The People Under the Stairs (1992)

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Released 24-Dec-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Horror Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1992
Running Time 97:44
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Wes Craven

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Brandon Adams
Everett McGill
Wendy Robie
A.J. Langer
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $19.95 Music Don Peake

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    "Your father's one sick mother. Actually your mother is one sick mother too."

    Wes Craven is big on turning obscure things from our imagination or the recesses of society into a tool to scare the masses with, and in the case of The People Under The Stairs, he uses that old house in the neighbourhood that everyone avoids going near. As far as I can remember, there was always one place in the old neighbourhood that all the children used to break out in sweats at the prospect of approaching. In my case, it was the house occupied by an elderly Maltese woman who was apparently barking mad, but in this film, the threatening house is not merely the product of an overgrown imagination.

    Fool (Brandon Adams) is living a rather rough life on the approach of his thirteenth birthday - his mother has cancer, and the landlord is about to evict his whole family for being late with the rent. Leroy (Ving Rhames) suggests the idea of accompanying him on a burglary in order to make some money, much to the disgust of his other relations, but reality is biting so hard that he doesn't care what trouble he might get into. Leroy takes Fool with him, and an accomplice named Spenser (Jeremy Roberts), to rob a house on the belief that there will be a collection of rare gold coins contained within, due to a letter he stole from a bar that was owned by the residents.

    Unfortunately, those residents, who aren't really given any names, happen to be two of the most sadistic fanatics you could imagine living on your block (I mean they make Ed Gein seem like Roseanne Barr). The Man (Everett McGill) and Woman (Wendy Robie) of this house apparently live in a home so tightly shut up that even professional thieves have some trouble getting in, but when Leroy, Spenser, and Fool have broken in, they soon find that the entry was the least of their problems. Eventually, this team is whittled down to just Fool, who meets two children within this rather macabre house: a daughter named Alice (A.J. Langer) and a son called Roach (Sean Whalen). Some rather disturbing secrets about who the Man and Woman really are, as well as where their "children" actually came from, are revealed in the next seventy or so minutes of the film.

    The People Under The Stairs was met with lukewarm critical reception when it was first released to Australian cinemas, with some even picking on the line I have quoted above, which I found to be rather funny. It doesn't help that the film currently enjoys a lukewarm five point five rating from just under eleven hundred users on the IMDB, but I can only recommend that one give it at least the once-over for the sake of entertainment.

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Transfer Quality


    Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment are suddenly starting to find themselves with rivals in the "amazing transfer" stakes, because Universal Home Video have taken another ten year old film that could have spelled disaster for the MPEG encoding process and done it justice.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced.

    This transfer is very sharp, with plenty of apparent detail in the foregrounds to keep the eyes busy. The shadow detail, however, is somewhat limited, which can be somewhat frustrating when all that can be seen is highlighted by a flashlight that is wandering around in the frame as with some chase sequences. There is no low-level noise.

    The colours in this film are notable for how dull they are, with the interior sets looking so muted and dull that one would think they had been abandoned for years before shooting commenced. The transfer captures this feeling without missing a beat or showing any artefacts.

    MPEG artefacts were not noted in this transfer. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some aliasing on such things as rail lines at 5:03, a truck grille at 16:37, and numerous other objects such as taps or desks. While this artefact occurred with some frequency during the first thirty minutes of the film, it settled down to a much more acceptable level once the scenery darkened. Film artefacts were frequently noted, but they were not especially intrusive.

    There are six subtitle options on this disc, including an English for the Hearing Impaired stream. However, when they are switched on, we get absolutely nothing, and I checked the English subtitles for the entirety of the picture, while turning on the others throughout one or two scenes. Presumably, this is an authoring glitch.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    This film is presented with only the one soundtrack: the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 2.0, with a bitrate of 192 kilobits per second. This is a little disappointing, but not surprising considering that Dolby Surround sound was only just emerging when this film was presented theatrically.

    The dialogue is generally clear and easy to understand, although much of the lines from some characters are simply mumbled or babbled. This is fitting with the characters, however, and not really a complaint. I did not detect any problems with audio sync.

    The score music in this film is credited to Don Peake and Graeme Revell. It adds a slight undercurrent of tension, but it is easily overshadowed by the acting and the camerawork, the latter being almost comparable to The Thing in terms of how it adds a creepy flair to the proceedings. Nonetheless, the music is quite listenable on its own, and it is a shame we do not get an isolated score with this disc.

    The surround channels and the subwoofer were not used by this soundtrack. They were really missed, as there are numerous effects that could have been directed to the rears or the subwoofer in order to create a creepy, tense atmosphere. Instead, this is entirely derived from the camerawork, whereas the sound managed to gain more importance during the theatrical exhibition.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The menu is static, based around the same image as the cover artwork, and 16x9 Enhanced.

Theatrical Trailer

    This eighty-nine second theatrical trailer is presented in an approximate 1.33:1 ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    It does not appear that this disc is even available in Region 1 as yet.


    The People Under The Stairs is a nice way to waste ninety-seven minutes, although it does drag in places and sometimes looks like it could have been a little more. Still, if terrifying people is your thing, then this is a film worth considering.

    The video transfer is good.

    The audio transfer is good, but could have been better.

    There is one extra.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Tuesday, January 15, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

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