The Lift (1983)

OCTOBER 1, 2020


When you hear that a movie is about a killer elevator, you'd probably think it's pretty silly, and also have slow motion credits to pad it into a 75 minute runtime, right? Well, not only is The Lift (Dutch: De Lift), if anything, a bit too long (95 minutes!), but writer/director Dick Maas also takes it pretty seriously, as if his goal wasn't to give midnight movie audiences lots to cheer at, but also prove to some naysayers that such a thing might actually be plausible thanks to technology getting out of control. It doesn't always work, but the determination to do this straight is so admirable I didn't even really mind its lapses.

If you notice, there's no "supernatural" genre tag here, which surprised me. I thought for sure that the thing would be haunted or possessed (Christine style) but the movie is given a sci-fi kind of explanation instead, involving a computer processor made out of organic matter. This alternate method, along with a sort of "the computer is learning more than we programmed it to" kind of stuff you'd find in any Terminator knockoff, combines to turn the elevator into the murderer it's presented as throughout the film. So instead of scenes where the hero goes to the library and reads microfiche newspaper articles about someone that died when the building was constructed or something, he looks at electronics diagrams. It's so refreshing!

And to Maas - and the elevator's, I guess - credit, it's not just a series of scenes of it killing everyone who enters it (it takes place over a couple weeks, actually). Surprisingly, the elevator isn't greedy; the opening scene has it trapping four drunk assholes (i.e. no one we'd miss) inside as their air runs out, but they're all ultimately saved, and then its first victim is a blind man who falls down the empty shaft after the door opens when it shouldn't, which is the sort of thing that unfortunately happens in standard non-evil elevators. In other words, the things that happen would generally be easy enough to categorize as accidents, and not cause the whole thing to be shut down.

But they need to check for other problems, and that's where our hero Felix (Huub Stapel, who Maas used as the title character in Sint) comes in, as he's an elevator repairman who is called to check on the controls and such after the opening sequence and gives it the OK, finding nothing wrong. But as other accidents occur, he becomes more and more obsessed with trying to figure out what is going on, like any good hero does. Unfortunately, this strains his marriage; his wife is clearly already a bit unhappy when the movie starts, and as he spends more and more time trying to figure out the cause (and more time with a lovely reporter who is investigating as well) she gets fed up and leaves him after accusing him of having an affair with the girl (which he isn't! He's just a dedicated employee!).

Hilariously, there's no happy ending for him in this department - when the movie ends his wife has still left him, AND taken their two kids, but he's not hooking up with the reporter either. So my man is now all alone thanks to a misunderstanding and... work ethic? What a bum deal. But I love that Maas took the "Man's dedication to his job costs him his family" subplot we've seen in a million action/drama films like Heat and applied it to a movie about an evil elevator. Also, I love that the wife doesn't even wait until the kids are in bed to confront him about his suspected affair - their 4ish daughter asks what "adultery" is after overhearing her mother talk about it with her friend and rather than be like "OK let's send the kids out of the room" the woman just encourages the guy to tell them, and of course he's just baffled since he's not having an affair. She continues freaking out and yelling at him for being a cheating jerk and - possibly my favorite part of the movie - he just kind of ignores it to answer a phone call about the killer elevator.

Another guy IS having an affair though, with his partner's wife, in his office that is adjacent to the elevators (there are three of them, in fact). They're fooling around in her office while the woman's daughter is sitting outside near the elevators, playing with her doll but obviously bored. Having just watched Maas' Uncaged, which offed a kid in its opening sequence (albeit off-screen) I knew he didn't have any reservations about age limits on murder victims, so this part was pretty suspenseful, as the girl decides to press the button and the elevator starts tricking her by opening and closing its doors as she makes her way to enter, so you know she's eventually going to get inside and thus put into danger. Solid stuff I won't spoil here!

And if I saw it in its original language it might have even been a more serious experience, because most of the levity came not from the film's plot or events, but the overly cheerful actors who dubbed it into English (the only option available on Shudder, alas). Also, I don't know if the Dutch have a way to say things quicker or what, but a lot of the dialogue kind of ran together, with no pause between one actor finishing a sentence and their scene partner starting theirs, which added to my amusement. One guy in particular just delighted me; a night watchman who was very, very happy and excited that someone else was getting married in a few weeks. Nothing against our hero, but I wouldn't have minded if he was the lead, because he was just so thrilled about other peoples' personal lives (he's also stoked about the guy having an affair). And another actor sounded a bit like Chris Parnell, someone who can make me laugh/grin just by showing up before he even opens his mouth, so I started daydreaming about him making some spare cash by dubbing movies like this and just doing all the voices. Can we GoFundMe something like that?

And I don't know if it was intentional or just a coincidence of the shooting location, but there's a scene where the hero walks into a building via a revolving door, something that terrifies me far more than any elevator ever has, and I'm sure I'm not alone. So it works as a kind of sight gag; strolling right through the thing that audience members might already fear (I've read an average of 180 people are killed in the damn things each year! Elevators only manage about 30) before facing the thing we never gave much thought about maybe killing us. Weird considering I've never actually had a problem with a revolving door but HAVE gotten stuck in an elevator for a bit (a tiny one with three other dudes on a hot summer day - fun! Luckily it was only about 20 minutes), but man did I tense up when I saw him approach the swinging monster.

With some tightening (the climax in particular, which is almost silent as well, goes on too long) and less randomness for the victims (most of the people it kills or injures are introduced right before they are attacked) this would be a legitimately good movie, and I'm still surprised it's actually pretty good as is. Maas remade it in 2001 as The Shaft, this time in English (and - CHRIST! - twenty minutes longer), and it seems like he didn't change much based on what I can gleam from the IMDb page - the plot summary is basically the same (a blind man falls to his death, security guard decapitated, repairman and reporter teaming up, etc) and the keywords don't have anything like "demon" or "haunting" to suggest he changed the backstory. I might be open to giving it a shot down the road someday, if only for its cast (Ron Perlman and Michael Ironside are both in it, plus the debut performance from a 20ish Ike Barinholtz), but I mean, this is definitely a one time kinda deal, and I'm certainly not sure a longer run time and native English speakers would make it better (if anything, it seems worse!). We'll see. Don't have much else to do these days.

What say you?

P.S. It's October! The revived HMAD has been back for a month now, and I hope you guys are enjoying it. And if so, and if you have any spare dough to spend on frivolous things, I humbly ask you to consider "buying a coffee" via this link, as things are tight in the ol' BC house thanks to Covid's nonsense and the collapse of BMD. And if you've already done that, I thank you again. You're all heroes!


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