The traditional trend in horror films is that the black guy always gets killed first. But what happens when a majority of the sympathetic cast isn’t white? How is the audience supposed to write off a person as tagged to be the first snuffed? That can mess up the bookmakers of Las Vegas for weeks. Wes Craven’s Scream had jokes about the rules of horror films when it came to the order in which characters were getting slaughtered. The People Under the Stairs is a film he made before Scream plays with the expectations of the audience.
“Fool” (The Sandlot‘s Brandon Adams) is in a bad place. His mother is dying of cancer and they’re being evicted from their apartment. He needs money bad to save his family. But what’s a kid still in elementary school going to do? His sister’s boyfriend (Pulp Fiction‘s Ving Rhames) has a plan except it’s an act of criminal revenge. He has proof that their slumlords the own most of the ghetto have a gold coin collection at their house. They’re going to rob from those that oppress them. It seems like a great plan and an easy score. Except they aren’t even close to being prepared for what awaits. The landlord (Everett McGill) and his wife (Wendy Robie) are not rich people living the fat cat life in Beverly Hills like Donald Sterling. They live in house that is a cross between The Munsters and a prison. Their daughter (My So-Called Life‘s A. J. Langer) is locked in her room and treated like a captive. The mother gets upset when her emptied dinner is missing a fork. Sure the expectations are that the daughter is hiding it to attack her parents. But things get weird when a pale hand comes out of the vent to sneak the fork back. Fool and his friend have no idea what sort of mad house they are breaking inside. What sort of people are lurking in the ventilation system and the secured basement? Why is it harder to get out of the house than break inside?
The film does play with the normal desires. There’s no rooting that Fool and his family can stay in their apartment building. Why? Because Fool must run a gauntlet of crack fiends to get to his front door. You want him to do more than make the rent. He needs more in his life. The landlord and his wife aren’t the normal greedy folks that put money above humanity and community. They are pretty messed up to the point that the landlord running around in a gimp leather suit seems more than natural. McGill and Robie present a couple that are far beyond the married couple that portrayed in Twin Peaks. Wes Craven allows them to go more bonkers than David Lynch. One of the movie’s producers is Shep Gordon, the focus of the great documentary Supermensch. Strangely People wasn’t part of his story. Brandon Adams does a fine job showing the weight of Fool’s life as he agrees to a desperate plan from Ving.
The People Under the Stairs is a great horror heist film. It seems so simple at the start, but the normal expectations are completely distorted. Even the strange twists evolve in an enthralling way to draw you deeper instead of going “really?” Just remember to not watch this film when your heater is making those pinging noises. Cause it might be messages from The People Under the Stairs.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfer brings out the decrepitude. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 & 2.0. The bumps do come from all around when Fool gets down in the basement. The movie is subtitled.
Audio Commentaries include Wes Craven as he breaks down so much of the film. He wrote the script as his attack on the original Bush era. Another track reunites Brandon Adams, AJ Langer, Sean Whalen, and Yan Birch. They seem to get distracted by watching the scenes more than talking about them.
House Mother (19:26) gives a sane conversation with Wendy Robie. She hooked up Everett McGill with his audition. She started the film a week after they wrapped Twin Peaks. She points out how the set inspired her performance.
What Lies Beneath: The Effects Of The People Under The Stairs (15:03) reunites special make-up effects artists Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, and Robert Kurtzman. They expose a few movie magic moments. Nicotero is now an executive producer on The Walking Dead.
House of Horrors (16:09) recounts director of photography Sandi Sisse first work in the horror genre.
Settling the Score (10:14) gives a glimpse to the music process since composer Don Peake remade Graeme Revell’s score that Craven wasn’t happy with.
Behind-the-Scenes Footage (6:39) is mostly video of the various effects being set up and lit.
Vintage Making Of Featurette (3:44) was the EPK with the scary voice narrating.
Theatrical Trailer (1:18) and TV Spots (1:22) show how the film was hyped into a hit.
The People Under the Stairs: Collector’s Edition allows longtime fans a perfect way to find out so much about what lurks in the landlord’s basement.
Scream Factory presents The People Under the Stairs: Collector’s Edition. Directed by: Wes Craven. Screenplay by: Wes Craven. Starring: Brandon Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie, A. J. Langer & Ving Rhames. Rated: R. Running Time: 102 minutes. Released: August 11, 2015.
Tags: Scream Factory, The People Under the Stairs