Horror, Thriller

The Lift (1983)/Down (2001)

Comments Off on The Lift (1983)/Down (2001) 08 January 2018


Blu-ray Distributed By: Blue Underground

Initial Release: May 11, 1983/September 6, 2001

Blu-ray Release: October 31, 2017

Director: Dick Maas

Rating: R

Reviewed By James M. Dubs

I’ll watch anything…including The Lift (1983) and Down (2001).

Updates. Remakes. Reboots. Sequels. Prequels. Lions, and tigers, and bears. Oh my!

In film history, directors and producers wishing to update their older work are nothing new. Perhaps the most famous of these “revisions” is that of George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy. The Star Wars trilogy is arguably the poster child for over-meddling. It’s easy to point a finger and shout, “That’s why remakes should not occur.”

However, every once in a while a director succeeds. Few will argue that Michael Mann’s 1995 critically acclaimed masterwork Heat, starring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, is among his best films. What few may realize is that it is a remake of his 1989 made-for-TV film Made in L.A. (aka L.A. Takedown) indicating, at least in theory, remakes can work.

Which brings me to Dick Maas’ 1983 Dutch thriller, de Lift (The Lift), and his 2001 Americanized re-make Down (aka The Shaft). After consuming both of these movies, the question that keeps burning for me is, why remake a film? What is it that drives a filmmaker to want to go back and tinker with something left behind? But before we can even deep dive into that topic, I need to address the elephant in the room.

Yes, this is a killer elevator movie. But wait! It isn’t as stupid as it may sound. Film and TV has been full of creepy tales about inanimate objects somehow springing to life or being possessed by demonic forces. At its best, The Lift/Down reminds me a great deal of a very good episode of The Twilight Zone. And who doesn’t like The Twilight Zone?

Blue Underground has released both films concurrently, with beautiful new 2k restorations, and given buyers a very interesting choice. Do you watch The Lift, Down, both, or neither?

The Lift – Rating: ★★★★☆

After a bizarre elevator accident injures a handful of riders, elevator repairman Felix (Huub Stapel) is called in to investigate and repair the faulty equipment. However, when his inspections find nothing strange, things become more puzzling as new accidents prove deadly.

Felix & Mieke (The Lift)

These events draw the attention of tabloid journalist Mieke (Willeke van Ammelrooy) who begins working with Felix to investigate the mystery surrounding the ghoulish events. What is causing the accidents? Is it an unseen killer rigging the device for his murderous desires? Could dark and supernatural forces be at the root of this evil? Or could there be an even deeper conspiracy at play?

Simply put, The Lift was an absolute joy to watch. From the opening frame, as the synth-pop soundtrack takes hold, you can sense the deeper influences bestowed on Maas by filmmakers like John Carpenter. And like Carpenter’s original horror classic Halloween, The Lift has an independent spirit that gives the film its life and soul.

Like Halloween, The Lift is not without its flaws. Some of the special effects are not as polished, and some of the acting may not be the best. However, at its core there is a very strong script with interesting characters, a decent mystery at play, and very capable directing.

The characters are so very well developed, in fact, that it allows the viewer to set aside the absurdity of a killer elevator plot and ground our reality in the three-dimensional characters he has developed. Our primary protagonist, Felix, is given real life problems. He’s a middle class elevator repairman with a wife who suspects infidelity, and young children who are either too rambunctious or too impressionable. Therefore when the mystery surrounding the elevator hits full speed, we no longer care about its improbability but rather how those events will impact Felix’s personal home life.

Maas strikes perfect balance of suspense, humor, and drama all at appropriate times. It’s clear that the director has budget limitations, but he expertly crafts a solid script and manages the tone so the warts and imperfections are easily overlooked and ignored.

Which takes us to…

Down – Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Down is quite literally, the Exact. Same. Movie.

Mark & Jennifer (Down)

Except it sucks.

This time Maas has a bigger budget. He has higher profile actors. And the film sets itself in New York City. Beyond that it’s lifeless and soulless, especially when comparing it against its independent relative, The Lift.

James Marshall, of Twin Peaks fame, takes over the elevator repairman role, renamed Mark for this version. Naomi Watts (The Ring, King Kong, Mulholland Drive) is Jennifer, the spunky tabloid reporter.

