Movie: The Lift (1983)

1983’s The Lift is a Dutch horror film.  I didn’t know that going in so, once I started seeing names like Willeke van Ammelrooy in the opening credits, I thought I had suddenly gone dyslexic.

As one would expect from the title, this concerns a murderous elevator.  Or maybe that’s elevators.  It’s a bank of three in a modern office building, but only the middle one seems to engage in any homicide.  The other two only seem to be mischievous co-conspirators.  If you ever see three elevators arrive at the exact same time, don’t go for what’s behind door #2.

The lifts arriving, opening and closing in unison is an extremely cheap effect, but surprisingly effective.  As for the effects in the death sequences, they are less-than-effective.  It’s terrifying, the idea of somebody being slowly decapitated by a descending car while their head is stuck in the doors.  Yet I’m not sure if I’m annoyed or grateful the prop head is so unrealistic.

An evil technology company is behind the elevators.  It’s unclear as to what their “experiments” are, or what they were supposed to accomplish, but I assume the goal wasn’t to slaughter the tenants.  I don’t think it was meant to be the realization of the Monty Python architects sketch, where the design for an apartment building is essentially a slaughterhouse to process the residents. 

Then the necessary spark that gives the elevators life arrives courtesy of a lightning bolt.  Alas, nobody gets to shriek, “It’s alive!  Aliiiive!”

One thing I didn’t expect coming into this is the humor.  I should have suspected it, as the movie’s tagline is “Take the stairs.  Take the stairs.  For God’s sake, take the stairs!”  The movie even follows its introductory suspense scene with a cut to a shockingly fake ambulance miniature—which is then revealed to be a child’s toy. 

This belongs to the son of the protagonist, an elevator repairman.  There’s a nice bit of business as the family sits down to breakfast and the son surreptitiously pours salt into Dad’s tea, but Dad pulls a switcheroo which sets up the son for a great reaction shot right when the scene ends.

I assume one of things most people think of early 80’s American horror films is how oversexed they are.  Well, they have nothing on the Dutch, at least as far as this movie goes.  I think it’s fair to say it is focused on the wrong holes, when it should have been paying more attention to its plot holes.

This picture makes its own kind of sense, and it is a fascinating mess, but it definitely doesn’t follow what is commonly regarded as logic.  It is one thing to have an evil corporation accidentally lay the groundwork for a malicious and sentiment elevator to be created.  It is another to not have any reason for why the company is doing what it is doing.  Also, just because the elevators get an AI, why is their only inclination to murder?  Never mind a kill that happens at one point involving something no elevator has the means to carry out.

I’ll wrap with my usual assortment of stray observations.  In the opening scene, somebody uses one of those disc cameras from the 80’s and it made me realize I had completely forgotten something that was so prevalent at the time.  As for the camera work, there are some odd choices for what is clearly a low-to-mid budget film, such as a POV shot of a bowling ball as it plows towards the pins.  And there are more than a few bizarre character touches, such as a coworker who complains about having a raw beef sandwich in his bag lunch.  Among the questions this raised for me are: who eats a raw beef sandwich, who packed it (as the character doesn’t appear to be married) and, if he lives with his mom and she’s still packing his lunch, isn’t he a bit too old to live at home?

The Lift is an odd duck which, if one of those had been listed in the credits, would probably appear as “de dûkkë”.  I don’t know how much of the weirdness can be attributed to cultural differences, but moments of this felt downright alien.  Maybe the screenplay was written by sentient Dutch elevators to warn human kind of the coming lift apocalypse.  At least they aren’t murdering us en masse yet.


Dir: Dick Haas

Starring Huub Stapel, Willeke van Ammelrooy, de dûkkë (as “de dǐskŏ dûkkë”)

Watched on Blue Underground blu-ray