Is The People Under the Stairs Based Upon a True Story?
The People Under the Stairs (1991) was one of Wes Craven’s greatest horror movies of all time. It gets a little less publicity than most of his other films, but it is a diamond among the rough! The movie is a little edgier than most horror films, but it pays off in huge scares and real terror. A wicked family keeps their sheltered daughter hidden from the world while collecting a number of other people ‘under the stairs’. Although the movie received mixed reviews from critics, it is without a doubt a cult classic and one of Wes Craven’s finest films.
The True Inspiration Behind The People Under the Stairs
The horror that transpired within the house that harbors the ‘people under the stairs’ is grim and the atrocities of this family are sincerely twisted. Here is a little about what inspired The People Under the Stairs.
Wes Craven’s Inspiration Behind The People Under The Stairs
The real inspiration behind the movie came from a newspaper excerpt that Wes Craven was reading, about a family that got into trouble after police were called to a burglary scene. Apparently, burglars tried to break into a house, but instead of finding the perpetrators…the police found locks everywhere and children who had never been allowed to go outside, raised in total abuse, totally indoors.
Although he would take the movie to an extreme, with the idea that the family was on the search for a perfect brother to match their ‘perfect daughter.’ Each boy that did not meet the standards, had their tongue cut out and now resides in the basement, in cages under the stairs. They are malnourished and scary looking. One of Wes’ most interesting twists in the People Under the Stairs, is turning the home burglars into protagonists and the property owners into antagonists (normally the home owners would be victims of a home invasion or robbery, not the antagonists).
The movie was also meant to be a sort of adventure type of film. There are contraptions and traps everywhere, both to help and harm the protagonists. There are hidden rooms and a whole network of tunnels made throughout the walls of the house. There is even a tale of gold to be had at the end! The action is pretty solid as well, but still in a horror-thriller, suspenseful kind of way.
Modern Day Example: Real Life People Under The Stairs
Recently there was a case that came to light from the woodwork. A strongly religious family, much like the belief system of Alice’s parents in the movie, were found to be keeping their 13 children captive in their home basically their entire lives. Although they appeared younger than they actually were, the children were all different ages, some even in their 20s. The David-Louis Turpin family is a perfect example of a real life People Under the Stairs situation. Despite the fact the children were not abducted, the girl in the movie (Alice), was not abducted either, but apparently the family’s natural born daughter.
Another case a few years back also shines light on the possibilities. Ariel Castro abducted Michelle Knight (one of three women abducted, actually), and kept her captive for more than a decade. There are several other cases of the similar sort, where victims are mutilated. Whether through abduction or natural child birth, unfortunately these are all very real fears that exist in the world, making such a movie about children kept captive for years in a basement so much more scary.
A Realistic Fear the Audience Can Feel
The story line behind The People Under the Stairs is absolutely heartbreaking and truly realistic in presentation. There are real life thugs like Leroy, and there are hurting families out there willing to do nearly anything to help their situation. Unfortunately, there are sadistic families that truly do keep their kids captive from the world, and it really is possible to have them mutilated as well.
Be safe out there, as there is real evil in the world very similar to the evil seen in this movie, and you never know when there may be some people living under the stairs!
Fun Fact: Wes Craven once said he would remake The People Under the Stairs, alongside Shocker and The Last House on the Left, however, sadly he only had a chance to remake the last of the three.
Tritone’s love of horror and mystery began at a young age. Growing up in the 80’s he got to see some of the greatest horror movies play out in the best of venues, the drive-in theater. That’s when his obsession with the genre really began—but it wasn’t just the movies, it was the games, the books, the comics, and the lore behind it all that really ignited his obsession. Tritone is a published author and continues to write and write about horror whenever possible.