The Lift (1983) Blu-ray Review

Director: Dick Maas | 92 minutes | Out in early 2017 in US, available now in The Netherlands

Black humor dominates in this macabre story about a murderously animated elevator and its repairman Felix (Huub Stapel) and Felix’s voluntary new assistant Mieke (Willeke van Ammelrooy), a reporter for a paper. When the elevator decapitates a security guard and tries to suffocate some party-goers, it becomes obvious that it needs more than a 60,000-mile check-up. After Felix narrows down the possibilities to some experiments his company is doing with microchips, he is coincidentally suspended from his job – indicating that the elevator is not acting alone.

This is the first time this has been made public, but last spring/summer I nearly managed to put together a deal between the director of this film, Dick Maas (who I interviewed some years ago and have stayed in touch with since), the firm that own the rights to European and US releases of THE LIFT and a rather well known Blu-ray/DVD distributor in the UK in an effort that would have seen THE LIFT get a UK Blu-ray release.

After much discussion with all involved it ultimately didn’t happen, which was more than a little disappointing for me as I love this movie.

But, THE LIFT has still managed to get a Dutch Blu-ray release despite this. In October 2016 the rights holders of Maas’ work, Dutch Film Works, went ahead with a high definition edition of this underrated 80’s horror. Restricted to a Netherlands only release it understandably has the original Dutch audio. Shortly after this US firm Blue Underground announced they are giving THE LIFT a US Blu-ray release to happen in early 2017. It is assumed this will have the English dub track that was recorded for when THE LIFT hit VHS in the States in the early 80’s.

As a big fan of this title and the work of Maas in general I managed to obtain the Dutch language Blu-ray. The lack of the English audio didn’t deter me as I can speak Dutch. I have decided to review this edition in an effort to bring more awareness to the movie and Dick Maas in English speaking markets. The Blue Underground disc will hopefully help with this, but in the run up to that I hope that those reading this will decide to seek out THE LIFT when Blue Underground do release it.

Huub Stapel as Felix

For a feature about a killer elevator, Maas actually manages to construct something suspenseful. For early parts of the run time, when the initial deaths in the lift occur, it is hinted that it either malfunctioned or it is sabotage by a disgruntled and ‘disturbed’ former employee of Deta Liften (the firm that maintain the elevators, which has a very similar name to a firm that actually did exist). It is only later when other deaths happen and are undeniably by the lift that the story becomes something a little like a Stephen King novel. For the time, the early eighties, the explanation is fairly plausible and could be classed as ‘speculative fiction’.

As is the case for most Maas works, there are elements of humour. One such example is a blind man signing the deeds on a property in the complex partially putting his signature on the table, this is met with disdain by the property developer (who had just been reassured by the blind man he’d be fine to do this). Another sees Maas teasing the viewer with some dark humour when the same blind man nearly steps into an empty elevator shaft thinking the lift is there for him to enter. The director even has a laugh at our expense during a scene with Felix inspecting the inner workings of the same shaft (I won’t spoil the surprise).

But, as a horror, this movie works. A combination of the score, composed by the director in only a day and was conducted fully on synthesizers, plus the neon colour heavy cinematography create a brooding atmosphere that make it apparent THE LIFT is a horror of the early eighties.  At times it does come across as a little Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (a spoof horror series that perfectly mocks and at the same time pays homage to the cult cinema zeitgeist of that era) but on it’s release in 1983 this would have slotted in alongside of genre hits.

Acting wise there is one performance that is memorable and that is of Dutch acting legend Huub Stapel. As elevator repairman Felix he comes across as a likeable guy that has his curiosity irked by the initial inspection of the faulty lift. When tabloid reporter Mieke (Willeke van Ammelrooy) pesters him for more info, who only encourages his interest to grow, does he then become determined to discover the cause and expose why it has been covered up. He is also shown in the context of a family home, to add depth and also illustrate he has a personal life that eventually becomes just as complex as his professional one. Stapel would go onto star in more cult cinema directed by Maas: the excellent Amsterdamned (1988) and the controversial Sint (2010).

The high definition only enhances the cinematography, which in turn shows off the transfer. It is surprisingly good, the image is the sharpest it has ever looked.  The final moments of THE LIFT benefit the most from HD, the last 15 minutes mostly take place in dim light. Sadly there are no extras, the disc simply plays the feature as soon as it’s inserted into a Blu-ray player. The release is also available as part of the Dick Maas Collection, which contains other movies directed by him on Blu-ray (some for the first time).

Yes, this reviewer is a fan of THE LIFT…

As mentioned this has received a VHS release with the English dub in both the United Kingdom and the US. DVD wise it (English audio) has oddly only ever appeared on a 2011 French disc. In 2001 Maas even directed an English language remake of his feature, renamed Down and starring Naomi Watts. The remake is inferior to the original.

So, that is THE LIFT. The anticipated US release will hopefully introduce or even re-introduce fans of kitsch cinema to it’s delights.

As this review has shown, I’m certainly a fan.