Blu-Ray Review- The People Under the Stairs
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: August 11th 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 103 Minutes
“In every neighborhood, there is a house that adults whisper about, and children cross the street to avoid.” –Theatrical tagline for The People Under the Stairs
The People Under the Stairs is not only one of Wes Craven’s very best films; I consider it a modern day Horror classic. Craven’s 1991 feature is a masterfully crafted urban horror story that is also exceptionally well written for the genre. The film offers up plenty of terrifying sequences, sadistically dark comedic moments, and a perfectly cast ensemble that delights in their over-the-top characters. It’s an endlessly re-watchable Horror treat, and fans will be overjoyed with this latest Collector’s Edition release from Scream Factory.
Poindexter “Fool” Williams (Brandon Adams) and his family are the last remaining residents of their rundown apartment complex in Los Angeles. His mother is sick and requires hospital treatment that they’re unable to afford. It certainly doesn’t help their predicament when they receive an eviction notice from their mysterious landlords, the Robesons. When his sister’s boyfriend Leroy (Ving Rhames) tells Fool about the rumored hoard of gold that the Robeson’s have stashed away somewhere in their old creepy house, they concoct a plan to steal it from the greedy old couple. After all, with that amount of gold at his disposal, Fool could certainly afford to pay for his mother’s medical care and save their apartment.
Suffice to say, Fool and Leroy’s attempted robbery goes horribly wrong, trapping Fool in the disturbing house of the utterly psychotic Robeson’s. With no possibility of escape, the deranged “Daddy” and “Momma” Robeson on his trail, and cannibalistic offspring living inside the walls of the house, Fool’s only hope of survival is Alice, the Robeson’s sheltered daughter.
The People Under the Stairs delights at every twisted turn with fantastic makeup and special effects work from KNB EFX, a moody score from Don Peake, and an impressive production design. Twin Peaks’ Everett McGill and Wendy Robie turn in wickedly terrifying performances as the Robesons, and young Brandon Adams is one of the most likeable child actors in Horror movie history. I truly enjoyed revisiting the film on this brand new Collector’s Edition from Scream Factory.
Scream Factory delivers The People Under the Stairs onto Blu-Ray with the same fantastic transfer that accompanied the previous Universal release. The urban (and suburban) setting exhibits plenty of depth and clarity, with a beautiful color scheme that is respectful to the original theatrical presentation. The level of detail in facial features, clothing, and the terrifying house itself is spectacular. Black levels are solid, and there are no artifacts or damage to the print to report. Fans will be delighted with this clean, crisp, transfer of a modern-day Horror classic.
The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track is another standout addition to this Blu-Ray release. Everything from the unsettling score to dialogue and sound effects comes through very clean and clearly in HD surround. There are plenty of scary moments that definitely gave me a “jump” on this mix, and the audio is perfectly captured in tremendous detail across all channels.
Scream Factory has provided fans of The People Under the Stairs with an incredible selection of bonus features for this Blu-Ray release. This is truly a Collector’s Edition folks! Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentaries (2): There are two commentaries to choose from on this Blu-Ray edition including one featuring the Director himself, Wes Craven, and the other featuring Brandon Adams, A.J. Langer, Sean Whalen, and Yan Burg.
- House Mother with Wendy Robie– This incredible interview from Red Shirt Pictures lasts nearly 20 minutes and features actress Wendy Robie (“Woman”/Mrs. Robeson) discussing how she became involved with The People Under the Stairs, her background in Shakespeare and television roles, how the character of Hannibal Lecter inspired her audition, and the psychological profile she assumed to play the role of “woman.” Wendy discusses working with Wes Craven as well here, and further emphasizes the Director’s noteworthy likeability. My favorite sections of the interview have Wendy sharing stories from the late-night shooting schedule and the cast and crew deliriously cracking up after takes. Once again, this is a wonderful addition from Red Shirt Pictures to this Blu-Ray release.
- What Lies Beneath: The Effects of The People Under the Stairs– This 15 minute featurette from Red Shirt Pictures has KNB EFX pioneers Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman, and Greg Nicotero (of The Walking Dead fame) discussing their involvement on The People Under the Stairs special effects work. I always find featurettes on makeup effects fascinating, and this one is no exception! The behind-the-scenes footage combined with the recollections of the KNB folks makes for some truly captivating material. I loved hearing about the development of these fantastic effects; from Ving Rhames’ life cast to Sean Whalen’s unique makeup, there is plenty to salivate over here for Horror fans!
