"Take the stairs, take the stairs, for god's sake take the stairs!!" begged the tagline on the posters for the Dutch cult movie The Lift. In theory, this horror-comedy about killer elevators should have been fun. I like it when movies use wit and ingenuity to compensate for small budgets, especially when they're products of a country with tiny domestic film industries. Problem is, the movie doesn't know whether it wants to be a) a droll, cheeky satire of horror movies, or b) the real thing. Like the victims in the movie itself, it ends up stuck between floors.
Somewhere in the Netherlands, there's a fourteen-story commercial office building that recently had its elevators renovated. Unfortunately, they're starting to act a little flaky, as in the opening scenes where a quartet of drunken revelers from the restaurant on the top floor almost suffocate when the elevator breaks down between floors. In comes elevator repairman Felix (Huub Stapel), who peers into the wiring and doesn't see anything askew.
But something is causing the elevators to run haywire, and those malfunctions are yielding a body count. A female reporter, Mieke (Willeke van Ammelrooy), also senses something's amiss, and she and Felix hesitantly team up. Suspicious behavior abounds: Felix's boss doesn't want him poking around where he's not supposed to, especially not when it comes to the company that provided these new elevators with its intelligent call-stop scheduling microprocessors. Maybe too intelligent.
There's a couple of different kinds of movies that could have been yielded up from all this. At first The Lift looks like it's trying to parody the genre (again: a killer elevator?), to take the scares and suspense and stand them systematically on their heads. That's hard enough to do well, but about a third of the way through the movie seems to have given up on that idea, and gone for being a more or less straight horror/thriller picture. Too bad, because the end result is feeble on both counts — although there's some fun Indiana Jones-style spelunking in the climax, with Felix stuck in an elevator shaft, and a decently chilling moment where the elevators appear to be toying with a little girl.
What wit the movie has to spare at all comes in very small doses. One scene climaxes with a decapitation by elevator, featuring one of the least convincing stunt heads you'll ever seen in a film regardless of decade. Cut to the detective assigned to investigate the death, chopping the end off his cigar (ha! ha!). It's not as if there's no potential for satire here — e.g., mocking modern humanity's thoughtless dependence on technology, or lampooning the reactionary Nipponophobia of the 1980s. (The outfit that supplies the evil electronics is a Japanese firm named "Rising Sun".) But it's all left on the table by the movie's dopey execution, as if just nodding in the general direction of the genre was satirical enough.
Many movies that try to mix horror and comedy deliver a jumble, not a blend, but there are shining counter-examples. We all know about Evil Dead 2, but a personal favorite of mine is Steve Miner's House (from 1985, a couple of years after The Lift). First you laugh, and then you realize the jokes are a sucker punch. But The Lift isn't funny enough to be a comedy or scary enough to be horror, so it's not even able to properly summon up the elements it's purportedly trying to mix in the first place. On the whole, you're best off following their suggestion. Take the stairs. You could use the exercise.
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