THE LIFT/DE LIFT 1983(Ltd Ed Blu Ray/DVD combo)Blue Underground $39.98 region 0
Color / 99 min. Dutch /English
DOWN -2001 (Ltd Edition Blu Ray /DVD combo ) Blue Underground $39.98 region 0
Color /111 minutes English
Back in 1982, ‘Twilight Zone” by Golden Earring was a music video in constant rotation on the new channel MTV. The catchy tune referenced the
popular TV.series as a suspected spy is caught and interrogated . Several music video directors went on to make popular fantasy films ,such as David Fincher ,Russell Mulcahy, and Alex Proyas.
Also among them was Dutch director,writer,producer, and musician Dick Maas. Since then he has given us many Dutch thrillers and horror films like AMSTERDAMNED(1988,also available from BLUE UNDERGROUND https://www.amazon.com/Amsterdamned-Limited-Combo-Blu-ray-Stapel/dp/B071GW2L2Z/ ), SINT (SAINT) 2010,up to 2016’s PROII (PREY). His films are marked by their style as well as dark humor that permeates them.
His first film that drew him to international attention was DE LIFT . In a modern apartment building in Amsterdam, strange things are happening ,most of which seem to involve the bank of elevators . The company who are responsible for the maintenance of the three conveyers (or lift of the title ) send Felix Adelaar (Huub Stapel ,later to star in Maas’ AMSTERDAMNED )to check out the systems.
While working, he runs into reporter Mieke de Boer (Willeke van Ammelrooy, star of the art house hit and Oscar winning ANTONIA’s LINE ,1996)who is investigating the strange events.
Among the occurrences are two drunken couples who are trapped in an elevator while the heat increases to dangerous levels , a blind man who falls into an empty shaft (and which the building owners declare is a suicide) ,and the gruesome decapitation of a security guard .
The more the Felix & Mieke investigate, the more strange things become. Is the company RISING SUN,who provides microprocessors for the system ,somehow involved with the strange things?
Their detection leads to Adelaar’s wife leaving him and taking the children, thinking that he is having an affair with the journalist. His boss also suspends him. Felix has nothing to lose as he goes to building one final time to find out what is happening and confront the evil within.
DE LIFT seemed to have done well in Europe, but it was not as well received in the United States.
Released to a limited number of theaters in July ,1985 , critics were indifferent to the foreign title ( “Mr. Maas leaves the elevator’s potential fiendishness largely unexploited.”-NY Times,July 4,1985)and 6 year old distributor Island Alive folded shortly after .)
Luckily ,video stores were booming and Media Home Entertainment released it on VHS in 1986 in a dubbed version, and in 1988 through their foreign film division Cinematheque Collection in a Dutch language subtitled print.
Maas continued to create wonderfully off kilter films through his First Floor Features .He creates three popular Dutch comedies and a T.V. series (FLODDER)as well as the marvelous already mentioned AMSTERDAMNED (1988) and even an episode of the THE YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES (‘Transylvania Transmission”).
It seems that for years people kept after Maas to do a sequel or a remake to DE LIFT. Finally in 2000, Maas raised sufficient funds (fifteen million Euros) for a larger version that expands on several of the ideas from the original film, and hires American actors as the leads as well as several marvelous character roles.
While set in New York City , the majority of the film was shot in Holland on some of the biggest sets ever built for a Dutch film .Some street scenes and aerial photography were the bulk of the American footage. The blending is for the most part flawless, and even the Dutch actors blend in convincingly in this English language film.
In DOWN (also known as THE SHAFT ,which makes one expect it to be a film about Richard Roundtree ), the setting is in a modern NYC skyscraper. In the Millennium Building, one of the elevators malfunctions and traps a group of pregnant women ,overheating the air and several of them give birth !