In this iteration, Mark is not married. He’s a former Marine and kind of a loser. One of his first film interactions is getting cheated on by his girlfriend. In another scene he gets punched in the face and knocked over with one blow. I wouldn’t say we don’t like him, but unlike Felix from The Lift, Mark has nothing in his personal life to help put anything else at stake. If he dies, it’s tragic, but it’s not like he’s raising a family.

The performances are flat and uninspired. The film boasts some of the best genre favorites – Michael Ironside (Scanners), Edward Hermann (The Lost Boys), Dan Hedaya (Commando), and Ron Perlman (Hellboy) – but the dialogue feels forced and staged, even though much of it is word for word identical.

You’ve probably already noticed throughout this review I have included my usual screenshots, but showcased images from both films side-by-side. When comparing the two movies there are really only three major differences between The Lift and Down. Down includes…

  1. A bottomless elevator scene with a costly digital effect that looks like garbage. On the plus side, a kid pisses his pants which is unintentionally hilarious.
  2. A “rollerblade scene” that showcases another death spectacle beyond the budget capabilities of The Lift.
  3. Broadening the social commentary to include Presidents and terrorist plots.

This last deviation from the original proves to be the only interesting thing about Down, but not because of the film itself. By coincidence, Down was released in the Netherlands on September 6, 2001 (5 days before the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center). Near the film’s end, armed forces have moved into the building, believing terrorists could be influencing the elevators. One soldier asks why they’ve brought missiles and the other responds, “Terrorists have airplanes too.” Later you can hear another soldier say, “If you see Bin Laden, say hello!”

These three changes represent the most significant updates, but even these do nothing to alter the story in any significant and impactful way from The Lift. A lot of it is mindlessly cookie-cutter identical, which leads me to believe Maas desired to remake one of his best films in an effort to get a second chance for a missed opportunity from years past.

In 1988, while Maas was developing Amsterdamned (another great blu-ray release by Blue Underground), he was offered the Director position of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. Maas would turn down this offer, and Nightmare 4 (directed instead by Renny Harlin) would go on to be the most financially successful entry in the series. Harlin went on to have a pretty successful Hollywood directing career. Maas did not. Therefore, I suspect Down was Maas’ second chance to get his break into Hollywood.

Of course this is all just conjecture, and it’s possible I’m looking for reasons and logic where there may be none. It’s quite possible that Maas simply had the idea of an elevator floor dropping out from under its riders and some stupid producer gave him money to make Down for that reason alone. Or maybe he just wanted to use Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator” in a horror movie. (That’s not a joke. Maas uses it twice.)

Regardless, Down failed and was pulled from theaters due to world events outside of Maas’ control. Americans wouldn’t have the ability to see Down (re-titled The Shaft) until 2003 as a truncated, bare bones, pan and scan DVD.

Even without a side-by-side comparison to The Lift, Down remains a clunky, poorly executed film. It is reminiscent of the shitty PG-13 slashers cranked out in the 1990s by Miramax and Dimension films. It’s not terrible. It’s just… Bleh and forgettable. Down has more polish, updated special effects, and a more seasoned and famous cast, but in the end it is by far an inferior product.

Final Thoughts

Completists, like myself, will want both movies for study and comparison. Blue Underground makes both titles well worth any serious collectors while with strong technical presentation and a bunch of fantastic extras, including Director commentary on both films.

The Lift audio includes both the original Dutch language track (5.1 surround) as well as an English dub (2.0 stereo) for those of you who still can’t get beyond reading subtitles. (I don’t understand you people.)

For more casual horror film fans, I’ll simplify this with the following analogy.

If The Lift = John Carpenter’s Halloween;

Then Down = Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers.

That analogy should help you decide whether you lean toward purchasing The Lift, Down, both, or neither.


- who has written 68 posts on UnRated Film Review Magazine | Movie Reviews, Interviews.

James Dubs is a father and husband who loves his family first and movies a close second. He believes every movie is worth watching once and, as a film fan and critic, believes that even the worst movies offer something in return. His mission is to watch anything and report without pretension. Follow James Dubs on Twitter and send him suggestions on movies you would like reviewed - popular, obscure, independent, etc. He'll watch anything for you.

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