THE LIFT (1983) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Dick Maas
Blue Underground

The high-rise horror film that gave viewers a good reason to take the stairs rather than THE LIFT comes to Blu-ray/DVD combo from Blue Underground.

When a bolt of lightning strikes the electronic system that controls the elevators of the Crown Building, the center elevator starts behaving erratically, overheating and nearly suffocating a quartet of drunken revelers from the rooftop restaurant, opening to plunge a blind man down an empty shaft, and decapitating a night watchman in a series of increasingly grisly freak accidents. Elevator repairman Felix Adelaar (Huub Stapel, THE INDECENT WOMAN) cannot find anything wrong with the electrical system and runs into friction from his boss when he tries to inquire into the specifics of the advanced microchip processor installed to control the lifts. When tabloid reporter Mieke de Beer (Willeke van Ammelrooy, ANTONIA'S LINE) noses into his investigation with conspiracy theories and theories about advanced organic chips that can reprogram themselves, Felix starts to wonder if there is more to the story about his predecessor who inexplicably went mad while servicing the elevator system.

The ambitious debut feature of Dick Maas has some creepy moments exploiting fears of elevators and other automated technology but ultimately fails to fully exploit the premise – as so many high-tech, high-rise horror films so often fail – with increasingly silly plot developments and padding involving Felix's personal life that fail on dramatic and sentimental levels. Maas already demonstrates a keen visual sense, contrasting the old buildings and gray industrial exteriors of modern Holland with the singular high rise and its slick interiors, and strain of black humor does wonders to keep the viewer engaged. The stunt work and effects are not quite up to snuff and there is little of the audacity Maas would demonstrate in AMSTERDAMNED. Budget proved not to be the primary problem with THE LIFT as Maas' 2001American remake with Naomi Watts (THE RING) and James Marshall (TWIN PEAKS) sported lusher production design and more accomplished practical effects (although the CGI was an eyesore) while attempting to tighten some of the plotting while introducing some equally ludicrous developments involving terrorism (the film was released here in 2003 but premiered in Holland on September 6, 2001) while in no way actually making the lift seem more menacing despite a higher body count. This original version is the way to go for your elevator horror fix.

Released theatrically by Island Alive (KOYAANISQATSI, INSIGNIFICANCE) and on video in dubbed and subtitled versions by Media Home Entertainment (and Image Entertainment laserdisc of the former), THE LIFT has long been unavailable on DVD and Blu-ray in English-friendly form (a French DVD included the English track but was from an old tape master). Mastered from a 2K scan of the negative, Blue Underground's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen Blu-ray of this low budget film restores a degree of luster missing from the tape transfers starting with the use of neon and color gels looking more vibrant and less noisy than before, looking more like a relatively slick eighties film than a pale and murky television production. The enhanced resolution does reveal some rough edges, including a severed head which had been dropped down the shaft several takes before the final one used for the decapitation. Audio options include DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 in Dutch with the latter sounding like a stereo downmix while the English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track sounds appropriately monophonic. The surround mix gives spread to the music – scored by director Maas – and some rear placement of thunder and more dimension to the sounds of the elevator moving up and down the shaft. Optional English subtitles for the Dutch track and SDH subtitles for the English track are provided along with French subtitles.

The feature is accompanied by another audio commentary by writer/director Dick Maas and editor Hans van Dongen moderated by David Gregory (who performed the same duties on AMSTERDAMNED) in which Maas recalls the difficulty of greenlighting a horror film in the Netherlands, how his experiences with producer Matthijs van Heijningen (ORLANDO) led to him producing his own subsequent features, van Ammelrooy's dissatisfaction with him as a director, the mistake of not using stunt persons on the film (he would use a professional stunt team imported from England on AMSTERDAMNED), and cribbing the entire story structure from JAWS. In "Going Up" (9:09), actor Stapel recalls being recommended to Maas for the role by an associate who saw him in a stage production of HAROLD AND MAUDE, not being too interested in film acting at the time, the film's special effects, and going to Cannes with Maas and a subtitled print of the film. "Long Distance" (4:13) 2003 short film by Maas with a nice twist. Also included are the Dutch trailer (3:30) and American trailer (1:39) - the latter with the hilarious tagline "Take the stairs! Take the stairs! For God's sake, take the stairs!" – as well as a poster and still gallery. The cover is reversible with the more familiar video art on the reverse and a booklet by Chris Alexander is also enclosed with the discs. (Eric Cotenas)