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Lift/Down Double Feature, The

The Lift

(1983)
There is something very wrong with the elevator in a stylish office high-rise. The passengers never end up on the floor of their choice. They end up dead! When Felix (Huub Stapel), an inquisitive repairman, investigates the faulty deathtrap, he discovers that something other than malfunctioning machinery is to blame. Some dark, distorted power has gained control of the elevator for its own evil design. After his horrifying discovery is given the shaft by the authorities, he joins a nosy female journalist named Mieke de Boer (Willeke van Ammelrooy) to battle the unholy force inside the lift. (From Blue Underground’s official synopsis)

Before he made the best slasher-action-cop-drama you’ve never seen, Amsterdamned (1988), Dutch writer/director Dick Maas brought his flashy, music video style to an inherently silly haunted/self-aware elevator movie called The Lift (Dutch: De Lift). Both films are prime Maas material, blending ridiculous concepts, bald-faced exploitation tactics, expressionistic visuals, and great performances into a super-charming, mixed-genre affair. His stylish photography manages to make even the beigest corner offices and stodgiest bowling alleys appear dynamic and was born out of the early MTV music video directing generation (his most famous work in the field was a somewhat controversial video for Golden Earring's “Twilight Zone”). He is often overlooked for other music-video-directors-turned-horror-filmmakers, like Russell Mulcahy, Steve Barron, and Mary Lambert, mostly because made movies for the Dutch market.

The Lift comes loaded with more of Maas’ bawdy silliness than Amsterdamned. In fact, the director’s tongue rarely leaves his cheek during any of the horror/suspense sequences. With a few exceptions, the victims are googly-eyed, goofball caricatures and the elevator murders are played for laughs. The heartiest giggles come by way of sight gags – like a blind man stepping into an open shaft and a hard cut to a detective using a cigar guillotine just after a security guard is beheaded – or characters exchanging dry wit with stone faces. Beneath this, The Lift is also a rather clever spoof of evil robot movies (the Lift itself is a not very mobile version of the Terminator), Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) and (again, like Amsterdamned) Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975). Had it been merely an attractively-shot and genuinely amusing spoof, The Lift would’ve been a nominal success, but it transcends expectations, because Maas puts so much care into his characters. Given the relative lack of bloodshed, Felix’s admittedly cliché-driven home life and giallo-like amateur detective work (his scenes with feisty journalist Mieko are straight out of a Dario Argento movie) could’ve felt like filler or an awkward exposition dump; instead, they’re brimming with personality and a unique sense of melancholy.

The Lift enjoyed better distribution than Amsterdamned or Maas’ comedies, including a 1986 US VHS release by Media Home Entertainment. However, the only DVD availability I’m aware of was a barebones, pan & scan disc from Warner in France and an anamorphic special edition disc from Dice DVD in Holland. It has been unavailable in North America until now. Blue Underground’s Blu-ray was derived from a brand new 2K scan of the original negative and the HD restoration was supervised by Maas himself. The restoration is very similar to the company’s Amsterdamned disc and that’s mostly a good thing. Both releases are sharp and clean, almost like fresh out of the can new theatrical releases, which is especially impressive in this case, because cinematographer Marc Felperlaan really pushes that smoky and diffused ‘80s look. Edges are tight and shapes are tidy without depleting the intended softness of some scenes. The hearty grain levels are also maintained and the transfer exhibits only minor telecine effects. On the problematic side of the equation, colour timing skews awfully yellow and brown. The palette choices don’t eke out the lavender/pink and blue highlights Maas uses to signify supernatural events, but skin tones and other neutral hues definitely look ‘off’ to my eyes. Also, like the Amsterdamned transfer, some of the shadows are crushed, specifically during brightly lit sequences.

Blue Underground has supplied three audio options, including the original Dutch and English dub stereo tracks and a 5.1 remix of the Dutch track. All options are presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. Unlike Amsterdamned, The Lift wasn’t specifically designed for an international, English-friendly release. The cast doesn’t appear to be dubbing themselves, at the very least. Personally, I have some nostalgia for the English track, because that’s the version I originally saw. I also think the not-so-well-mixed dubbing (the English dialogue is way too loud) adds a bit of charm. That said, I’m still going to recommend the Dutch 2.0 track for the sake of authenticity and because I found the remix underwhelming. The directional spread is impressive enough and I like the discrete center channel audio, but volume levels are inconsistent and the music is underrepresented. In stereo, the various elements are otherwise even and balanced. Maas supplied his own musical soundtrack and reportedly recorded the entire thing in one day using synth keyboards. While it is somewhat amateurish, one has to respect the fact that he was able to come up with memorable, tone-setting themes.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with writer/director Dick Maas and editor Hans van Dongen – This new English language commentary isn’t exactly brimming with energy and there are some long silent stretches (Maas seems to have a cold), but the actual content is strong and informative, thanks to the moderation efforts of David Gregory (who I don’t recall introducing himself). Their discussion covers production/budget difficulties, inspirations, technical challenges, and the state of Dutch filmmaking in the early ‘80s.
  • Going Up (9:09, HD) – Star Huub Stapel, still cruising through the canals of Amsterdam from his last Blu-ray interview, remembers making The Lift – his feature acting debut – and some of the film’s budget-level special effects.
  • Long Distance (4:13, HD) – In this short film by Maas, a man attempts to call home after a particularly bad car accident.
  • Dutch and U.S. trailers
  • Poster, storyboard, and still gallery


