De Lift (1983)
Dir – Dick Maas
Starring – Huub Stapel and Willeke van Ammelrooy
98 minutes. Dutch with English subtitles.
One of three elevators in a new high rise business building begins to act strangely. Following a thunderstorm, that strikes the building, the lift stops working with four randy out-of-towners trapped inside. After nearly suffocating due to a malfunctioning air con, the group are carted off to hospital lucky to be alive. Elevator repair man Felix (Huub Stapel) is called in to find out what went wrong and to fix it. However he cant find any faults.
As more people suffer nasty incidents with the faulty lift Felix is joined by Mieke (Willeke van Ammelrooy): a news reporter thinking she is on to an interesting story. They uncover that the company responsible for the operating electronics in the lifts circuits, Rising Sun, have been using some odd methods and may be covering up the truth. When Felix is suspended from his job for upsetting Rising Sun he decides he has to break into the building and find out what really is causing the lift to ‘act’ in a sinister way.
De Lift has many names. Elevator, Goin’ Up, The Elevator of Terror and The Elevator Assassin to list just a few. It will be better known among English speakers under its simple ‘The Lift’ title. It would be the first of several successful horrors for Dutch director Dick Maas. Made in early 1983 on a small budget and filmed in less than a month. It can be used as an example of movies made on the cheap or quickly being as successful as those with lavish budgets and time to spare. It would be a hit worldwide, with subtitled versions cropping up in countries as far as Brazil. It helped establish Maas as a reliable director and led to some of the most profitable movies in Dutch cinema.
The strongest thing about De Lift is Huub Stapel, the actor playing confused elevator repairman Felix. He has a presence that creates an interest in him, with his typical ‘bloke-ish’ looks and open demeanour being engaging. A comic side is displayed when he is reading a paper and his young son secretly pours salt into his drink. When the child is busy doing something else, Felix quickly switches drinks with his naughty son and casually goes to answer the phone (there is oddly a cat trying to climb up the window behind the actors as this scene happens). It is a nice touch to what is otherwise a serious film.
Huub is just as believable later when he gets into a heated debate with his boss about the shady company Rising Sun. When he finally ‘confronts’ the lift, near the films end, it delivers some genuine ‘jump scares’ and the viewer will easily forget they are watching what initially seems to be a silly plot: a killer elevator offing people. Stapel obviously impressed Maas as he would go onto to star in the directors other hit horrors Amsterdamned (1988) and Sint (2010) as well as trashy comedy Flodder (1986) plus its sequels.
There is some questionable moments in the movie. The scene when the lift first ‘strikes’ is laughable. The four actors, two female and two male, have very different reactions to being stuck in such a place. One panics, one is annoyed and the other two decide to have sex up against the wall. While the panic-stricken guy slams on the door and presses various buttons, his horny friends are quickly undressing and groping away. Even when he begins to hyperventilate they do not seem too bothered. Eventually they all succumb to a lack of oxygen.
Another odd moment is when a young girl is playing by the lift as her mother is in an office having sex with a businessman. The lift starts to open and shut its doors, getting the childs attention. She approaches it and tension begins to build as it appears she will be ‘next’ for the killer elevator. She screams and her mother hears, rushing out to see what the matter is. The kids dolly has been caught in the doors and she is unharmed. Her mother then slaps her daughter hard across the face for being a nuisance. Do all mothers in the Netherlands slap their children in the face if they were nearly injured? It unintentionally gets the biggest laugh of the film, too.
The reason for the lift becoming a ‘killer’ is a little strained. The explanation comes an hour into the movie and minutes later it appears to be dismissed by the main characters. Confusingly, when Felix is inside the elevator trying to ‘stop it’, it appears that what was said earlier was true after all. It finishes without a definite answer. Thankfully the ending does deliver in terms of excitement and concludes a film that is surprisingly rewarding.
Dick Maas would remake De Lift in 2001 as The Shaft/Down starring Naomi Watts.
De Lift is an entertaining movie despite its initial silly premise. Still one of the most well known films in Dutch cinema 30 years on.
7 out of 10.
About James Simpson
A freelance writer and lover of movies, James is a long term contributor to UK Horror Scene. He has a regular feature on UKHS, World of Horror, as well as reviewing and interviewing when he can. He also writes for Gore Splattered Corner and Space Monsters Magazine. He has previously written for Scream Magazine and Zombie Hamster. Twitter: @JSimpsonWriter