The building managers call in the Meteor company that maintains the elevators, who send Jeff (Eric Thal ,Sam Nevins in Buena Vista’s adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s THE PUPPET MASTERS,1994 ) and his new young assistant Mark Newman (James Marshall ,who is best known for portraying James Hurley in the original and revival of TWIN PEAKS )to check them out. Newman wants to do a more in depth review of the systems ,but his partner feels that will be too much of an inconvenience to the building, and expensive. Mr Milligan (Edward Herrmann, LOST BOYS ,W.B. 1987),the building owner, agrees.
Not long after that , a blind man and his seeing eye dog fall (literally) victim to the killer machines. One of the security guards who finds the corpses hanging in the shaft gets his head caught in the door and decapitated when the elevator descends .
Reporter Jennifer Evans (Naomi Watts, later to star in Peter Jackson’s epic KING KONG ,Universal,2005) starts to investigate, and she interviews Newman ,quoting him in her article as saying “ 9 out of 10 people make it out of an elevator alive.”
Newman is chewed out by his boss ,Mitchell (the always wonderful Ron Perlman, HELLBOY,Columbia,2004). Shortly thereafter, another bizarre death happens ,when a skateboarder is pulled supernaturally into an elevator and within seconds hurled up to the 86th floor, and then flung out violently ,through a glass partition and off to the ground below .
A press conference is held by Milligan and Police Lt McBain (Dan Hedaya,THE USUAL SUSPECTS, MGM,1996). The official statement is that the skateboarder committed suicide, and that it had nothing to with the previous accidents .
Evans does not believe it ,and she visits Newman’s home .She has gotten several surveillance tapes, and it shows the skater’s death. Most mysterious, the elevator trip, which should take at least 40 seconds, is accomplished in less than two!
Jeff refuses to believe them ,and so they go to Evan’s newspaper office . Their research keeps bringing up the name of a researcher named Gunther Steinberg (Michael Ironside, forever typecast as a villain thanks to his brilliant work in SCANNERS,Avco Embassy ,1981). Gunther ,who had worked with the army on mixing dolphin brain mass with electronic circuits ,was hired by the elevator company to develop microchips .
The next morning Milligan is horrified when he has the body of Jeff drop through the ceiling of the elevator he was occupying. Jeff had probably been checking the elevators but Milligan and company use his death as a means of scapegoating. At the conference, they call Jeff deranged and say that he had been responsible for all the events, and probably died trying to set up another incident.
The story is believed and the building conducts business as usual. That is ,however, until one elevator speeds upward, the bottom dropping out and passengers, including a small child, fly helplessly downward to their doom . Those who hang on are not safe, as the container hurls at extreme speed through the roof ,stopping with a crushing Impact.
The President of The United States holds a White House press conference ,where he announces he feels that the events are due to terrorists and a terrorist team is sent to protect and prevent any further incidents.
Evans and Mitchell continue to investigate the bizarre history of the building, and the experiments of Steinberg .
Since the Army let him go, it seems that he has continued,only now their may be human DNA ,and the chips have become sentient, and evil.
Can they get in the building, pass the militia and Steinberg to stop the evil ? The film ends like a supernatural DIE HARD (Fox,1988)
DOWN was given a token release by Buena Vista International on May 20,2001. It seems to have come and gone quickly ,and the home video rights were acquired by Artisan . It seemed to have also made little impact on the dwindling video store market ,and with fandom .
Now BLUE UNDERGROUND has done stellar work on finding the best material possible on these two films, and put them on Blu Ray.
THE LIFT is a 1080p HD resolution print 2 K restoration from the original negative , presented in 1:66:1 wide-screen.The film is available in it’s original Dutch Language (5.1 DTS-HD or 2.0 DTS-HD) or English (2.0 DTS-HD). The sound is very clean and clear, with sound effects and original music jumping out at certain points.
Dick Maas also composed the score , and it is one of those now dated sounding synth scores as well as electronic whooshes and sounds .
The English track uses terms like “lift” (a direct translation of the title)rather the more common American usage.
The subtitles seem to be based upon a direct translation of the Dutch dialogue ,as it does not always match the English language dialogue. They are clear and easy to read. There are also English SDH and Spanish subtitles as well.
