People Under the Stairs, The: Collector’s Edition (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Jul 07, 2023
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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People Under the Stairs, The: Collector’s Edition (4K UHD Review)


Wes Craven

Release Date(s)

1991 (May 30, 2023)


Alive Films/Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: A+

The People Under the Stairs (4K UHD)

Buy it Here!


Wes Craven had unintentionally established himself as one of the leading names in horror by the early 1990s. Based upon the strength and success of his previous films, specifically The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, and A Nightmare on Elm Street (and its sequels), he was able to work with Universal on The Serpent and the Rainbow, which led to his association with Alive Films, producing both Shocker and The People Under the Stairs. Some consider the latter to be one of the best horror films of the 1990s, myself included.

The People Under the Stairs begins with young Fool (Brandon Adams), a kid from the ghetto whose mother is in dire need of medical attention, but his family is too poor to pay for it. Matters aren’t helped that they’re behind on paying rent and that their building, which is owned by a wealthy, white family (the Robesons), is scheduled to be torn down. Fool goes against the advice of his sister Ruby (Kelly Jo Minter) and agrees to help a man named Leroy (Ving Rhames) rob the Robesons, who are rumored to have a stash of gold coins hidden away in their home. Once inside, they realize that they’re trapped in a house of horrors, with a group of people locked up in the basement, a vicious dog roaming the premises, a teenager named Roach (Sean Whalen) loose in the walls, a young woman named Alice (A.J. Langer) who’s never been out of the house, and a deranged and sadistic couple, known only as “Mommy” and “Daddy” (Wendy Robie and Everett McGill), who will kill anyone that threatens their so-called “clean” and “secure” existence.

In a previous Blu-ray review I did of The People Under the Stairs in 2015, I was a little harsher on the film than I am today, despite the fact that when it hit cable in 1992, I really enjoyed it. Whether it just didn’t click with me at the time or what have you, I was incorrect in my assessment of it. Many years later, I’ve grown to like it more and more, and found more to appreciate what’s under the surface just as much as what’s on the surface. In some ways, it’s Wes Craven’s most aggressively down-and-dirty work since both Last House and Hills, yet at the same time, it’s a lot slicker with biting social commentary, and a dark sense of humor. It’s one of the more curious films in Craven’s filmography, especially when you learn more about him and understand that how Alice is treated in the film is not too far removed from what Craven experienced as a child himself. His intention was to set up themes of racism in society, with the average-looking American home having more than just skeletons in its closets (literally, in this case).

There’s certainly fantastic elements to the story, which makes it more of a dark fable than a true one-to-one reflection of American society. For instance, every attempt to expose the Robesons is thwarted whenever the police show up to question them and they take them entirely at their word, which is not too far off the mark. Yet on the other hand, a neighborhood of poor black citizens descending upon a rich, white home would definitely have a different and more tragic outcome in today’s world (or in 1991, for that matter). Regardless, it’s still satisfying seeing the downtrodden come out on top, even if there’s a nagging part of your brain that wants to acknowledge what the real-world consequences would be. As such, you have to suspend your disbelief and go with it.

Performances are great all around, not just from the obvious choices of Wendy Robie and Everett McGill, but also Brandon Adams, who was a very natural young actor, as well as A.J. Langer and Sean Whalen, both of whom curry much-needed sympathy in the story. The over-the-top, comical nature of McGill and Robie is counterbalanced with incredibly dark and serious material, including cannibalism, kidnapping, child abuse, and possible sexual abuse, which is hinted at but never really explored. We also don’t learn a whole lot about Mommy or Daddy as far as backstories are concerned. We’re told just enough for the story to work, but the mystique of how they got to be who and where they are is left hanging in the air, as it should. For many years, there was talk of a remake, at one point with Wes Craven’s involvement not long before he passed away. And if that ever comes into being, I’m certain we’ll learn a lot more about these characters than is necessary for the horror of the situation to work. In other words, the less known, the better.

The People Under the Stairs’ mix of serious social issues, comedy, and horror—with a touch of Grand Guignol—works like gangbusters. It’s not a film that did that well upon release, but continues to live on as one of the most enduring and nearly timeless horror films of its era. It teeters on the edge of schlock, especially with Daddy running around the house in a full leather gimp outfit shooting at the walls of his home with a shotgun, but it never fails to simultaneously get under your skin, give you characters to care about and root for, and make you laugh along the way—a trip threat of a rare feat for a horror film of its type.

The People Under the Stairs was shot by director of photography Sandi Sissel on 35 mm film with Arriflex cameras and spherical lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Scream Factory previously released the film on Blu-ray in 2015, and they’ve returned with a Collector’s Edition Ultra HD package featuring a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, graded for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are included). This release absolutely devastates all previous incarnations with a much-improved picture that’s very film-like and organic with solid, even levels of grain with only once exception (the fireplace scene at the beginning, which may be down to lighting and the stock that was used). Healthy bitrates are high when they need to be and low when they’re not, with only minor speckling and a couple of small instances of mild streaking. The HDR passes get the most out of the limited color palette, but also improve contrast dramatically with solid blacks and amazing depth in the shadows. It’s also a warmer palette in comparison to previous presentations, but it looks natural to the overall aesthetic. Above all else, it’s a crisp and stable UHD presentation.

