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The Lift

“I don’t much like the lift, I prefer to take the stairs, it’s much safer.”

July 3, 1985

THE LIFT (DE LIFT) is a 1983 Dutch horror film, the feature debut of music video, TV and short film director Dick Maas, who would later direct AMSTERDAMNED. According to The New York Times it played the Waverly starting July 3rd, but I don’t know if it played other cities on that day, or later, or what. It was not in the top 25 at the box office for that weekend, which means it made less than the $2,723 that MOVERS & SHAKERS starring Walter Matthau made on the one screen it had left in its tenth week. So, as with WARRIORS OF THE WIND and THE STUFF earlier in this series, I’m unsure about the exact time and size of the release, but there’s enough evidence to be convinced it was played on some screens in the Summer of 1985.

So this was a season when adventurous filmgoers in certain American cities might’ve been able to see horror movies about killer yogurt and a killer elevator. THE STUFF treated its concept with a straight face, but there were jokes, and some very clear satire. I will trust the various reviews of the time that THE LIFT is a black comedy, but to me it plays serious.

Perhaps because the version on Shudder is dubbed into English from the original Dutch, it reminds me of some of the Italian horror movies I’ve seen. There are some main characters, some characters who show up briefly just to die, many of them are assholes, there’s some investigating (including long talky scenes with a fancy expert dude in his office) of a mystery that leads to something not natural. I won’t say supernatural, because the vague explanation is more Cronenbergian (which I prefer). There are some nice, moody camera moves and a pretty good synth score (by Maas!) to build lots of tension about what’s gonna happen to various people when they get too close to the film’s villain: the middle of three elevators in a particular office building.

In the opening, two blissfully drunk couples are leaving Restaurant Icarus on the 15th floor when a storm knocks out the power and traps them in the elevator. They joke about ordering champagne and caviar through the emergency phone, and one pair starts going at it up against the side of the elevator, but they soon start overheating and almost suffocate as the staff of the building fail to open the doors.

So the next day the building management call our hero, intrepid elevator repairman and apparent ladies man Felix (Huub Stapel, who also plays the titular-evil-Saint-Nick in Maas’s 2010 movie SINT [SAINT]). When we first meet him he has a black eye said to come from smiling at his friend’s wife. He’s married with two kids. His son kind of looks like a really young Corey Feldman and tries to be outrageous, but he’s less sophisticated than a Goonie or, say, Turtle from D.A.R.Y.L. He tries to tell his sister about breasts but he only knows to call them “lumps” and “chest things.”

The elevator seems to be working fine now, and Felix can’t find anything wrong with it, but then people start to die in it. Compared to some slasher movies it’s a small body count, but I like that each kill uses a different approach. The best death by far is when (SPOILER FOR THE BEST DEATH BY FAR) two security guards go to check on the thing acting up and the doors close on one guy’s head. He can see the elevator stopped above him, so there’s some suspense as he tries to get out of there, then thinks it’s coming toward him, then it stops, then it goes again and pushes his head down and we indeed get a graphic shot of a dummy head breaking off and tumbling down the shaft. I mean, if you’re watching a movie about a killer elevator, it’s either gonna have that shot or it’s not, and it would be a failure if it didn’t, but it does, so we’re in business here, in my opinion.

Obviously something is up, but Felix can’t figure out anything mechanical, so he starts asking around, hearing stories about finding hundreds of dead rats in there, or about the previous repairman who went crazy. And then he goes and tries to track that guy down, and talk to people who know him. It’s kind of like how Fletch has different mysteries he’s looking into, except instead of a journalist this is an elevator repairman. Whatever vocation you’re in, you might have to start your own investigation if the right circumstances come up. He pools some of his information with Mieke (Willeke van Ammelrooy, ANTONIA’S LINE, THE LAKE HOUSE), a journalist who questions him about it.

One of the people he talks to is an expert in the “computer chips” that run the elevator system. If you need a deadly drinking game, drink every time you hear the word “chip.” It’s mostly in one scene, but you will be absolutely hammered.

Most characters in the movie are horny. Before the two security guards run into trouble, the older one brags about his days in the Navy having “a girl in every port” and tries to get the younger one to talk about his escapades. One of Felix’s co-workers brags about having a date with “the blonde” they work with and says, “They say she shaves herself down below.” When Felix says “This lift does things it shouldn’t,” Mieke responds, “I’ve done things I shouldn’t.” In this environment it’s no wonder Felix’s wife assumes him going out at night means he’s cheating on her, and she leaves with the kids. (He doesn’t put up much of a fight, though.)

