Ups and downs: Dick Maas’s “The Lift” (1983) & “Down” (2001) both featured killer elevators

By on February 15, 2019

Dutch wunderkind filmmaker Dick Maas has directed two separate films about killer elevators possessed by evil — the stylishly-competent 1983 Dutch-language/English-dubbed The Lift and its unofficial big-budget English-language sequel, Down (a.k.a. The Shaft, 2001) — and we have both Blue Underground movies (they’d make an awesome compare-contrast double-feature) for you to view on Night Flight Plus.

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Dutch writer/director/producer/composer Dick Maas first achieved success in the world of music video directing.

He worked closely with the band Golden Earring on several of their videos, including their controversial “When the Lady Smiles,” which Night Flight contributor Marc Edward Heuck told you about here.

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His feature film debut was the sci-fi horror film, 1983’s The Lift (original Dutch title: De Lift), about a computer-controlled elevator in a large stylish high-rise, Amsterdam’s Icarus building, which suffers a power failure during a lightning storm, trapping four obnoxiously drunk partygoers inside.

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Afterwards, the malevolent-acting elevator seems to function intelligently on its own with some kind of fucked-up bio-electro brain, killing victims if they get too close to the closing doors or they try taking it to the floor of their choice (people usually end up dead if they push the wrong button).

The fatal choice to take this particular elevator results in an elderly blind man falling to his death, a night watchman in the building being decapitated, and a janitor being burned alive.

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Believe it or not, some of these scenes are actually played out like dark horror-comedy skits.

Our favorite moment, however, is when the seemingly sentient elevator plays a deadly cat and mouse game with a cute little blonde girl.

Huub Stapel stars as “Felix Adelaar,” an inquisitive elevator repairman from Deta Liften, who comes to believe there’s something very sinister about this particular elevator — which to borrow the title from Louis Malle’s Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (1958) — acts more like an elevator to the gallows.

Adelaar’s ideas are given the shaft by various police authorities so he joins up with a female tabloid journalist “Mieke de Boer” (Willeke van Ammelrooy), who believes there’s a story here for De Nieuwe Revu, the paper she writes for.

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Maas has said the idea for the film — which reminded us of Donald Cammell’s 1977 film Demon Seed — was actually inspired by a Stephen King short story, “The Mangler,” about a police detective investigates grisly deaths which have been caused by an industrial laundry press, nicknamed “the Mangler” (published in King’s collection Night Shift, in 1978; director Tobe Hooper would turn the same story into a film of the same title in 1995).

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Maas has also said he copied the dramatic structure used in The Lift from Steven Spielberg‘s Jaws, and shot the film with almost no production budget over five weeks, doing nearly everything himself — even the special effects — including composing the film’s musical score, which he wrote while editing the film.

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The Lift‘s premiere at the Cannes Film Festival led to it being the first Dutch/English-dubbed film being picked up by Warner Brothers for distribution in the United States (along with the rest of the world).

Its success at the box office in 1983 — the same year of WarGames, Scanners, TRON, and other sci-fi enhanced horror films — led to Maas directing more movies and writing screenplays in nearly every genre, focusing in particular on suspenseful horror-thrillers and romantic comedies.

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Read more about Dick Maas and Down below.

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Maas (with legs crossed) and Golden Earring during a video shoot for “Twilight Zone” in 1982 (photo courtesy of UK Horror Scene)

Dick Maas has said that immediately after he brought the Dutch-language De Lift to Cannes, there were film distributors urging him to re-make the film in English.

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Maas resisted revisiting an English-language remake until 2001, when Warner Brothers gave him a larger budget to work with (by then, there was also better VFX technology at his disposal).

Maas accepted the challenge, totally re-writing the screenplay, which is why he considers it more of a sequel than a remake.

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Down takes place in New York City, in the Millennium, one of the city’s tallest buildings.

The action begins when a group of pregnant women — who are attending a child birthing class on one of the floors — are inside one of those elevators when it mysteriously shuts down. Two of the women end up giving birth.

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The elevator building company, Meteor, sends its two best technicians, “Mark Newman” (James Marshall) and “Jeffrey” (Eric Thal) to the Millennium to check out the issue with the elevator, but they can’t find anything wrong.

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A plucky reporter named “Jennifer Evans” — pre-Ring and Mulholland Drive actress Naomi Watts suspects that there’s something deadly wrong with the Millennium’s killer elevator.

She’s not wrong: we see a blind man and his seeing-eye dog plummet down an empty elevator shaft and a security guard being decapitating when the doors close too quickly, among other mishaps.

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This time around, Maas spends more time developing the characters (Newman is an ex-marine Desert Storm vet, for instance), who seem to all have several things going on with them as once.

Edward Herrmann (building manager “Milligan”), Dan Hedaya (“Lieutenant McBain”), Ron Perlman (“Mitchell,” the elevator company manager) and Michael Ironside (science advisor “Gunter Steinberg”) are all absolutely stellar here, as they are in just about every movie they’ve been in.

There’s also a very evident black comedy element to Down, which even veers into slapstick on occasion.

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Watch The Lift and Down and other Blue Underground titles on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.