A maneating dog and a horde of feral humans locked up in the cellar of an old house owned by an insane incestuous brother and sister? That qualifies it for mention on a site dedicated to werewolves, for sure. Released in 1991, THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS is both a black comedy and a fairy tale, a fable. There’s subtext there, yes: the end of the 80s giving way to the nasty 90s, the Gulf War, financial stratification and exploitation of the poor and minorities, etc. But one need not think too much or analyze too much if one is not in the mood. THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS can be enjoyed as merely an insane cinematic romp.
There seems no doubt that Wes Craven, or somebody involved in the casting of this film, was a big fan of TWIN PEAKS. The latter went off the air in early summer of 1991 and THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS opened on November 1st. Everett McGill and Wendy Robie, who starred in TWIN PEAKS as Big Ed and Nadine Hurley, respectively, went straight from the series to leading roles in the film, and they are fantastic, giving gonzo performances and delivering a level of craziness that they never got to achieve on television. (Well, maybe Nadine got close.)
THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS may not be the first of Craven’s films to come to mind when you hear his name, but it developed a cult following, and deservedly so. It is one of his best.