Is The People Under The Stairs Based On A True Story? Wes Craven’s Inspiration Explained

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Summary

  • Wes Craven was inspired by a true crime case in the ’70s where a couple kept their children captive in the basement, which influenced The People Under the Stairs.
  • The movie explores classism, racism, and gentrification in an upper-middle-class suburb, challenging the American dream and exposing buried secrets.
  • The People Under the Stairs emphasizes the danger of protecting a family’s public image, urging society to break the cycles of abuse and neglect.


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Wes Craven had an interesting and disturbing inspiration for the cult classic movie The People Under the Stairs, but was it a true story? The 1991 horror comedy follows a boy named Fool, who breaks into a home to steal money for his family only to find a murderous couple and their family that they’ve kept captive. Like many other great horror movies, this home invasion flick fell into obscurity after its release despite its box office success. In recent years, it has gained a cult following.

With the news that Get Out director Jordan Peele is remaking The People Under the Stairs, there’s been extra attention on the original, and with it the question of whether it’s based on a true story. Many horror movies take inspiration from the spookier, more disturbing parts of real life. Wes Craven followed this genre trend, as one of the lesser-known facts about The People Under the Stairs is that the filmmaker indeed first got the idea for the movie from real events.


The People Under The Stairs Was Partially Inspired By A True Crime

The parents from The People Under The Stairs.

Though he never provided exact details, Wes Craven has said many times that he took inspiration for The People Under the Stairs from a true crime case that occurred in the ’70s. He saw a newspaper article about two burglars who broke into a rich Los Angeles home. When the police came to handle the situation, they made the disturbing discovery that the couple who owned the home kept their two children captive in the basement, not allowing them to leave that space. This dichotomy of a terribly cruel family existing in a rich, idyllic neighborhood stuck in Craven’s mind, pushing him to make The People Under the Stairs.

Why Wes Craven’s The People Under The Stairs Is So Underrated

Fool looks at the food bowl and blankets in the crawl space under the stairs.

The People Under the Stairs is one of the best Wes Craven movies, though it’s vastly underrated and overlooked in comparison to his other titles. Many elements make this movie a classic. Firstly, rather than occurring in an isolated area like a cabin in the woods, The People Under the Stairs takes place in an upper-middle-class suburb, putting a magnifying glass on classism, racism, and gentrification. Despite the fact that 22 years have passed since the movie’s release, these messages are more critical than ever.

Additionally, The People Under the Stairs highlights the fact that the American dream and white picket fence life include buried secrets that would horrify the public. There’s a pervasive idea within American culture that people shouldn’t “air their dirty laundry” in order to protect a family’s public image and reputation. The People Under the Stairs shows the immense danger in that mentality, a relevant message to this day. The movie encourages society to break the cycles of trauma that allow abuse and neglect to continue.