 Lift/Down Double Feature, The

 Lift/Down Double Feature, The

 Lift/Down Double Feature, The

 Lift/Down Double Feature, The

 Lift/Down Double Feature, The


Lift/Down Double Feature, The

Down

(2001)
When the express elevators in New York City’s 102-story Millennium Building start to malfunction, elevator mechanics Mark (James Marshall) and Jeff (Eric Thal) are sent to find the cause. After a series of gruesome and deadly “accidents” occur, Mark joins forces with spunky reporter Jennifer (Naomi Watts), who’s on the hunt for a juicy story. As the death toll rises and the building is sealed off amid claims of terrorism, Mark and Jennifer attempt to unravel the horrifying secret behind the mysterious behavior of the bloodthirsty lift before it takes them – and the entire city – down. (From Blue Underground’s official synopsis)

For years, I assumed that Down (under the alternate title The Shaft) was an American-made rip-off of The Lift, which struck me as funny, considering that The Lift was already an unusual and underseen Jaws rip-off. Little did I know that Dick Maas himself had rewrote & redirected his own movie with a reasonably impressive budget and near A-list cast. On an entirely technical level, Down is an upgrade, if not an objective improvement over its shoe-string forebearer. The production design is top-notch and Maas has some impressive cinematic tricks up his sleeve, such as long steady-cam movements and crane shots. Comedy and satire are also still central to the formula and the over-the-top killer elevator set-pieces ante is notably upped (the body count is much higher). Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where the complements end, especially for anyone unfortunate enough to watch the two movies in direct succession. Everything else about Down feels like a mediocre attempt at ‘mainstreaming’ a charmingly cult-friendly property. The stories are effectively identical, but Maas has overdrawn the simple concept with more plot, additional characters, and other unnecessary contrivances. The dialogue is awkward, both in terms of bad language choices and the lack of tempo, despite the capable cast’s finest efforts (Ron Perlman and Edward Herrmann are the only two actors that can make the dialogue work). This is probably due to English being Maas’ second language and his Dutch instincts not gelling with the stereotypical New York vibe he’s going for. All in all, Down is more valuable as a vestigial curiosity for Lift fans than it is an entertaining standalone experience.

Down was released stateside on DVD by Artisan Entertainment not long before they were bought out by Lionsgate. Like many of the studio’s foreign-made releases, it was a pan & scan, 1.33:1 transfer. Anamorphic versions were only available in European territories. For its Blu-ray debut, Blue Underground has also remastered the original negative in 2K under Maas’ supervision and present their combined efforts in 2.35:1, 1080p HD video. Obviously, the HD upgrade is useful, but the footage itself didn’t require nearly as much cleaning up as The Lift. Maas and returning cinematographer Felperlaan don’t re-create many of their original soft and glowy photography tricks, opting instead for a modernly slick, crisp, and contrasty look. I’ve never seen this particular film on any other format, so I can only guess that the colour-timing has been altered, because it has a similar ‘harsh black/yellowed neutrals’ quality as the Lift and Amsterdamned transfers (for the record, the colour-timing of the Down trailers is almost identical). Assuming there was a change, it fits this particular film well and doesn’t interfere with the cold, clean look. Details are tightly-knit, especially in close-up, and textures are relatively complex, give or take a bit of crunchy film grain. The only negative issue I can see is some slight compression that leads to edge haloes throughout some of the sharper, wide-angle images.

Despite being a Dutch production, Down was filmed in English with English-speaking actors. Blue Underground has included that track, along with a French dub, in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0. This review pertains to the English 5.1 track, since that was the way the film was designed to be heard in theaters. Designs and on-set languages aside, there is still a lot of ADR. The mix’s directional effects and rear channel sounds are particularly aggressive in an amusingly late ‘90s way. Any overdone movements and echo effects (such as those that accompany a rendition of Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator”) are inherent in the original mix. Paul M. Van Brugge’s score is heavy-handed, but well composed. It sounds nice on the track, despite probably fitting in better with a big-budget Hollywood heist movie or crime drama.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with Dick Maas and stunt coordinator Willem de Beukelaer – David Gregory also moderates this similarly slow-starting and quiet, but ultimately informative track. De Beukelaer doesn’t have a whole lot to say, unfortunately.
  • The Making of Down (9:25, SD) – This short featurette is made up entirely of raw behind-the-scenes footage of set construction, Maas directing the cast, and special effects production, along with scenes from the movie and storyboards.
  • Behind-the-scenes footage (2:31:24, SD) – An exhaustive amount of unedited, fly-on-the-wall material shot on-set throughout the production.
  • Trailer and two teasers
  • Poster & still gallery


 Lift/Down Double Feature, The

 Lift/Down Double Feature, The

 Lift/Down Double Feature, The

 Lift/Down Double Feature, The

 Lift/Down Double Feature, The

*Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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