I think it’s because of the inherent madness and weirdness of “The People Under the Stairs” that it’s managed to age so much more than previous Wes Craven outings. On the surface it looks like a typical horror movie, but deep down it’s a wacky, darkly comic, and obscenely weird horror movie with some truly great performances. As is the case with most nineties movies it even has a touch of “Home Alone” sprinkled within its “Alice in Wonderland” themed narrative. I’m surprised that I really liked “The People Under the Stairs” since years ago when my dad bought it on VHS back in 1991, I thought it was absolutely terrible. Thankfully the movie has held up a great deal and is one of the most original films in Craven output of very unique horror offerings.
“The People Under the Stairs” is a sly play on the underbelly of suburban America that also comments on the class structure. Its pair of villains don’t just try to keep down minorities in hellholes that are supposed to be apartment complexes, but they literally have a society of forgotten monsters beneath their feet and in their walls that they keep suppressed and out of sight from normal society. Within the bowels of the house is a mythical fortune that has been accumulated from years of murder, thievery, and corruption. Brandon Adams is a poverty stricken young boy nicknamed Fool, who lives with his single mother and sickly grandmother.
Because of renovations being made to his apartment complex, he and his family are about to be put on the street, thanks to their rent being raised astronomically by their slumlords. Fool is made aware of a potential fortune lying within the house hold of the slumlords The Robesons. They’re an insanely religious pair of individuals that keep their house built and equipped like a fortress. Fool learns that when he teams up with his mom’s boyfriend Leroy to break in and steal a priceless coin collection they have stored. But things take a turn for the insane, when Leroy and Fool come across a plethora of obstacles, including booby traps, mysterious shadows within the belly of the house’s walls, and the Robesons odd daughter who they keep trapped inside.
“The People Under the Stairs” watches like a twisted fantasy film with Fool seemingly pushed in to an utterly inescapable abyss that is the Robesons’ house. Craven transforms their house in to its own character filled to the brim with unusual hidden areas, and vaults, all of which will help Fool escape, or spell his doom. Brandon Adams gives a very solid performance as the film’s inadvertent hero, who finds himself planted in the middle of the couple’s twisted machinations. Wendy Robie and Everett McGill are fantastic as the Robesons, both of whom delight in murder and mayhem, and turn in to our very own wicked villains as the film progresses. “The People Under the Stairs” is a really solid and entertaining Wes Craven offering, one that really hasn’t aged much and is still very original.
Featured in the packed Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory is “House Mother with Wendy Robie” a nineteen minute an interview with Wendy Robie who offers articulate insight in to her villain in the film, and considerable back story. She also discusses her history with Shakespearian theater and “Twin Peaks.” “What Lies Beneath – The Effects of “The People Under the Stairs”” is a fifteen minute series of interviews with Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman, and Greg Nicotero, all of whom discuss their careers and how they accomplished the film’s unique special effects on such a miniscule budget.
“House of Horrors with Director of Photography Sandi Sissel” is a sixteen minute interview with cinematographer Sandi Sissell, who discusses her background with film, and how she became a cinematographer. There’s seven minutes of Behind the Scenes Footage is classic video footage that shows some candid footage, and a look at Rhames’ fake body. There’s the original theatrical trailer, TV Spots, a Vintage Making of Featurette, Original Storyboards, and a Still Gallery. Finally there are two audio commentaries. There’s one with director Wes Craven and Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felsher, both of whom discuss the history of the film, issues related to the film, the inspiration for the film, and some fun discussion about Tarot. Finally, there’s an audio commentary with Brandon Adams, A.J. Langer, Sean Whalen and Yan Burg. It’s a decent commentary with some interesting anecdotes from the cast.