Audio is included in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s worth noting that the original Arrow Video Blu-ray contained a single English 2.0 LPCM track. The 5.1 mix doesn’t do a whole lot to improve atmospherics, but from time to time, some of the sound effects and score are given the chance to open things up in the rear speakers. It’s an otherwise front-heavy presentation. Both tracks are clean, clear, and are a great representation of the film’s sound design, though a Dolby Atmos remix could do wonders for the film’s ambient background textures and more bombastic moments.

The People Under the Stairs on 4K Ultra HD sits in a black amaray case alongside a 1080p Blu-ray. The insert and slipcover feature the original theatrical artwork. Bonus materials include the following:


  • Audio Commentary with Wes Craven and Michael Felsher
  • Audio Commentary with Brandon Adams, A.J. Langer, Sean Whalen, and Yan Birch
  • Audio Commentary with Brandon Adams and Calum Waddell
  • Fear Freud and Class Warfare: Wes Craven Discusses The People Under the Stairs (HD – 24:38)
  • Behind Closed Doors: A.J. Langer Remembers The People Under the Stairs (HD – 13:38)
  • Silent But Deadly: Sean Whalen Remembers Roach (HD – 14:00)
  • Underneath the Floorboards: Jeffrey Reddick on the Lasting Impact of The People Under the Stairs (HD – 9:05)
  • Theatrical Trailer (SD – 1:35)


  • Audio Commentary with Wes Craven and Michael Felsher
  • Audio Commentary with Brandon Adams, A.J. Langer, Sean Whalen, and Yan Birch
  • Audio Commentary with Brandon Adams and Calum Waddell
  • House Mother with Wendy Robie (HD – 19:26)
  • What Lies Beneath: The Effects of The People Under the Stairs (HD – 15:02)
  • House of Horrors with Director of Photography Sandi Sissel (HD – 16:09)
  • Settling the Score with Don Peake (HD – 10:13)
  • Behind-the-Scenes Footage (SD – 6:39)
  • Theatrical Trailer (SD – 1:18)
  • TV Spots (Upscaled SD – 3 in all – 1:21)
  • Vintage Making of Featurette (Upscaled SD – 3:43)
  • Original Storyboards (HD – 65 in all – 6:55)
  • Still Gallery (HD – 49 in all – 4:17)

The best thing about this extras package is that it collects everything from all of the previous releases of the film on DVD and Blu-ray, including Arrow Video’s and Koch Media’s releases. First is the terrific 2015 audio commentary with Wes Craven, moderated by Michael Felsher, of which the two have a very nice rapport during an extended Q&A session while watching the film together. The second (also from 2015) features actors Brandon Adams, A.J. Langer, Sean Whalen, and Yan Birch, which is an extremely laid-back commentary with no moderator and the actors falling into the trap of simply watching the film, allowing great gaps of silence go by. The third, and new to the US, is a 2013 audio commentary with Brandon Adams, moderated by Calum Waddell, which was originally recorded for Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release. It’s a much livelier listen as the two have a fun back and forth chat about the film while watching it. Next are a set of four interviews that were also included on the Arrow release. Fear Freud and Class Warfare talks to Wes Craven about the film in depth; Behind Closed Doors interviews actress A.J. Langer about her role in the film, confessing that she didn’t watch many horror films at that age; Silent But Deadly speaks to actor Sean Whalen about his role as Roach; and Under the Floorboards interviews screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick (Final Destination) about his feelings on the film.

The three commentaries are included on the Blu-ray as well. Also on that disc is House Mother, which features an interview with actress Wendy Robie, who discusses her career in horror and on TV, speaking highly of Wes Craven and A.J. Langer. What Lies Beneath speaks to KNB EFX Group founders Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman, and Greg Nicotero about their special effects make-up in the film. House of Horrors interviews director of photography Sandi Sissel, who talks about her working relationship with Wes Craven and how much she enjoys seeing the film today. Settling the Score talks to composer Don Peake about how he was brought in at the eleventh hour to replace the score by Graeme Revell. Greg Nicotero then provides us with several minutes of raw behind-the-scenes footage, mostly the scene in which Daddy carves up and eats Leroy, showing a trimmed moment when he actually bites into a piece of flesh on camera. Last are the film’s theatrical trailer; 3 TV spots; a vintage EPK making-of featurette; a set of 65 storyboards, including a set for a deleted scene; and a still gallery containing 49 stills of behind-the-scenes photos, promotional photos, press photos, and posters.

The 4K Ultra HD upgrade of The People Under the Stairs mostly soars with a gorgeous picture and a dynamite and entertaining set of extras. The audio could do with a remix, but it’s an otherwise terrific release. Highly recommended.

- Tim Salmons


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