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.