Friday, 4 December 2009

De Lift

1983
Dir. Dick Maas

Lift technician Felix (Huub Stapel) is called in to repair an elevator that has been at the centre of several bizarre deaths. As the deaths continue to mount, Felix begins an obsessive investigation that causes ructions with his family and colleagues. Joining forces with sassy, straight-talking reporter (is there any other kind?), the marvellously named Mieke de Beer (Willeke van Ammelrooy), he uncovers the involvement of shady Multi-national Corporation Rising Sun, who have installed an experimental computer chip in the elevator. An evil computer chip! An evil computer chip that can reproduce!

Take the stairs, take the stairs. For God's sake, take the Stairs!!!

I assumed that De Lift was going to be one of those films that are so bad they’re good. It’s about a killer lift! It's a Dutch horror film from the early Eighties - about a killer lift! It’s got a lift that kills people! Surprisingly, it’s a competently put together little thriller that, after plodding around for about an hour with too many exposition-heavy scenes and bland characters having bland affairs, settles down to become a taut and suspenseful ride - albeit one with a very silly premise. Helping set the mood is an atmospheric score, courtesy of writer/director Maas, full of synthesizer drones and electronic blips and bleeps that could only ever have been produced in the Eighties. You just know something bad is going to happen when you hear a sustained synthesizer cord in the key of John Carpenter.

The machine/technological horror sub-genre is a strange one. It exploits the idea of everyday machines that suddenly and inexplicably turn hostile and deadly; eviscerating our delicate flesh and crushing bones in metallic, vice-grips. If handled well, this can be very effective. Case in point – the scene in The Machinist when Michael Ironside gets his arm caught and mangled inside a machine and the brutal sun-bed deaths in The Final Destination. Yup, technology can be a real bitch – there’s just no reasoning with it. Transferring this notion to screen can be difficult though and often doesn’t work – The Mangler anyone? Let’s face it; it usually just looks preposterous when someone is being murderlised by their toaster. Lifts are different though, they have the potential to become dreadful places that can induce real fear and panic: claustrophobia, confinement, heights, lack of air – all fears that director Maas unfortunately doesn’t really do much to exploit in De Lift.



Four socially lubricated party guests take their clothes off in De Lift, only to be suffocated when the AC 'stops working'. A blind man plummets to his death when he walks into the lift shaft in a moment that shouldn’t really be funny (he had a cane…) and a tap dancing janitor (that’s just asking for it, really) also fall victim to De Lift. And that’s it, really. One of the stand out scenes features the nasty decapitation of a security guard. The build up and the pay off are expertly handled, save for a very brief glimpse of a very fake looking head. Another pretty creepy moment occurs when the little girl whose mother is having an affair with the building’s manager plays in the lobby by the lifts. One by one the doors open and the enthralled kid happily plays peek-a-boo until De Lift takes a disliking to her doll…
The rest of the film is about Felix’s ‘investigation’ and features a load of scenes with really badly dubbed people talking. A LOT.

Things become a little ludicrous when Felix realises that an old work buddy, who had also been working on the same lift, must have discovered something that drove him insane, and he eventually begins to suspect that the problem originates from the lift’s electronics – all that ectoplasm must have given it away. When he and Mieke realise the electronics are supplied by Rising Sun, they decide to snoop around and see what they can find out. They discover that, quite worryingly, Rising Sun install electronics systems all over the world – lifts, hospitals, factories, military installations and nuclear reactors. They’re everywhere! The dubious company have also been involved in international espionage and the bribery of many a politician. Crikey.



 
De Lift is unnecessarily talky. Add to this the fact that everyone has been really badly dubbed with mismatching voices that exhibit all the enthusiasm of Tommy Lee Jones eating a slice of toast. A DEAD slice of toast. The dialogue heavy scenes really cause the pace to drag. There is also a sub-plot in which Felix’s wife Saskia (Josine van Dalsum) suspects he is having an affair and leaves him, taking their brats with her. Much talk is given over to subjects such as the devastation caused when technology fails to do what it’s supposed to. Maas is obviously trying to play on the fact that society, even back in the early Eighties, is heavily reliant on technology and machines – and if anything were to go ‘wrong’ with them, we’d really be in for some trouble. A particularly snooze-inducing scene throws a distinct sci-fi element into the mix as a professor lectures our protagonists on molecule-sized protein computer chips and computers that can reproduce and then had to be buried ‘alive’ because they started to omit their own brain waves or something. A statistician relays elevator facts such as ‘250,000 people are trapped in lifts every year.’ And this was 1983! In the third act though, the dialogue all but stops, allowing the tension to rise quite effectively as Felix ditches his sassy sidekick and enters the lift shaft by himself…

A conventional thriller with a quirky twist, prone to plodding but still enjoyable. Its got a killer lift! Its got a lift that kills people. Wine might be necessary.