- House of Horrors: With Director of Photography Sandi Sissel- This is yet another great interview from Red Shirt Pictures, coming in at over 16 minutes and featuring DP Sandi Sissel discussing her work on the film. Sandi’s career, starting out in documentaries and eventually making her way to big budget productions, offers up plenty of great stories.
- Settling the Score (with Don Peake)– This 10 minute interview with composer Don Peake offers up some insightful stories regarding the score for The People Under the Stairs. Don’s career is discussed in depth, beginning with his musical experience in High School and joining The Everly Brothers in the 1960’s to working in Hollywood. A very interesting guy with plenty of fascinating tales to tell.
- Behind the Scenes Footage– Nearly 7 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage from Greg Nicotero include the oft-discussed disemboweling scene and makeup preparation for the actors involved.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs just over a minute and is just as enticing for potential viewers as it was back in 1991. The tagline for the film spoken over the terrifying imagery perfectly captures the tone. It’s a short one, but sometimes less is more.
- TV Spots- Just over a minute of select TV spots from the film’s theatrical campaign.
- Vintage Making of Featurette- This is actually just under 4 minutes of promotional material for the film partnered with select scenes. I especially enjoyed the black and white “vintage” footage of the actors discussing their roles.
- Original Storyboards- Just about 7 minutes worth of storyboards for various sequences from the film. You have to appreciate the amount of effort that goes into planning these unique and elaborate shots!
- Still Gallery- Roughly 4 minutes of behind-the-scenes photos and production stills from the making of The People Under the Stairs.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features what is quite possibly my favorite Scream Factory artwork yet! Justin Osbourne was commissioned to create this piece, which truly captures the atmosphere of the film. The purple color scheme is gorgeous, and the likeness of the actors is absolutely spot-on! On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis, a list of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. On the interior of the slipcover is the standard Blu-Ray case, which has reversible artwork featuring the original theatrical poster for the film. The interior of the case features the Blu-Ray disc, also featuring artwork from the theatrical poster. This is absolutely one of my personal favorite packaging jobs from Scream Factory! Bravo.
The People Under the Stairs is a modern day Horror classic. The film offers up plenty of terrifying sequences, sadistically dark comedic moments, and a perfectly cast ensemble that delights in their over-the-top characters. It’s an endlessly re-watchable Horror treat, and fans will be overjoyed with this latest Collector’s Edition release from Scream Factory. This Blu-Ray edition features outstanding video and audio quality, and arrives loaded with fascinating special features for Horror fans. Justin Osbourne’s amazing cover art is yet another added bonus to what may be one of Scream Factory’s finest releases to date. Highly recommended!
Blu-Ray Review- Ravenous
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: June 3rd 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Color, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio
Runtime: 101 Minutes
Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce) receives a hero’s welcome from the United States Army after capturing the enemy’s outpost during the Mexican-American war. The truth of the matter is literally making Boyd sick to his stomach, as he “played dead” like a coward while his fellow soldiers died, conjured up strength from drinking the blood of the pile of dead comrades above him, and took the fort. When the truth of his cowardice is revealed, Boyd is banished by his superiors to Fort Spencer in California.
Upon arrival, the boozing bookworm Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones) introduces Boyd to the unique cast of characters he is to share the foreseeable future with: the cocky Private Reich (Neal McDonough), the goofball Private Cleaves (David Arquette), the faithful shepherd Private Toffler (Jeremy Davies), and their Native American caretakers George and Martha (Joseph Runningfox and Sheila Tousey). Boyd seems hesitant to make any new friends, and lay low until the war subsides. But his hopes of forgetting his past wrongdoings and moving on with his new assignment will be short lived.
A seemingly distraught and near-death stranger by the name of Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) arrives to Fort Spencer, with a grim tale of his wagon party, led by the mad Colonel Ives, resorting to cannibalism after being stranded in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for some time. When Boyd and his fellow soldiers are lead on an expedition to investigate the story, Colqhoun’s true identity is revealed as the blood thirsty Colonel Ives. Boyd manages to escape the ensuing massacre that follows, but when he arrives back at Fort Spencer to tell his story, Ives has already assumed command of Fort Spencer, and Boyd’s wild story falls on deaf ears.
What follows from this point on I don’t dare reveal, as I implore you to watch Ravenous for yourself. This is a unique brand of Horror story, not only in its historical setting and unique brand of humor amongst the gore, but with an array of strong and sincere performances from a stellar cast. The action is exciting, and the twists and turns cleverly written. Ravenous is one of those oddball films that didn’t get the attention it deserved upon release. Luckily, it has developed a strong cult following over the years, one that I wish you, dear reader, fall in line with.
