I'd imagine that, for most casual foreign movie fans (including myself), your experience with Dutch film directors probably begins and ends with Paul Verhoeven (Soldier of Orange, Robocop) and maybe the late George Sluizer (The Vanishing, both the original and American remake). Another great name to add to that list is Dick Maas, who cut his teeth on music videos before graduating to feature-length films with The Lift (1983), a low-budget thriller about a three car elevator that may or may not be purposefully killing its passengers. But don't worry---or depending on your taste in films, don't get your hopes up---because The Lift isn't nearly as campy or hilarious as you might be expecting.
Taking several cues from Jaws (and perhaps unconsciously, The Shining, which was only three years old at the time), The Lift avoids easy laughs and often plays it straight, with a subtly winking charm that makes it a purely enjoyable watch. Our hero of sorts is Felix Adelaar (Huub Stapel), an elevator technician whose wife Saskia (Josine van Dalsum) is starting to resent his long hours and dwindling levels of attention for their two children. Nonetheless, he's called to action when four people are nearly suffocated in an elevator at a nearby complex---but his inspection reveals nothing out of the ordinary. Once the injuries turn into deaths, Felix and journalist Mieke de Boer (Willeke van Ammelrooy) pursue their shared suspicion: local tech company Rising Sun, who programmed the elevator's new computer, might be responsible. But like Saskia, Felix's boss also resents his obsessive behavior on the job and tries to pull him away from it.
The Lift doesn't do everything right, but it's well above average for a first-time director working with a low budget and limited shooting schedule. The atmosphere is first-rate, with memorable interiors, moody lighting, and a subtle menace---partially anchored by the music, also written by Maas---that does most of the heavy lifting. Performances are uniformly great as well: Josine van Dalsum and Willeke van Ammelrooy each brought over a decade of experience to their roles, while it was Huub Stapel's first after several years in the theater. While portions of the story, including Felix's trouble at home and some of the investigation into Rising Sun, never completely gel or feel all that necessary, The Lift manages to stay well above water due to its great atmosphere, intrigue, and tongue-in-cheek attitude. Like The Vanishing, however, you'll want to steer clear of its American remake (Down, AKA The Shaft, a 2001 film starring James Marshall and Naomi Watts), also directed by Maas. Note to Dutch filmmakers: don't bother with American remakes.
Undoubtedly an obscure gem for foreign film fans and horror buffs alike during the decade of its release, The Lift has gradually faded into obscurity during the last three decades, perhaps only resurfacing briefly when the remake came out. Luckily, the good folks at Blue Underground (who recently released Maas' 1988 film Amsterdamned, also starring Huub Stapel) have stepped up with another fantastic Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, combining an excellent new A/V presentation with an assortment of enjoyable extras featuring a few members of the cast and crew. (If you're keen on the American remake, that's coming from Blue Underground the same day and we'll have a review up soon.)
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, The Lift looks better than expected on this clean and crisp 1080p transfer. It's been sourced from a recent 2K master, as evidenced by the strong image detail and texture on display in just about every scene. Film grain is apparent but tends to be dialed back in dimly-lit and nighttime scenes; perhaps some level of noise reduction has been applied here, but I can't be sure. Color reproduction is superb, with some noticeable depth at times and a striking overall appearance for several of the film's memorable interiors. Without question, it's an outstanding presentation and I'd imagine that die-hard fans will be extremely pleased with this one. If you're more familiar with Blue Underground's output, you'll also be happy to know that The Lift's Blu-ray suffers from none of the encoding issues that plagued their release of Dick Maas' Amsterdamned back in August (which was quickly corrected).
DISCLAIMER: These promotional images and stills are decorative and do not represent the title under review.
Much like Amsterdamned, we get several different audio options and subtitles to choose from. The default track is a nicely balanced DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix of the original Dutch soundtrack, which features crisp dialogue and nice dynamics on much of the music. Surround activity is limited to a few weather effects, some of the music cues, and other subtle atmospheric touches; overall, it just sounds more immediate than the typical stereo option. Speaking of which, we also get two DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 tracks as well: the original Dutch (for purists), as well as an English dub that's not completely terrible but isn't balanced quite as evenly. The subtitle options are also appreciated: one's a literal translation of the Dutch mix, a second matches the English dub, and a third translates the film to Spanish.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Blue Underground's interface is clean and easy to navigate, with minimal pre-menu distractions and quick loading time. This two-disc package (one Blu-ray, one DVD) arrives in a stocky Criterion-style clear keepcase with overlapping hubs, reversible cover artwork, and a nice Booklet
with a new essay by writer and filmmaker Chris Alexander.
Plenty of interesting goodies to dig through here. The first and best is a new Audio Commentary
with writer/director Dick Maas and editor Hans van Dongen; moderated by filmmaker David Gregory, this chat features plenty of interesting stories and memories from both key contributors. Topics of discussion include borrowing from Jaws
, finding a location near Amsterdam, "cheating" with only one floor, differences in the American remake Down
, casting the lead role, Maas' music videos, working with a $350,000 budget on a 30-day shooting schedule, decapitations and stunt work, poster designs and promotional artwork, sound effects, writing the score, turning down a sequel, and much more.
Several shorter extras are also on board and, like the commentary, appear to be exclusive to this release. The like-minded "Going Up: An Interview with Huub Stapel" is a recent 10-minute conversation with the lead actor, who discusses his experience with theater acting, the challenges of his very first film experience in The Lift, gaining 14 kilos at the gym for his supporting role in Flodder (Maas' second film) two years later, some of The Lift's more violent scenes, and more. Long Distance is a brief and depressing 2003 short film by Dick Maas about a businessman's phone call home to his family. Finally, we get the vastly different Dutch and U.S. Trailers for The Lift (guess which one has boobs?!) as well as a very nice Poster & Still Gallery with more than 80 images to page through. Overall, it's a nice mix that might've only been better with more cast interviews or Maas' uncut music video for Golden Earrings' "When the Lady Smiles".
The Lift is an enjoyable little horror import that's aged extremely well since 1983, thanks to its great atmosphere and a well-executed premise that centers around the still-relevant topic of "dangerous new technology". Bottom line: any film featuring a sentient elevator better toe the line carefully or risk complete disaster, and The Lift remarkably manages to stay grounded by playing it completely straight. There's a lot to like about this low-budget thriller on first viewing, not to mention enough winking charm that makes it fun to revisit every so often. Blue Underground's Blu-ray package is a nice surprise as well, pairing its impressive A/V presentation with a great assortment of entertaining and informative extras. It's Highly Recommended to the right crowd...and check out Amsterdamned while you're at it, too.