Other extras are :
-A running commentary by director Dick Maas and editor Hans van Dongen who talk about the difficulties of making this film on a 350,000 Euros budget.
-”Going Up” an interview with star Huub Stapel
-”Long Distance”-a short 4 minute short that has the feel of a Twilight Zone episode ,wherein a father who has had a car accident, calls his home and speaks to his daughter . Beautifully filmed and acted.
-Trailers from the U.S. and Holland
-A poster and still gallery .
-a nice newly written essay booklet by by writer /filmmaker Chris Alexander . He nicely covers the film ,plus discusses the more relaxed mores of European filmmakers about sex and nudity as well as comparisons to Stephen King works about machines gone wrong. He prefers the original film to the 2001 remake.
For DOWN , the film is also a brand new 2K restoration from the original negative, 1080p HD Resolution , presented in a 2.35.1 wide-screen all region print .
The audio is available in the original English as well as French in both 5.1 DTS-HD or Dolby Digital Stereo .
The sound is more mixed for multi speaker presentation (due no doubt to it’s larger budget ),with sounds being very crisp and clean.
The Yellow Subtitles are easy to read, though whomever wrote them , they need to learn the difference between “Your “ and “You’re” .
Spanish subtitles are also available.
Other extras include :
A running audio commentary with Maas and stunt coordinator Willem de Beukelaer . Maas at times seems to have forgotten how certain scenes were done ,but is reminded by de Beukelaer (an example is the opening shot that moves from C.G.I. and model shots to the live action.On the extras ,we see how the shot was accomplished.More on that later.). It is fascinating to hear the two say how they have worked together since AMSTERDAMMED ,and the difficulties of doing a film like this. The recreations of New York interiors is perfect ,and it seems the diner was actual functional (too bad they didn’t move it to an actual building.I am sure it would have been a hit with tourists to have an American diner in Amsterdam!).
The same director of photography (Marc Felperlaan )worked on both films ,and they recreate some shots ,while using a little C.G.I. to blend between the real actors and effects(such as the beheading in the elevator).
The director seemed to have had disagreement with Marshall on the exact tone of the film, but it does not come across in the finished production.
Director Maas mentions that the film opened the weekend before 9/11, but he is referring to the European opening. It seems it opened well, but after the events, the film did no business.
It is easy to see why. A New York Skyscraper ,people falling to their death, the President referring to terrorists (dialogue was actually copied from President Bill Clinton referencing the Feb 26,1993 bomb attack on the Twin Towers). It is quite creepy ,and not in the way the film intended. Needless the film ended up being a financial failure.
The use of Aerosmith’s “Love In An Elevator” was a big expense but is a nice button to the film.
Other extras are
–The Making of Down : a behind the scene look at the making of the film, including the construction of the huge sets, and the mix of CGI and live action,as well as the various stunts.
–The Blu Ray exclusive is a more detailed behind the scenes documentary.
-There is also the American teaser and theatrical trailers.
-A poster and still Gallery
– A Collectible booklet with a new essay by Michael Gingold.
Both films have much to recommend them . The original has a nice gritty quality to it , though oddly, I lean more to the slicker American remake. It is probably because of the expanded story-line plus the dark humor comes more to the fore . The remake does seem to fluctuate as to whether there is a supernatural element or is it a sci fi A.I. story (or both) , but it doesn’t take away from the film.
Maas handles possessed machinery better than Stephen King film adaptations like MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986,D.E.P.). It also predated supernatural skyscraper films like the little seen DARK TOWER (Sandy Howard, 1987 ;directed by Freddie Francis (as Ken Barnett), Ken Wiederhorn (as Ken Barnett)(!!) starring Jenny Agutter and Michael Moriarty) and elevator terror films like DEVIL (Universal,2010) or ELEVATOR ( Inception ,2011) .
I would definitely recommend both films ,especially if you wish to see an example where a foreign director remakes his film in English and doesn’t mess it up (a la THE VANISHING (Argos Films,1988 and Fox,1993).
-Kevin G Shinnick
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