While the picture quality is not the total disaster that it’s being made out to be in other early reviews you may have seen, there is definitely a lack of definition here, and various problematic aspects to the source. The print provided by 20th Century Fox features a lack of definition in facial features, scenery, clothing, and other detail that fares only slightly better than DVD quality. The bottom line is that some scenes look better than others, and the lack of overall clarity is more evident in darker, dimly lit scenes than the bright daylight cinematography sequences or the candle/fire-lit interiors of Fort Spencer. Though it’s hard to pinpoint the main source of error that occurred here, it is obvious that some sort of digital scrubbing was utilized prior to Scream Factory’s disc pressing. Though I love the film dearly, this transfer is not up to par.
The good news is that the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track gets the job done. Dialogue and background music and effects are well balanced, and while the various channels are never put to full force use, it’s dynamic and spacious enough to warrant a recommendation. Damon Albarn’s score in particular sounds amazing here, a true treat to experience in HD sound.
Scream Factory has included some fun special features for their release of Ravenous on Blu-Ray. Features range from newly created specifically for this release to ported content from the previous DVD edition. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Interview with Jeffrey Jones: The Ravenous Tales of Colonel Hart- Running over twenty minutes, this fascinating interview with actor Jeffrey Jones is one of the brand new special features created for this Blu-Ray release. The man not only offers some insight into the making of the film, but he truly knows his American history as well. Sharing his knowledge about everything from the westward expansion to early American settlements, and the Mexican-American war to Native American wendigo legends, Jones is clearly an actor who doesn’t just show up on set with his lines memorized, but researches and becomes his role. For me, this is definitely the standout feature on this set.
- Deleted Scenes- Roughly twelve minutes of deleted scenes from the film, ported over from the DVD release. Having never been mastered at the same quality as the final cut, these scenes are in rough shape and presented in standard definition. The audio is also very hard to hear for the most part, again I’m guessing, a product of not being “finalized” for inclusion in the eventual film. With most deleted scenes I come across, it’s obvious why they were left on the cutting room floor, but for Ravenous, I actually really enjoyed each of these moments, and would love to someday see an “extended” edition with the scenes reincorporated. I’m glad Scream Factory decided to include these for their Blu-Ray edition, which fans of the film will enjoy revisiting.
- Deleted Scenes with Commentary– The aforementioned deleted scenes are included here again, but this time with running commentary from the Director of the film, the witty and talented Antonia Bird, who sadly passed away just last year. Antonia explains the various reasons why each scene was left on the cutting room floor, as well as explains her reasoning for the scripted scenes’ individual purpose in the original script.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film is presented in standard definition, running exactly two minutes long. It’s not surprising that the film didn’t fare very well at the box office with this misleading promo, but then again, a film featuring cannibalism set during the Mexican-American war is already a tough sell for a studio.
- TV Spot- The rather short 32 second TV spot for the film features select scenes from the above trailer with a different voiceover.
- Photo Gallery (Costume Design & Production Design)- This photo gallery provides a look at the unique costume and production design for the film, providing drawings and storyboards along with text explanations for select items from the film. This is also presented in standard definition, but I’m glad it was carried over.
- Audio Commentaries (3)- Scream Factory has also included three separate audio commentaries for this Blu-Ray release. The first features Director Antonia Bird and composer/songwriter Damon Albarn (of Blur and Gorillaz fame). The second commentary features screenwriter Ted Griffin and Jeffrey Jones, and the third features Robert Carlyle. All three segments provide for an interesting listen, with each set of associated folks offering their own take on the making of the film, its significance, and the history behind it.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory features the original theatrical artwork for the film with Pearce, Carlyle, and Arquette among some skulls and bones. The reverse of the packaging includes a plot synopsis and a special features listing, with a few select promotional stills from the film. Inside you’ll find reversible artwork and some nice disc art. Well done!
Ravenous is a film that I have revisited several times since its initial release, finding something new to appreciate each time. It’s a unique brand of Horror story with a wicked sense of humor, fun performances from a talented cast, and a brilliant score. This brand new Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features a disappointing transfer of the film, a legitimate complaint in an otherwise great release. The audio is perfect, and the special features are fascinating if you’re a fan of the film. It was especially engaging to hear the talented and informative Jeffrey Jones discuss his thoughts on the making of the movie.