belongs to two slumlords (Twin Peaks vets Everett McGill and Wendy Robie) who have been evicting people and letting their tenants live in squalor, but there’s so much more going on. There are gimp suits, deformed creatures living under the stairs and in the walls, and the couple’s young, psychologically wounded daughter Alice (A.J. Langer), who becomes Fool’s ally as he tries to figure out what the hell is going on in that house -- and escape.

This is a careful synthesis of genres, steeped in horror, with a satiric bite, and action and thriller traits thrown in just for the hell of it. The People Under the Stairs shows Craven’s skill as a storyteller (he also wrote the script) and filmmaker. All of these elements cohere and work well together, augmenting each other in unexpected ways. In many respects The People Under the Stairs serves as a bridge between Craven’s earlier, low-budget exploitation style films and the more polished movies that would come later as he became the revered elder statesman of horror.

Even though it can be a bit destabilizing on the initial watch as the viewer attempts to reconcile all of these seemingly disparate threads, The People Under the Stairs is a movie that defies easy categorization. Startling, unexpected images and peculiar quirks stick with you well after you watch; it's a movie that grows in esteem and stature the more time you spend with it; and it's easily one of the director’s most original, deranged, and off the wall films.

As far as this new release is concerned, it’s all about the bonus features. The video and audio specifications appear to be the same that have appeared on earlier Blu-ray releases, or are at least of parallel quality, so in that regard, there’s no upgrade to be found here. The movie still holds up, so if you simply need to add it to your collection, this is as good a choice as any.

This set does, however, come bursting with extras to sweeten the deal, and will likely be enough to entice some fans to shell out the cash for this disc. The jewel in this particular crown is, as is easy to imagine, the commentary track with Craven himself, which is fun and informative. If watching the movie doesn’t already leave a lump in your throat over his passing, this probably will.

Another commentary track features actors Brandon Adams, A.J. Langer, Sean Whalen, and Yan Burg. While they’re contributions are fine and moderately entertaining, there’s not a ton of insight to be found. There’s a lengthy, almost 20-minute interview with Wendy Robie, a veteran character actor, and she offers a peek into her process of creating her character, as well as her career at large. There’s also quite a bit of talk about Twin Peaks, which is always a bonus.

Another lengthy featurette digs into the special effects of The People Under the Stairs, and features extensive interviews from veteran make up legends Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman, and Greg Nicotero, who also reminisce about the impact the film had on their careers. Director of photography Sandi Sissel digs into her role in the movie in another excellent feature.

Rounding out the entire compendium are a collection of original storyboards, a vintage making of feature, some behind the scenes footage, a gallery of still photos from production, the original trailer, and couple of TV spots.

7

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