The People Under The Stairs Blu-ray Review
Written and Directed by Wes Craven
1990, Region B, 98 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Blu-ray released on 4th November 2013
Brandon Adams as Fool
Ving Rhames as Leroy
Everett McGill as Daddy
Wendy Robie as Mommy
A.J Langer as Alice
Sean Whalen as Roach
Director Wes Craven was inspired to write and helm 1991’s The People Under The Stairs after reading about a real-life burglary. Unfortunately, the robbers in question escaped by the time authorities arrived on the scene but once inside the plundered house they discovered something much more sinister. Loud noises and screams emanated from behind locked doors which, when opened, revealed children who had been locked away by their parents, denied access to the outside world for the entirety of their short lives. With a scenario this twisted, it’s no wonder Craven was tempted to use it as a springboard into something darker.
For his first movie of the Nineties, Craven focuses his horror lense on social class, throwing in a few monstrous tropes to keep his horror fanbase happy. We follow the affably named Fool (Brandon Adams), our ghetto kid-hero who lands himself in murky water trying to save his family from eviction and poverty. With his mother sick and the rent overdue, he teams up with seasoned burglar Leroy (Ving Rhames) and partner Spenser (Jeremy Roberts) to break into their rich landlord's house. Little do they know that the house owners, known only as Mommy (Wendy Robie) and Daddy (Everett McGill), don’t take kindly to strangers - and for good reason - they’ve got a gang of ‘disobedient’ children locked away in the walls and basement. On discovering this, and the banished kids’ newfound love of cannibalism, Fool and Leroy decide to high tail it out of there, only to find that breaking out isn’t quite as easy as breaking in.
Young Brandon Adams does an admirable job of not only carrying the film but working alongside Rhames and some OTT turns from Mommy and Daddy. As if not convinced that the crux of his story is scary enough, Craven feels compelled to throw in some conventional slasher-esque characters and a gimp suit that we can only assume appeared to shift tickets off the popularity of the cinematic Eighties costumed killers. In fact, this segue into the archetypal horror genre that Craven was (and is) known for waters down his original message of social class and injustice. There’s a surprising amount of humour here too which, when re-visited 22 years later, highlights just how tame the horror genre of the Nineties was compared to today’s depraved offerings.
Despite all of its retrospect faults, it’s important to remember that The People Under The Stairs is undoubtedly a product of its time which tackles a topic that continues to divide communities to this day. It’s also a movie that holds a fond place in the hearts of all who grew up with Craven’s work, all of whom will love this re-issue.
Video and Audio:
Both audio and video are crystal clear. Audio is the original uncompressed English LPCM 2.0 Stereo track and the video is 1080p in 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
If you're a fan of the movie you'll love its bonus features. The team at Arrow has covered all the bases, providing an audio commentary chat with Brandon Adams, as well as one-on-one discussion and reflection sessions with Craven, A.J Langer (Alice), Sean Whelan (Roach) and Final Destination mastermind Jeffrey Riddick.