"In every neighborhood there is one house that adults whisper about and children cross the street to avoid. Now, Wes Craven, creator of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, takes you inside..."
THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS is one of those films that lives in a nebulous region of my memory. It came out in 1991 which was certainly a time I was seeing a lot of movies in the theater so there's a decent chance I saw it that way. I'm pretty sure I did, however it was 1992 when I got my first video store job so I undoubtedly saw it on VHS too. I was absolutely a Wes Craven fan by that time already. Of course I had seen A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, but oddly it was SHOCKER in 1989 that really drew my interest. You see, I was kind of a fan of the "Metal" music of the 1980s and SHOCKER sported a soundtrack featuring some bands that my best friend and I really liked at the time.
THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS really hooked me the first time I saw it because it was a horror film that veered away from the 'single boogeyman' model I had been used to. In watching it again, I can now see it as a sort of dark fairy tale adapted to a contemporary urban setting. You've got your archetypal evil (& twisted) villains and you've got a young boy who must go through some heavy stuff and come out the other side a man. The brother/sister duo in this movie are particularly creepy and very much have a Grimms' Fairy Tales vibe about them. THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS is not only a horror film, but also a heist film and kind of a prison break movie as well. All those genres have inherent tension built in, so when a director like Wes Craven puts it all together, it's a wonderful thing.
The cast of the film was almost all but unknown to me at the time. Kelly Jo Minter stood out from her role in SUMMER SCHOOL (which was an immediate classic in my house), but the others were unfamiliar. "Maybe the president is gonna make me secretary of pussy." This line always made me laugh out loud and it was through this film and this character that I was introduced to the great Ving Rhames (who I would later be blown away by even more in PULP FICTION just 3 years later). I am pretty confident that Quentin Tarantino absolutely saw this film in'91 and loved Rhames in it, and so PEOPLE is at least partially responsible for his casting as Marsellus Wallace. Brandon Quitin Adams, who plays Fool (the young boy), was quite good. The movie really puts a lot on him and he pulls it off. And Sean Whalen freaked me out in this role in a way I can only compare to the first time I saw the Zelda character in PET SEMATARY a few years before. That has left an impression on me to this very day.
This Scream Factory Collector's Edition Blu-ray has a nice set of supplements to offer:
-An Audio Commentary With Writer/Director Wes Craven.
-An Audio Commentary With Actors Brandon Adams, A.J. Langer, Sean Whalen And Yan Birch.
-"House Mother" - An Interview With Actress Wendy Robie.
-"What Lies Beneath" - Interviews With Special Make-up Effects Artists Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger And Robert Kurtzman.
-"House Of Horrors" - An Interview With Director Of Photography Sandi Sissel.
-"Setting The Score" - An Interview With Composer Don Peake.
-Vintage "Making Of" Featurette