For anyone who likes a good ‘stick it to the Man’ story, or has questioned the hypocrisy of the ‘American Dream’, Wes Craven’s fantastic wry look at how the perfect family life is not always as it seems, The People Under the Stairs, is a must watch. The film which takes the form of a dark and twisted fairytale, not unlike the story of Hansel and Gretel, is compelling and creepy yet still manages to inject humour and optimism into a sometimes hard to stomach subject matter. It is not difficult to see why The People Under the Stairs is such a cult classic, it oozes more originality than you can shake a stick at, is beautifully filmed, and the characterisations of the main protagonists are outstanding. In almost comic book style the film is also not without its quirks making it a fantastic watch, and if you look below the surface there are some deep messages contained.
The People Under the Stairs is ultimately the story of human spirit conquering adversity, and in contrast also takes an uncomfortable look at the darker recesses of the human soul and just what cruelty and greed can make a person capable of. Themes of incest and child abuse flow through the piece, and it would be easy to let that put you off, but let me say this, don’t! The way in which Craven has managed to tell this story is remarkable because despite the down and dirty and sometimes downright evil themes contained , the strength of the characters on the side of ‘good’ so to speak make for an uplifting watch. The movie also manages to provide a snappy little twist in the tale when it comes to deciding who are the good guys.
Part of The People Under the Stairs brilliance lies in the superb performances of the cast involved, there are no weak links and everyone involved gives it their all. Central to the story is ‘Fool’, the down on his luck young man, wise beyond his years, who stumbles upon a house with a disturbing secret, on a foiled burglary attempt, and becomes the catalyst for a series of exceptional events to occur. Fool is portrayed by Brandon Adams, for which he was nominated for a Saturn Award and it is hardly surprising because this kid has a lot resting on his shoulders and he manages to pull it off perfectly. Similarly A J Langer as the frail Alice, for an inexperienced actress at the time, she does a fabulous job and she also appears on the extras reel talking about her experience which she does so with great affection. Also worth mentioning are both Wendy Robie and Everett McGill who pull out all the stops in their manic and insanity fuelled depictions of Mommy and Daddy, they are one seriously messed up couple, they leave you in no doubt of that, especially Daddy flying about in his gimp suit, both unnerving and hilarious all at the same time. Of course I cannot fail to mention Sean Whalen either as the mute Roach, who became somewhat of a poster boy of the movie, despite not having any dialogue. Sean’s performance perhaps out of all of them carries the spirit of the film.
As well as the strength and depth of the characters involved central to the success of The People Under the Stairs is Wes Craven’s inventive use of sets, well more correctly I should say set, because most of the action takes place around the mysterious house. Despite budget limitations with the innovative use of dark corridors and a winding labyrinth of tunnels Craven manages to capture the mood of despair, claustrophobia and dread perfectly. The perfect family home on the surface with much more lurking beneath as the story unravels. As the plot develops, and it does so at breakneck pace, menace appears around every corner, and this provides some great shock moments and elements of fear which get right under your skin. The unique visual style which Craven manages to create only adds to the entire magic of the piece, as the film takes on a kind of larger than life fairytale vibe with a bleak and gore soaked undertone.
It has to be said Arrow Video have again pulled it out of the hat with this their latest release, and as well as a high definition transfer on to Blu-Ray they have included a whole bunch of extras as well. Including no less than three documentary interviews; Wes Craven, A J Lange, and Sean Whalen, some great artwork, and a collectors booklet, (all the extras are listed below).
A worthwhile watch, and a film which I found stayed with me for years, check out this cult classic today, fun, whacky, despicable, gory and highly paced, The People Under the Stairs is a must have addition for any lover of horror’s collection.
You can visit Arrow Video here http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/index.php?c=y&s=dfc90be5d1a1746cb4a1126e8784e21f&art_id=44&tle_id=820&v=
-High Definition digital transfer of the film by Universal Pictures
-Original uncompressed Stereo 2.0 audio
-Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
-Audio commentary with star Brandon Quentin Adams, moderated by Calum Waddell
-Fear, Freud and Class Warfare: Director Wes Craven Discusses the Timely Terrors of The People Under the Stairs
-Behind Closed Doors: Leading Lady A.J. Langer Remembers The People Under the Stairs
-Silent But Deadly: Co-Star Sean Whalen on The People Under the Stairs
-Underneath the Floorboards: Jeffrey Reddick, creator of The Final Destination series, recalls the lasting impact of The People Under the Stairs
-Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Stephen R. Bissette
-Collectors booklet featuring new writing on the film, illustrated with original archive stills
Cast and crew
|Wes Craven||…||(written by)|
Cast (in credits order)
|Brandon Quintin Adams||…||
Fool (as Brandon Adams)
|Kelly Jo Minter||…|
|Conni Marie Brazelton||…|