Courtesy of Arrow Films, Craven’s creepy slasher is going Blu! Whilst Craven’s other works may have got more notoriety, you wouldn’t have to spend too long in a room full of horror buffs before this title came up as a recommendation for one of the best in his back catalogue. Blending a mixture of surreal characters, a clever setting and a satirical undertone of class division Craven manages to produce a movie which sits comfortable alongside other fantasy style movies such as ‘Nightbreed’ and dare I say it ‘Basket Case 2’, as much as it does with other classics such as ‘Fright night’.
The movie begins with the eviction of an impoverished black family. Naturally, as is common in such a society, it’s not long before ‘fool’, the youngest lad of the family, is targeted by a local gang leader (played by non-other than a very young Ving Rames) to help him out with a robbery. Unbeknownst to them, lured in by a local source’ tip off that it hides a horde of riches, the house he intends to rob is one best left alone, inhabited by a duo of psychopaths and their imprisoned and abused step daughter. In an ironic twist of events, once they are in, they find they are unable to get out. Once the house goes into lock down a game of cat and mouse entails as Fool must use all of his resourceful ness to survive! The deeper in he goes the more mysteries he unravels, with one driving question – who are the people under the stairs?
The plot of the movie, as you might have guessed, is fairly unconventional, but then thinking back Craven has always given a flair of originality to each of his movies. They might have spawned several sequels and twice as many rip-offs, but his originals always stand out as having that little bit more to them than meets the eye. This is certainly true of ‘The People Under the Stairs’. It starts off quite slow, but it isn’t long until there are several questions which demand answer. This helps drive the movie with a good pace, and it generates an interest beyond just entertainment; possibly why it stands the test of time so well. The characters are diverse, and for the most part well-acted; although this film has more than its fair share of eccentricity. The family who live at the house seem as detached in their attitudes to society are their acts would suggest. The man, who for the most of the movie charges around the house with a shotgun dressed in a full rubber gimp suit is partnered with a woman so unhinged she makes Mrs Vorhees seem normal – at least she had a reason to be mad. Fool, whose acting is probably the best I have ever seen from a kid, stands out in stark contrast as, despite his age, has wisdom and judgement developed the poor environment in which he grew up allows him to offer an usual sense of reason to an otherwise surreal situation. The script is good, funny when it needs to be, and it certainly grasps the concept of irony throughout some of the movies set pieces, but most of all, its camp enough to satisfy fans of 80s genre movies. This movie might remain fun to watch, but there is no denying the decade it was made in; everything from the music to the fashion gives it that nostalgic edge we as fans crave from such films.
It would be difficult to completely place ‘The People Under The Stairs’ into a specific subgenre as much of the movies time is spent focussed on dialogue or those tense cat and mouse set pieces I hinted to in my synopsis, but then, just as you think it’s going to let you down the movie also bursts into a showcase of violence, and despite the movies 15 rating there are some decent gore effects scattered throughout the movies run time. Most deal with bite mark injuries, but all are shown in good detail, more so thanks to the well balanced and vibrant HD transfer presented on the Arrow Blu-ray disc.
Overall, as you might have guessed, much of this movies charm lies within the mystery and so I have tried to keep my review as spoiler free as I can. This is one of those gems, from an exceptional director, which you could enjoy again and again. As usual the Arrow release is pretty much the definitive version you can own, certainly surpassing the old UCA DVD in both quality and special features.