Tuesday, July 14, 2015

THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)


Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 103 Minutes
Audio: DTS-HD MA Audio Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)Director: Wes Craven

Cast: Brandon Quintin Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie, AJ Langer, Ving Rhames

In Wes Craven's The People Under the Stairs (1991) we find ourselves in the L.A. ghetto with a young boy named "Fool" (Brandon Quintin Adams, The Sandlot) who lives with his sister Ruby (Kelly Jo Minter, The Lost Boys) and their cancer stricken mother. Times are difficult and Fool and the family are on the cusp of being evicted by their landlords, the Robesons, a very strange couple known simply as Mommy (Wendy Robie, Twin Peaks) and Daddy (Everett McGill, Silver Bullet). At first glance they would appear to be a straight laced couple but behind closed doors they're harboring more than a few shocking secrets, They have a teenage daughter named Alice (A.J. Langer, Escape from L.A.) who is never allowed to leave the house, and the neighborhood is full of gossip about what goes inside the home and what treasures are hidden away ...but trust me whatever the neighbors think is going on I assure you they cannot even fathom the demented happening going on behind these closed doors.

A friend of the Fool's sister named Leroy (Ving Rhames, Pulp

Fiction) convinces Fool to help him and his associate Spenser (Jeremy Roberts, The Thirteenth Floor) in robbing the Robeson's home, Fool agrees since needs the money to pay for an operation that could save his suffering mother's life. Dressed as an employee from the utility company Spenser gains access to the home, but Mommy is suspicious of him right from the start. Fool and Leroy begin to worry when Spenser doesn't reemerge from the home. Soon after Mommy leaves and the two force their way into the home only to discover Spenser's corpse in the basement where pale-skinned cannibals that are imprisoned within the walls gnaw on him. Soon after the demented couple return home and unleash their vicious canine Prince upon the intruders before shotgunning Leroy to death, which leaves poor Fool trapped in the house alone with no way out.

Fool manages to evade capture with the aid of the couple's sympathetic daughter Alice and a hyper-kinetic boy named Roach whose tongue has been removed. Unable to speak Roach can only communicate through means of hand gestures and moaning. We discover that Roach lives within the labyrinth of crawlspaces in the walls of the home and is a source of frustration for the twisted duo that has been unable to capture and kill him for several years.

This is a weird one with lots of commentary on corrupted sexuality and the distribution of wealth, and it's also laced with some wickedly dark humor. I have given Craven grief for his clunky attempts humor (the keystone cops in Last House on the Left?) but I think he nailed it here, committing to it for the duration of the film, it's not a weird insert that disrupts the flow of the movie, and it feels balanced and suits the tone and theme of the film.

The highlight of the film for me are the characters of Mommy and Daddy, you may recognize this nutty duo from David Lynch's Twin Peaks TV series where they played another bizarre couple, but this is way weirder! Robie as the demented matriarch is unhinged in the best Mommy Dearest sort of way, no more wire hangers to the nth degree, when she hisses "Total spring cleaning!" it's chilling stuff and sort of comical, it's a nicely balanced performance.

Everett McGill is just as creepy, appearing at one point decked out head-to-toe in a leather studded gimp outfit toting a shotgun and screaming "Get you!" on a blood lust rampage, it's the stuff of nightmares. Adolescent star Brandon Quintin Adams does a bang-up job delivering his oftentimes comedic lines with zeal; usually kids in an R-rated horror film annoy me, not this time. AJ Langer and Sean Whalen also turn in decent performances, particularly Whalen who makes the most of a small, quirky role. Re watching this I was surprised just how little screen time he had, next to that frightening gimp suit his performance as Roach is what sticks in my mind. .

Blu-ray: The People Under the Stairs has already received a UK

release from Arrow Video, it's great to see this 90s classic coming home to the U.S. in HD via Scream Factory, I do believe that this is the same HD master provided by Universal to Arrow Video. There's a nice amount clarity and fine detail, colors are vibrant, and the skin tones appear pretty accurate, plus the black levels are pleasing. The source elements used for the HD master are in great shape with only minor instances of speckling, this underrated slice of Craven horror gets a very nice Blu-ray from Scream Factory. 

Audio advances on the Arrow disc with the option of both DTS-HD MA 2.0 and 5.1 with optional English SDH subtitles. The dialogue is crisp and clear and nicely balanced with the effects and Don Peake (The Hills Have Eyes) score.

Also advancing over the Arrow disc are the supplemental materials, including two commentary options, the first being with writer/director Wes Craven which is moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures, and a second commentary from actors Brandon Adams (Fool), A.J. Langer (Alice), Sean Whalen (Roach), and Yan Birch (Stair Master). The arrow disc contained a commentary moderated by Calum Waddell with star Brandon Quentin Adams, who was very young at the time of the movie and didn't have a lot to offer about the production, so this is quite an upgrade on  the commentary front.

Additionally we have an hour of brand new interviews with actress Wendy Robie, special make-up effects Artists Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger and Robert Kurtzman, director of photography Sandi Sisse, and composer Don Peake. They've also included behind-the-scene video footage of the making of the film and a vintage EPK making of feature. 

The Collector's Edition Blu-ray is finished up with a theatrical trailer, TV spots, a still gallery and the original storyboards for the movie, plus a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring the original skull house theatrical poster art and a new illustration from Scream regular Justin Osborne. Scream Factory have put together quite a nice Collector's Edition for fans of the film, comparing it to the Region B arrow disc I would give this a small edge with the superior commentaries and the inclusion of the surround sound audio option, but only just a slight edge, that Arrow disc has some good interviews with Craven, Langer and Whalen, but if you are not region-free yet the Scream Factory disc is an easy recommend. 

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with writer/director Wes Craven
- Audio Commentary with actors Brandon Adams, A.J. Langer, Sean Whalen, and Yan Birch
- House Mother – an interview with actress Wendy Robie (19 Mins)
- What Lies Beneath – interviews with special make-up effects Artists Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger and Robert Kurtzman (15 Mins)
- House of Horrors – an interview with director of photography Sandi Sissel (16 Mins)
- Settling The Score – an interview with composer Don Peake (10 Mins)
- Behind-The-Scenes Footage (7 Mins)
- Vintage “Making of” Featurette (4 Mins)
- Theatrical Trailer (1 Mins)
- TV Spots (1 Mins)
- Still Galleries (4 Minutes) (52 Images) 

- Original Storyboards (7 Mins)

Wes Craven's The People Under the Stairs (1991) offers up some fun tongue-in-cheek social commentary on the 90s era social class structure and the deterioration of the family unit all wrapped up in the strange and demented happenings at a scary house tucked away inside the L.A. ghetto. It's definitely not top tier Craven in my opinion but you just might be surprised just how much more fun it is then you probably remember, and the Scream Factory Collector's Edition is top-notch. I am definitely looking forward to their future editions of Craven's Shocker and The Serpent and the Rainbow! 3/5