The People Under the Stairs (1991)
By: Craig Villinger on March 11, 2002 | Comments
Universal (Australia). Region 2 & 4, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhnaced). English DD 2.0. English, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish subtitles. 97 Minutes
The Movie
Director: Wes Craven
Starring: Brandon Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie, A.J. Langer, Sean Whalen, Bill Cobbs, Kelly Jo Minter
Screenplay: Wes Craven
Country: USA
Despite the fact that many hardcore horror fans despise his latter work, director Wes Craven is seen as one of the true masters of the horror genre. Creator of the hugely successful Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, and director of the Scream trilogy, he does have an impressive record when it comes to producing crowd pleasing horror movies, although The People Under the Stairs is a long way off being one of his biggest box office hits.

The story centres on Fool (Brandon Adams). Fast approaching his thirteenth birthday, he has very little to celebrate, with his mother dying of cancer and his family facing imminent eviction from their apartment for being late with the rent. However, local hoodlum Leroy (played by the always likeable Ving Rhames) has a plan that may solve all their problems. Together with his partner in crime Spenser, the three plan to break into the home of the landlord who is so cruelly evicting Fool's family, and steal a prized collection of gold coins that will net them all a small fortune. This proves to be easier said than done, with the strange looking house itself being so tightly sealed up that the guys have quite a time trying to break in. Once inside however, they find that getting in was the easy part. It's getting back out again that will be the real test of their abilities! To make matters worse, the occupants of the house could only be described as "seriously disturbed", and it isn't long before Fool begins to discover the horrible atrocities that take place within its walls, and will soon find out just who "The People Under the Stairs" really are, and how they came to be there.

This is definitely one of Wes Craven's more bizarre efforts, and has little of the commercial appeal of some of his more recent films. The nameless occupants of the house (played by Everett McGill and Wendy Robie) take insanity to new extremes, and in many other films could have appeared as being "over the top". Their performances however seem to fit right in with the overall look and feel of this particular movie. Craven keeps things moving at a steady rate, and manages to milk quite a bit of suspense from the film's numerous "cat and mouse" sequences. If you are expecting a slick, teen friendly horror film in the style of Scream, then you may be disappointed, but if you are looking for something a bit different, then The People Under The stairs is well worth a look.
The Disc
The People Under the Stairs is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio with 16x9 enhancement. At times, the image quality appeared less than impressive, particularly during the darker moments of the film, although this was perhaps due more to the source material than the transfer quality. Shadow detail appeared to be lacking slightly, but overall, the transfer has no real faults, and is best described as adequate rather than an outstanding. A Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is the only audio option on the disc. Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand, and the musical score, which plays a fairly important part in films of this sort, sounds impressive enough. Although there certainly aren't any real problems in the audio department, the numerous off- camera sound effects and creepy noises emerging from different parts of the house (footsteps, creaking floorboards etc) cry out for a full surround sound mix, and this disc would have benefited greatly from a 5.1 channel audio track. Apart from the various subtitling options, a theatrical trailer for the film is the only extra feature on offer.
The Verdict
This is by no means an outstanding disc, but Craven fans should be happy with what is on offer here. Considering the disc's low price tag (AU$19.95), it may make for an interesting addition to any horror fans DVD collection.
Movie Score
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