The reviews don’t seem to have been as dismissive as I’d assume, even if they were negative. Janet Maslin in The New York Times called it “remarkably tension-free” and said “Mr. Maas leaves the elevator’s potential fiendishness largely unexploited.” But Variety was very positive when they reviewed it at the end of ’82 (maybe it played Cannes or something?). They called it “Maas’ first theatrical test, which he passes handsomely” and said it “has echoes of Brian De Palma, but at bottom it’s not imitation but an original Maas.”

I don’t know about the De Palma comparison, but the filmatism is pretty strong, and works well with the oddness of the concept. I think many people would just want to laugh at it because of what it’s about, and (especially in this dubbed version) it probly has too many elements of disposable horror to overcome that. But I see it as kind of a Stephen King premise. If King is allowed to make inanimate objects into monsters 24-7 I don’t see why Dick Maas can’t get an occasional day pass. And there’s something cool about a guy climbing around in an elevator shaft (mostly filmed in a real one, I think) opening up the boxes and finding green slime and weird pulsating transparent sacs and stuff. Ah, there’s your problem, right there. The green slime and the weird pulsating transparent sac.

But I’m a guy who went from thinking THE MANGLER was one of the worst movies I’d ever seen to deciding it’s some kind of minor masterpiece, so I’m just at that place in my journey, I suppose. Your mileage may vary.

SUMMER OF 1985 NOTES:

Surprisingly this is the only movie of the season so far to use the popular “beware of technology” theme. It would be a stretch to count the electro-shock in RETURN TO OZ or Rambo’s wariness of the latest gun models. Chuck Norris made up with the police robot, D.A.R.Y.L. would have no protagonist without technology, and the invention of time travel helped Marty get a new truck or whatever. I suppose Christopher Walken was doing something evil with whatever it was he had in A VIEW TO A KILL – something about microprocessors and horse steroids? I don’t even remember anymore. But this is the first one to say hey guys, maybe cool it with the advanced elevators. Could be trouble.

Pop culture:

In Felix’s household I believe I spotted a Babar mug, a comic book called Jerry Lee, and a pretty cool centerfold of Goofy and Clarabelle Cow.

Tie-ins:

Maas directed many music videos for a band called Golden Earring. In the video for “When the Lady Smiles,” a character runs into an elevator just as Felix comes out of the next one over with his tool kit. (3:25) It’s like how The Limey had that cameo in FULL FRONTAL.

Legacy:

In 2001, Maas shot an American remake called DOWN (also known as THE SHAFT), set in New York, with Naomi Watts playing the reporter. Michael Ironside, Edward Herrmann, Dan Hedaya and Ron Perlman were also in the cast.

Cinematographer Marc Felperlaan went on to shoot DEUCE BIGALOW: EUROPEAN GIGOLO.

The building still exists. You can rent office space there if you want to take your fandom to impressive lengths.

This entry was posted on Monday, July 6th, 2020 at 10:23 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

18 Responses to “The Lift”

  1. Wait, does Horace Horsecollar know Goofy is making moves on his girl?!? Come on Horace, you think Popeye would let this slide?

    Never seen this, don’t think I’ve ever seen VHS or DVDs out in the wild nor seen it listed on TV, but I know of it as the tagline is one of my all time favourites.

  2. I’ve only seen the remake, which has that same Italian horror sound despite being an American film. It’s certainly weird, it doesn’t feel like an American film — I wonder if he changed much, it sounds pretty much like the remake follows the original’s template. Also, find his SILENT WITNESS with William Hurt and Jennifer Tilly if you can, it’s got some good Amsterdam action in it as well, although it’s mostly about their deaf daughter running around, Hurt only really steps up at the end.

  3. Of course European critics were a bit nicer to this, if I remember right.

  4. If you liked this you should check out some of Maas’ other films as well, Vern.

    He’s got a pulpy sensibility that usually results in fun films. The Italian genre films comparison is quite apt. Amsterdamned has a Dutch giallo thing going on. The horny characters are usually there and Maas’ synth scores are fun.

    His last film Prooi (Prey, USA title seems to be Uncaged) got absolutely smoked by the critics here in the Netherlands, but I thought it was really fun. The premise is ridiculous: Lions in Amsterdam! Thet eat everybody and then they disappear. They must be tracked down! By a journalist, his lion expert girfriend and later on a Quint like mentor shows up. It feels like the Italian ripoff The Ghost and The Darkness would have gotten if it was made in the ’80s. I had a blast with it. If you can find it, go for it.

