Features and Columns · Movies

Housing, Class, and the Thematic Punch of ‘The People Under the Stairs’

Here’s a look at why Wes Craven’s 1991 horror film is as relevant as ever.
The People Under The Stairs
Universal Pictures
By  · Published on November 15th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about how Wes Craven’s 1991 horror film The People Under the Stairs confronts class disparity.


Released in 1991 and directed by Wes CravenThe People Under the Stairs follows the incredibly-named Poindexter “Fool” Williams (Brandon Adams), a young boy living in an impoverished neighborhood in Los Angeles. With his mother dying of cancer, Fool feels immense pressure to provide for his small family, who have been served with an eviction notice. Their landlords, the Robesons (Everett McGill and Wendy McGill) are cruel, mysterious, and absolutely loaded. Encouraged by two older friends, Fool agrees to break into the Robesons’ mansion to steal their valuable coin collection.

However, upon entering the Robesons’ fortress-like home, Fool discovers that the mansion wasn’t just built to keep people like him out, but to keep another group of people in.

Horror is particularly good to confronting social issues thanks to its openness to metaphor. And The People Under the Stairs is a dictionary definition of the genre’s talent for confronting difficult topics. Namely: the fallout and side-effects of the consumerist fervor that gripped America in the 1980s, widening the gulf between the rich and the poor.

As the video essay below unpacks some of the crunchier themes in Craven’s film, including class inequality, criminalized poverty, and housing discrimination. The film is a merciless and thoroughly gruesome depiction of class warfare and gentrification; a parable of racial injustice told through the nightmarish lens of a children’s fable. Kudos to Universal Pictures for letting this film escape into theaters.

Watch “Landlords, Class Disparity & The People Under the Stairs”:


Who made this?

This video essay on The People Under the Stairs is by Yhara Zayd. They provide insightful deep dives on young adult content from Skins to My Best Friend’s Wedding. You can check out more of their content and subscribe to their channel on YouTube here. If you like their stuff and you want to support them, you can check out their Patreon here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).