The People Under the Stairs. Film Review

the-people-under-the-stairsTHE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS

Director: Wes Craven            

Screenplay: Wes Craven

Starring: Brandon Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie, A. J. Langer, Ving Rhames

Rating 15        

Running Time: 98 Mins   

Format: Blu-ray

Reviewed by Guy Adams

Wes Craven fascinates me. At his best he is a filmmaker of genuine intelligence, wit and class. At his worst he is VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN.

As the eighties turned into the nineties, I found myself genuinely excited by his career. We had the wonderful SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW and the subversive and brilliant WES CRAVEN’S FINAL NIGHTMARE (which seems old hat in its post-modern contrivances now but blew me away at the time). Between the two we had THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (we also had SHOCKER but I’m ignoring that because I hated it and I’m nothing if not inconsistent with my praise).

THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS is wonderful. It’s a clever, witty fairy tale that wears its social commentary so boldly on its sleeve it almost threatens to crumple under its weight. The story of a young, black kid who breaks into the house of his rich, white landlords only to find himself trapped inside a wood-panelled nightmare. There are kidnapped children grown feral in the cellar, booby-traps in the walls and a man in S & M gear chasing him through the air-ducts with a shotgun.

In these days of the ‘one-percent’ it’s a fable that proves nothing really changes.

Craven’s script is sharp, the characters are strong and the performances excellent. Young Brandon Adams must get the lion’s share of praise but McGill and Robie, fresh from their coupling in David Lynch’s TWINPEAKS are also great value as the incestuous landlords.

If the film wobbles, it’s when it comes perilously close to feeling like a kid’s caper, HOME ALONE with leather and studs, the tone veering towards madcap, thankfully it never quite takes the tumble.

On release people were very sniffy about it, perhaps hoping for something more realistic or serious. Like so many brave horror movies, it takes time and the ability to be objective to see a film for the glorious thing it is. A joyful, inventive and fascinating parable.

The restoration of the film to Blu-ray is excellent and Arrow’s package comes with a commentary from its child star as well as interviews with stars A.J. Langer, Sean Whelan and Wes Craven himself.