People Under the Stairs (The) AKA Wes Craven's The People Under the Stairs (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Samuel Scott (28th October 2013).
The Film

***This is a technical review only. For reviews on the movie from various critics, we recommend visiting HERE.***

In every neighbourhood there is one house that adults whisper about and children cross the street to avoid…

Wes Craven, the master of terror who brought you the infamous The Last House on the Left, invites you inside another house of horror!

“Fool” may be a streetwise kid, but he makes a decidedly bad decision when he agrees to assist a family friend in the robbery of their landlord’s imposing homestead. What begins as a routine break-in soon begins to take a sinister turn as the would-be robbers find themselves trapped inside and face-to-face with the terrible secrets which lurk within the building’s walls – and under the stairs…

The People Under The Stairs sees director Wes Craven return to one of his trademark themes: the savagery which lurks just underneath the skin of the outwardly conventional family unit. Often overlooked in favour of the director’s more A-list hits such as Scream and A Nightmare on Elm Street, The People Under the Stairs is a superior slice of home-bound horror which can stand proudly alongside Craven’s best works.

Video

Arrow Films releases Wes Craven's 1991 horror The People Under the Stairs on Blu-ray for British audiences in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The transfer is 1080p and uses and AVC MPEG-4 codec.

The transfer is, in a word, solid but slightly flawed. The film is now twenty-two years old, so the fact that this isn't flawless is both understandable and forgivable. My only real concern, was when the feature started, I noticed a few specks and at 2:42, a big nick in the bottom left of the screen. Thankfully, this was the only largish scratch, and the specks do die down considerably after the first few minutes. There are more specks at other times, but it never becomes particularly noticeable or problematic. I also noticed a bit of damage under Wendy Robie's hair at 10:01, but it lasts a single frame only. Edge enhancement also appears throughout - it's noticeable, but not distracting. Detail is good for the majority, especially on some of the unshaven characters and in the dirty drab elements of the house. There's no obvious signs of any digital noise reduction resulting in natural looking skin and clothing. Shadow detail could have perhaps been improved slightly, but it was generally good. Black levels are strong, and the clarity and sharpness in the various darker colour shades impressive.

The disc is region B encoded, and the feature runs 101:55.

Audio

A single audio track has been included:
- English LPCM 2.0 Stereo

The stereo track isn't going to blow anybody away, but it's a technically solid track without any problems. The score by Don Peake - who previously worked with Craven on The Hills Have Eyes - is an atmospheric affair which manages to add to the tension and suspense at all the right times. Sound effects such as doors slamming and floorboards creaking sound great, whilst the barking and growling of the dog is used to great affect. Dialogue is clear at all times, and I noticed no signs of damage such as dropouts or scratches. I also didn't detect any background hiss. A 5.1 upmix option would've been a nice addition, and if done correctly would lift the atmosphere to an even more intense high, but the stereo track does the intended job without fault.

Optional subtitles have been included in English for the hard of hearing.

Extras

The first extra we have here is an audio commentary with actor Brandon Adams, who played Dexter (Fool!), moderated by Calum Waddell. Brandon Adams was obviously quite young when this was filmed, but he does a reasonable job in giving as much details as he can. He does struggle at times to think about what to say, or has only short answers, but Waddell does well in keeping things moving along and asking a wide range of questions, whilst, at the same time, chipping in with his own knowledge of horror and Wes Craven in general. It would have been nice for the pair to have also been joined by one of the cast members who was older at the time (Ving Rhames for example) or a member of the crew, who may have been able to divulge more technical information, but this commentary does contain plenty of tidbits of information for fans.

Next up, we have an interview with director Wes Craven, entitled "Fear, Freud & Class Welfare" (24:37). We learn that this was the second movie under Craven's deal with Alive (first was 1989's Shocker) in which he was able to get the final cut. He tells us the film is loosely based in a true story in which police found two children in a basement, and how the idea for the feature moved forward. American culture, Freud's musings such as the importance of sexuality and the complexity of human beings, and general aspects of the production are also mentioned.

"Behind Closed Doors" is an interview with actress A.J. Langer, who played Alice (13:37). Although her character is 12/13 years-old, Langer herself turned 18 on set. She tells us about watching the film some years later with her husband, practicing for several stunts such as slipping on the bloody floor, and her relationships on set with cast and crew members and how much she enjoyed the experience. She obviously has a lot of respect for Craven, and tells us how she feels that horror is still not a genre that is acknowledge to a particular level.

"Silent But Deadly" is an interview with actor Sean Whalen, who played Roach (13:59). His character on-screen is a teenager, but Whalen was actually 27 years-old when the feature was made. Whalen talks about the casting callback and putting the special effect fingers on each day. Interesting he tells us about how he accidentally said "oh shit" in one scene, so Craven had him wear the prosthetic tongue to stop him accidentally talking in the heat of the moment. He also tells us that a few years later, Ving Rhames had told him that he was filming a movie, but he didn't know what to make of it because it was 'weird'. It turned out to be Pulp Fiction.

"Underneath the Floorboards" is an interview with Jeffrey Reddick, creator of the Final Destination series (9:04). Although he is talking about The People Under the Stairs, I have to admit that this interview does feel a little misplaced, and I am sure there are much better people to hear from about the impact of the film. Still, he does have some interesting things to say about how he didn't like it when he was younger as he did not find it scary, but when he understood the subtext, it quickly grew on him.

We finish the disc extras with a theatrical trailer (1:29, SD).

There is also a booklet featuring essay and archive stills, but this was not supplied for review so we are unable to comment on it.

One thing I do wonder, is whether the rejected score by Graeme Revell will ever be made available, so we can hear the difference between that and the end product. It would have made for a great extra feature, though likely a lawyer's worst nightmare!

Overall

The Film: B Video: B Audio: B+ Extras: B Overall: B

 


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