7 comments:

Jenn said...

Where do I sign up - although I do like my killer elevator movies less talky and more decapitating-y. Oh well. It's a limited subgenre to say the least.

BTW, I love your wine bottle with the Xmas lights in them photos.

James said...

Hey Jenn,
Yes, this was a bit too 'chatty' for my liking. Having said that, it wasn't nearly as ridiculous as I thought it would be. What with it being a film about A LIFT THAT KILLS PEOPLE.
I downloaded it from a site called 'cultra rare videos' (all one word) but sadly this site doesn't seem to exist anymore.
Hope all is well with you. It took me about an hour to type this. There was wine last night. Wine and Pontypool.

BTW - I learned a harsh lesson when I tried to recreate the images from those wine bottle/xmas lights photos. Fuses don't like to be forced into the tiny necks of empty bottles... But don't they look pretty!

WriterME said...

Interesting to hear you talking about this movie... I'm Dutch, originally, and although I know about the film (it is one of the most acclaimed Dutch movies, actually), I've never actually seen it.

I'll try and get hold of a copy to see how I find it, and whether the criticisms that you raise have much to do with Dutch (cinema) culture.

James said...

So this is quite acclaimed in Holland then? It was my first experience of Dutch horror and I understand it has quite a cult following. I'd love to hear what you think of the film once you see. I'm sure what i said about De Lift (a film about A KILLER LIFT!) will have less to do with Dutch (cinema) culture, and more to do with my love of badly dubbed cheesey horror films about killer lifts.

Thanks for stopping by - don't be a stranger.

WriterME said...

Well, I've watched De Lift... Is it a bad thing that the opening and the shot of the restaurant reminds me of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace..?

In Dutch terms, the line-up of actors is quite impressive; everyone who is someone in the acting world was in this movie, and
Huub Stapel, the lead, is considered one of the best. He appears to be one of few who are doing a decent job (together with Willeke van Ammelrooy and Piet Romer, the manager of the building.

The dialogue is... atrocious for the most part, and I can't even imagine what it's like when dubbed. Most of it made precious little sense, despite the fact that I am a native speaker. I found that there was a distinct lack of detail, as well: Felix is married for ten years, yet not wearing a ring..?

As soon as they stop talking, however, it is a great movie. To start with the lift itself: I really enjoyed the ominous first shots and the rather unnerving three-doors-opening at once, as well as the following 'evil technology' shots. The girl-elevator peek-a-boo sequence was very good, in my opinion (and I have to admit to jumping slightly when the janitor dropped into the lift). Still, as you mentioned, the best part of the movie are the final fifteen minutes or so, when Felix enters the building (and the lift) by himself.

I do agree with you on the music, and of course, no evil corporation can be without a pulsating, red light research lab and a
balding man in a white coat. Another sequence that I found both enjoyable and quaint was the professor and all the wild ideas about future technology, which definitely dates the movie.

The Dutch-isms in the movie mainly consist of rather explicit and usually unexplained and unnecessary sex scene at the beginning (every Dutch
flick needs at least one of those!) Speaking for myself, it was a lot of fun to watch, with a
ton of little things to find for the Dutch among us. Fact: the 'Nieuwe Revu', the magazine that employs Mieke de Beer,
is basically a tacky Dutch version of Maxim/FHM and similar, which I think adds a whole new level to her character.

Where did you get hold of the dubbed one? Wouldn't mind watching it in translation to see what they did to it.

If you like this, you might also be interested in Amsterdamned, by the same director and again starring Huub Stapel (more of an action flick, speedboats racing through the canals of Amsterdam and things of that nature).

Changing the subject: I do not intend to be a stranger. Have been reading your blog for a while, but have not yet felt inclined to comment. However, you can be assured that I'll be around.

James said...

I know what you mean about the opening and Garth Marenghi's Darkplace! So true.
Thanks so much for your feedback and all that cool information. I love the fact that Mieke de Beer's publication is like a Dutch Maxim/FHM! I wouldn't have known that if you hadn't told me - I guess there is a lot of stuff in the film that provides little in jokes for Flemish speaking viewers.
I have indeed heard of Amsterdamned but haven't seen it. YET. I believe Dick Maas remade De Lift in the States as a film called Down/The Shaft. Heh heh.

I downloaded De Lift from a website called cultra rare videos - it had quite a few public domain films available for download - i think it was all perfectly legit, however the site doesn't seem to be around anymore. Shame really. They had some really cool and obscure titles.

Thanks again for your comments - I really enjoyed reading them. Hope to chat again soon.

James :)

WriterME said...

Shame to hear that the site is down... I was hoping to be able to show this to some English speaking friends/horror fans. Might have to point them to the remake.

I'll definitely show up again! I'm a scholar, officially, doing a PhD in the field of horror theory, so I'm always up for a good discussion :)

Madelon