International Horror Film Review: The Lift (dir by Dick Maas)


I almost always take the stairs.

There are reasons for this.  A big one is for the exercise.  I’ve always liked my legs.  Why wouldn’t I want to take care of them?  (As my mom used to say whenever I complained about inheriting her nose, “Yes, but you also inherited my legs so stop crying!”)

As a lover of films, I appreciate the fact that stairwells are very cinematic.  When I’m taking the stairs, I’m thinking about Vertigo.  Sometimes, if I’m in the right mood, I’m thinking about Barefoot In The Park.  I’m thinking about Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  I’m thinking about all of the Bond movies that have featured twisty staircases.  I’m thinking about all of the romantic comedies that have featured people kissing in the middle of stairwells.  I thinking about climbing a fire escape in the rain.  I’m thinking about all of the famous shots of people moving up and down staircases.

Another reason why I avoid elevators is that I like the symbolism of going up the stairs.  I like the idea of ascending, step-by-step.

Of course, the main reason for taking the stairs is that I find elevators to be incredibly creepy.  When I was seven or eight, I heard a story on the news about a woman who got her necklace caught in the doors of an elevator and, as a result, she was decapitated when the elevator started to move.  AGCK!  I’ve never quite gotten that image out of my head.

The minute those elevator doors close, you’re pretty much trapped until the elevator reaches the next floor.  And even then, there’s no guarantee that the doors are actually going to open.  There’s always the possibility that the elevator could get stuck between floors and you could be trapped in that little room for hours or even days.  Even worse, someone else could be stuck in there with you and that person could be a stranger.  That person could be carrying a straight razor or they could just have bad breath but either way, I wouldn’t necessarily want to be trapped in an elevator with them.  And don’t even get me started on the possibility of an elevator cable snapping and the elevator plunging down 30 flights at breakneck speed.

Seriously, elevators are scary!

The 1983 Dutch film, The Lift, is all about one very scary elevator.  For, instance, the elevator stops moving after a lightning storm takes out all the power in Amsterdam and four people end up trapped inside of it.  When the power is finally restored, the elevator doors still refuse to open.  Eventually, the doors have to be forced open.  Fortunately, the four trapped people are saved before they suffocate but a few others aren’t so lucky.  One elderly man falls down an empty elevator shaft.  A security guard is decapitated when his head gets stuck in the elevator doors.  A janitor vanishes.

Felix (Huub Stabler) is assigned to figure out why the elevator is malfunctioning.  What he discovers suggests that the elevator has a mind of its own.  Of  course, no one believes that and Felix becomes obsessed with proving his theory.  He becomes so obsessed with the building and the elevator that his wife leaves him.  Felix’s only ally is a reporter named Mieke (Willeke van Ammelrooy),  Mieke is investigating Rising Sun, a computer company who was responsible for designing the system that runs the elevator.  Are the deaths the result of a corporate incompetence or is Felix correct?  Is the elevator alive?

The Lift works precisely because it understands that elevators are creepy.  More than being about a haunted elevator, The Lift is actually about the absurd amount of trust that people put into technology.  (This is a theme that’s even more relevant today than it probably was in 1983.)  People get on the elevator because they’ve been told that it’s safe and that there are safeguards in place to prevent any problems.  Even when the elevator starts to malfunction and otherwise behave in a threatening manner, people still assume that it’s a problem that can be easily fixed because they’ve been told that it was designed with the most advanced technology available.  More than just being a horror film about a haunted elevator, The Lift is a film about society that has put such blind trust in technology that it doesn’t know how to handle things when the system develops of mind of its own.  People may have been conditioned to trust the system but, when the elevator comes to life, everyone’s going down.

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