    The fact he does his own soundstracks helps set the tone. He usually sounds a little cheap, but he hits the right note and stays on the right side of cheesy. In Sint he’s got this fun slasher thing going with a score that’s half Halloween homage half/ half action film.

    Sint itself probably doesn’t play too well internationally, especially now, because of all the blackface involved in the tradition of celebrating Sinterklaas in the Netherlands. It is still one of the better evil Santa films. The Dutch spin keeps it fresh and there are some impressive visuals for a film with little budget.

  5. Love seeing Amsterdam as background for action. Everyone should check out the new version of VAN DER VALK. They really know how to film the great city.

    SILENT WITNESS is really fun. Mostly because Hurt seems to be drunk in several scenes. And a couple of times he over acts and laughs at his own lines. Superb!

  6. Elevator horror > elevated horror.

  7. SAINT has a pretty good “chase on zombie horseback on the roofs of Amsterdam” scene, but other than that I thought it was boring. I quite like AMSTERDAMNED though.

  8. AMSTERDAMNED is a good one. And it made me want to visit the city.

  9. How could anyone hate a movie with a tagline like this one?

  10. The boat chase through the canals in Amsterdamned is still very impressive. Also stars Huub Stapel, just like The Lift.

    As for The Lift, I’ve always really liked it, but it’s not one I revisit very often. It’s still quite modest in it’s thrills, but this also what makes it work.

    The elevator decapitation is very effective in spite of the obvious dummy head. The build up to it actually happening is quite suspenseful.

  11. I’d say Dick Maas is closer to a Dutch Larry Cohen than a Dutch Brian De Palma. He’s a one-man band knocking out high-concept premises with lots of personality and tongue slightly in cheek. I’ll always check out a Maas movie if it crosses my path.

    Another thing I’ll always do whenever I get a chance is post a link to the AMSTERDAMNED theme song, because it’s just one of those things that make life worth living. (It probably won’t work because my links never do but I’m doing it anyway.)

    YouTube

    Disfruta los videos y la música que te encantan, sube contenido original y compártelo con tus amigos, familiares y el resto del mundo en YouTube.

  12. Oh so the Naomi Watts one was actually a remake of this…

  13. Majestyk, you didn’t link to the actual music video, tho – it adds a lot to the charm!

    Loïs Lane - Amsterdamned (1987) [videoclip]

    (320 kbps stereo muziek) Titelsong van de gelijknamige Nederlandse speelfilm van regisseur Dick Maas (die ook deze clip Regisseerde). Het is geschreven door ...

  14. For what little hipster cred it’s worth, I used to own a laserdisc of this movie.

    There was a store in my area that sold laserdiscs (new and used) back when that was a thing, and they had this one used for about $10. I didn’t own a laserdisc player at that tender age but still began collecting a few of them because I figured one day I would invest in a player.

    I’d heard of this film because of a short review of it in a completist sci-fi reference book I had. It sounded kind of interesting but I wasn’t really expecting the chance to actually find such an obscure movie for sale in my area on freaking laserdisc, and at a reasonable price too.

    So I added it to my modest collection. A local college library had viewing stations that you could use to watch laserdiscs, and that’s how I got to watch it.

    Today I don’t remember much about the movie other than the opening scene where the people are trapped in the elevator and the woman copes with the heat by gratuitously pulling down her not-that-heavy-looking dress and exposing at least one boob, possibly both. Overall I wasn’t that impressed by the movie at the time and I’m pretty sure I sold that laserdisc back to the same store I got it from.

    This anecdote has no point but thank you for reading it anyway.

  15. There are quite a few action/suspense scenes involving lifts. DIE HARD and DEEP RED springs to mind. But I want to give a shout out to the German ABWÄRTS (DOWNWARDS) with Götz George. It’s been a while since I saw it, but it was filmed almost entirely inside an elevator, and it was a good one (correct me if my memory fails me, CJ).

  16. It’s been at least 20 years since I saw it, but ABWÄRTS has generally been regarded as as a great, German movie and also put director Carl Schenkel (KNIGHT MOVES, TARZAN & THE LOST CITY) on the international map.

  17. Dick Maas is basically ‘what if Ronald Emmerich grew up in a country where he could not get a budget over 1 million’ but I do have a soft spot for him as the Dutch schlockmeister. You should just watch Verhoeven’s Dutch movies instead but I guess the first Flodder is okay. I once made this on a bored afternoon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6dePhHE60A

  18. “what if Ronald Emmerich grew up in a country where he could not get a budget over 1 million ”

    So…basically that’s Roland Emmerich.

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