The Lift (1983) / Down (2001) Blu-ray Reviews: Same Shaft, Different Play

Blue Underground opens the doors to Dick Maas' epically strange tale of a killer elevator, as well as his poorly-timed Americanized remake.
  |   Comments

"Take the stairs! Take the stairs! For God's sake, take the stairs!!"

Elevators are the worst, aren't they? I mean, you sit there, waiting for a soulless metal box to drop ‒ or ascend ‒ only to have to stuff yourselves in with various groups of strangers whose various odors you'd rather not have to breathe in. But what happens when that metal box suddenly develops a soul, but remains utterly cold and heartless? That was the sorta-kinda premise behind one of Dutch filmmaker Dick Maas' greatest successes, 1983's De Lift. A surprise hit around the world (it even wound up being distributed in America amid the flurry of gory Italian horror movies bewildering and delighting jaded audiences at the time), the movie would prove just popular enough for Maas to revisit it 18 years later.

But first thing first. Set in Amsterdam, De Lift (which translates out to The Lift, just in case you have a hard time with that one) centers on the mysterious goings-on of a regular ol' elevator. After a group of obnoxiously drunk and horny folk nearly suffocate in a stalled passenger conveyor, repairman Felix (Huub Stapel, also in Maas' Amsterdamned) finds nothing wrong with mechanical aspects of the contraption. But accidents nevertheless continue to happen, including the memorable decapitation of a sleazy security guard, which prompts Felix and a nosy tabloid reporter (Willeke van Ammelrooy) to probe a little further into what is be causing the increasingly bizarre wave of elevator fatalities.

But what is causing all of these so-called "accidents"? Well, it would take a Dutch scientist to explain. And even when that does happen in The Lift, viewers capable of outright suspending their disbelief indefinitely will still be left wondering if they really heard what they thought they heard. That goes doubly for those of you who watch the movie with the outrageous English dubbed soundtrack, which ‒ as hard as it is to fathom ‒ just as strange and surreal as its original Dutch counterpart. But of course, Maas' memorably esoteric atmosphere is just one of several reasons fans want to take repeated rides on The Lift. (That, and the moody synth score and Huub Stapel's strangely hypnotic performance.)

As fascinatingly bizarre and kooky as it sounds, The Lift was one of those weird low-budget wonders I saw on VHS as a teen, several years after it had already come and gone in the US. And, despite the fact it had been nearly 25 years since the one and only time I saw the film, Dick Maas' strange sci-fi/horror/black comedy hybrid has nevertheless lingered in the back of my mind all this time. Alas, following the days of the VHS era, The Lift became all the more obscure, never stopping on the same floor as the American DVD market. Were that not bad enough to those of us who still retained a fondness for the film, its director returned to recreate the exact same ride years later, but with entirely different results.

Despite being a co-production between the US and the Netherlands, Maas' 2001 remake ‒ simply titled Down for its initial release ‒ proved to be less popular in America than its predecessor. This time set in The Big Apple, the tale takes place in a skyscraper called the Millennium Building (which has falcons), with nearly every moment from the The Lift recreated scene-for-scene. Only without the charm. Naturally, a bigger building means a few extra stories, and Down's narrative adds such noticeably different settings such are a doomed best friend for our hero, more scenes of sleazy security guards, and a lot of East Coast residents with strangely European-sounding New York accents.

But the most notable additions to Down include a catastrophic massacre by the killer elevator which prompts the President and US Government to think it's all the work of terrorists! And while that might seem simultaneously topical and off-color, given that Down was released the same year as 9/11, the film was actually completed and hit (international) cinemas months before the fact. But it wasn't as if American audiences noticed, since Down (this time with added Aerosmith music, just to give your stomach that extra boost upwards) was quietly shuffled onto the oversaturated home video horror market two years later (in pan-and-scan) under the even dumber title The Shaft.

Even with the bad green screen and even worse CGI, Down heads in just that direction primarily because of its leads. Twin Peaks co-stars James Marshall and Naomi Watts (the latter being no stranger to bad remakes, having appeared in The Ring and Peter Jackson's King Kong) play our repairman and reporter here (respectively), with Eric Thal tossed in the mix as Marshall's friend. Neither of 'em really seem to try, but fortunately, the movie livens up a tad whenever the marquee value co-stars pop-up on-screen, including the venerable assortment of Edward Herrmann, Ron Perlman, Dan Hedaya, and B-movie villain extraordinaire Michael Ironside, who, sadly, is not given nearly enough screen time.

After years of praying The Lift would arrive on Blu-ray (and years spent hoping Down wouldn't), the folks at Blue Underground have decided to give us a double dose of Dick with BD/DVD Collector's Edition Combo Packs of The Lift and Down. Both remastered in 2K (and approved by filmmaker Dick Maas) from their original camera negatives, these are undoubtedly the best either has ever looked. This also marks the first time both films have been seen in the US in their theatrical aspect ratios: The Lift is framed at 1.66:1, whilst the bigger-budgeted Down is finally available 2.35:1 widescreen , which should prompt those who did see it to revisit it so that they can see if they missed anything.

Blue Underground's release of The Lift on Blu-ray features two Dutch audio options in 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD MA, with optional English, English (SDH), and Spanish subtitles. The crazy English dub is also included (yay!) in 2.0 DTS-HD MA, and it should be duly noted the voice of Edward Mannix (who dubbed many Euro horror flicks) can be heard as Huub Stapel's boss. Dick Maas and editor Hans van Dongen provide an English-language audio commentary, and Huub himself appears in an on-screen interview, and both features provide a lot of interesting information behind the film. Also included is a creepy four-minute short from Maas, Long Distance (2003), Dutch and US trailers, and a poster/still gallery.

Down's aural selections include 5.1 DTS-HD MA and 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo selections in English and French, with optional English (SDH) and Spanish subtitles. Maas provides an audio commentary for this version of the film, too (so I guess he can't be too terribly embarrassed by it), and is joined by stunt coordinator Willem de Beukelaer (because this version has more special effects in it and stuff). A brief making-of featurette running about nine minutes is followed by nearly three hours of raw production footage (culled from a video source, so be prepared for the video quality to go Down). Lastly, there's an international trailer, two teaser trailers (also international, I believe), and a poster/still gallery.

Wrapping up each release is a collectible booklet featuring a new essay on each film. In the case of The Lift, the liners are provided by writer and filmmaker Chris Alexander. Down's notes hail from author Michael Gingold. As is becoming routine in this day and age, the collectible booklets are limited to first pressings of each title only, while Blue Underground's releases of The Lift and Down themselves are limited to only 3,000 pressings apiece. So make sure you get on the right floor before the doors close, since there's no guarantee you might be able to get there afterward. Oddly, I'm recommending both titles, just so you can see how much of a difference a bad American influence can make.

The Lift and Down hit Blu-ray/DVD October 31, 2017 from Blue Underground.

Follow Us