It may be something of an odd duck in Wes Craven's horror filmography, but The People Under the Stairs is probably his most fiercely political movie, as well as a grim, funny, slapstick fairy tale satire of wealth inequality, prejudice, and gentrification that feels, unfortunately, even more timely today than when it was released back in 1991.
Back then, Craven's parable of haves and have-nots performed well at the box office, but seemed to perplex everyone from critics to the film's own distributors, who marketed it as a straight-up horror film when it's really more of a stew of kids adventure, dark comedy, fairy tale imagery, and political satire. In the years since, it has become a cult classic, beloved by creators as influential as Jordan Peele.
The People Under the Stairs might be a parable about race relations and wealth inequality under late-stage capitalism right after the Reagan administration, but its themes are as vital today as they were then. As we see a new wave of "woke" horror hitting cinemas, The People Under the Stairs deserves to be revisited and newly appreciated, not just as one of the few horror movies that puts a Black character in the lead role, but as an urgent and prescient portrait of the issues that define life in modern America - and a freaky, funny, visually bizarre horror classic that too often gets left out in the cold.