a.j langer

The more we realize that most of our views of ourselves, of others, and of presumed limits regarding our talents, our health, and our happiness were mindlessly accepted by us at an earlier time in our lives, the more we open up to the realization that these too can change. And all we need do to begin the process is to be mindful
—  Ellen J Langer, Mindfulness
The People Under the Stairs (1991)

Originally broadcast on the 3rd July, 1994 at 11:00pm.

The People Under the Stairs was written and directed by Wes Craven, whose Serpent and the Rainbow you saw on Moviedrome a couple of years ago. It is, I’m pleased to say, a much better film. It’s also the film’s first screening on terrestrial television. It was generally viewed as a return to form by Craven, who had been highly regarded for his earlier horror film, The Hills Have Eyes. It’s unusual for a Craven picture, or for any horror film, in having non-white protagonists. In this case the impoverished black family, fronted by a little kid called Fool.
The People Under the Stairs is part of an emerging genre or sub-genre of films such as Trespass, which take as their premise an ongoing war in the United States between blacks and whites. So it’s pretty interesting stuff. A far cry from the innocent American tourists kidnapped by voodoo thugs in Serpent and the Rainbow
Kim Newman in The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that Craven’s films “tend to a penetrating and cynical vision of post-Vietnam/Watergate/Nixon America”. Well, maybe. Newman also observed in his review of people that Craven had perhaps taken his reviews too seriously and was labouring the socially relevant aspects as a result. That’s possible, too. For me, I like the socially relevant aspects, because they make the film a little different from the generic norm.
It’s certainly Craven’s best made film. Slick and well-constructed. As with most post-‘60s horror films it owes a big debt to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which itself borrows from Polanski’s Repulsion. The nightmare American gothic house in which the weird events unfold is straight out of Carrie and there are debts to Halloween as well. Perhaps the least appealing homage is the casting of two actors from the TV series Twin Peaks in the villainous roles. Everett McGill and Wendy Robie essentially spice up their partnership from the TV show, which is a trifle feeble but was no doubt viewed as wise box office strategy.
Overall, The People Under the Stairs is a good mixture of genuine effective horror, surprise reversals and bizarre campery. The goings on don’t make much sense, but they don’t have to. They conform to the logic of a modern horror film, like Super Mario Brothers fulfills the expectations of a connoisseur of video games.

- Alex Cox’s original introduction, transcribed from the video recording below.

Brief thoughts…

This is great, but a slightly odd mixture. The film is essentially from the point of view of children - the two lead characters are a young boy and young girl. Yet the violence is over the top and very gruesome and the characters spake language which Mary Whitehouse would no doubt have described as “blue”. I really like films that have an uneasy mix like that and this never settles into anything conventional.
It’s actually quite scary, but also extremely funny in parts and has some great lines. It really feels like it could have been turned into a savage satire on something or other.
The acting is very good. The young girl in it is played by A.J. Langer, who went on a few years later to play 'Rayanne’ in My So-Called Life
I think this is by far Craven’s most enjoyable film.


My So-Called-Life

I was a senior in high school when this series aired.  I didn’t watched it as it ran on ABC because I didn’t know of it’s existence.  I watched it for the first and last time in MTV.  They were doing a marathon of the series in the hope that ABC would let the series keep airing.  I got hooked on it in on the first episode.  They were dealing with things my friends and I could identify with.  Some of my friends were hooked on the series too and were really disappointed with ABC’s decision, specially since it left us in a cliffhanger: Angela had just found out that it was Brian the one that had written the note not Jordan… I can still remember how Angela walked up to Jordan’s car looking back at her friend…

We were left wondering what would Angela do: stay with the enigmatic and confusing Jordan or give her close friend, Brian, a chance?