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The Lift     1989     Scream Factory Blu ray

                                               Promoted with one of the best cinematic taglines of the 1980s--“Take the stairs! Take the stairs! For God's sake, take the   

                                    stairs!!” (which sounds like that old fire chief who visited your third grade class for Fire Safety Day)—The Lift was the first film

                                    by director Dick Maas, who would go on to helm the slasher/crime mash-up Amsterdamned in 1988. Working with a miniscule

                                    budget, a classically-trained lead actor (Huub Stapel) who wasn’t sure he wanted the part, a dubious plot, and crumbling special

                                    effects, Maas somehow managed to pull together a film that got lost amid the slasher craze of the early ‘80s.

                                              The story follows Felix Adelaar (Stapel), an elevator repair technician who’s plateaued in his marriage and vocation. He’s dispatched to a sparsely populated office building to check the mechanics of an elevator in which four partygoers were nearly asphyxiated. All appears to be in order—until a night watchman is decapitated by the same lift. His head is found at the bottom of the elevator shaft, along with the body of a blind man who fell to his death. Newspaper reporter Mieke de Beer (Willeke van Ammelrooy) investigates the peculiar happenings, and together with Felix, they trace the elevator’s electronic components to the Rising Sun Corporation.

          Rising Sun is a partner with Delta Lifts, Felix’s employer, and the uneasy mechanic is forced to go on leave due to his persistent questioning of the corporate partner’s electronics. He and Mieke visit an academic colleague who explains that a new form of microchip has been created that can think for itself and reproduce itself. Convinced that such a biochip is behind the elevator’s quirky behavior, Felix takes it upon himself to break into the office building, traverse the elevator shaft, and find out the truth.

          If all that sounds a bit flimsy, it is. The Lift would’ve made a nice episode of Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery” or “The Twilight Zone.” As a feature, it lacks staying power due to its obvious-to-everyone plot and lack of suspense. It’s not a terribly bad film; it’s just not a terribly good one either. Maas does get credit for maximizing the claustrophobic atmosphere of nearly every scene and coaxing believable performances from all involved. Thumbs up as well for the synth-heavy music, scored by Maas.

          Humans have always been fascinated by technology. From the telephone to television, VCRs to smartphones, we scramble to keep up with the latest and greatest. Yet we also harbor a lurking anxiety that our machines might be spying on us, or worse, out to kill us. In the opening scene of The Lift, a waiter in the restaurant at the top of the building complains, “These damn machines will be the death of us all some day!” when a lightning storm causes the elevators to go haywire. His observation in 1983 turned out to be quite prescient.

          Filmmakers like Maas have been more than willing to give us a glimpse into the darker side of the tools and tech that surround us. Most commonly it was robots out to get us (The Phantom Creeps, 1939; Gog, 1954; Westworld, 1973), or super-computers that took on lives of their own (Alphaville, 1965; 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968; Colossus: The Forbin Project, 1970; Demon Seed, 1977). But as the 1970s progressed even our heavy machinery and everyday vehicles turned against us (Killdozer, 1974; The Car, 1977). It wasn’t until technology really took off in Japan and Silicon Valley in the 1980s and 1990s, however, that techno-horror started to pile up.

          We’ve had vexed videotapes (Ringu, 1998; Beyond the Gates, 2016), terror televisions (Videodrome, 1983; The Video Dead, 1987), cursed cellphones (One Missed Call, 2003; Cell, 2016), injurious Internet (Strangeland, 1998; Feardotcom, 2002), vengeful video games (eXistenZ, 1999; Stay Alive, 2006), angry appliances (The Refrigerator, 1991—“No survivors. Only leftovers.”), evil email (Chain Letter, 2009), more vindictive vehicles (Christine, 1983; Maximum Overdrive, 1986), sinister social media (Unfriended, 2014; #Horror, 2015), and adversarial apps (A Killer App, 2010). As our society moves closer to launching true artificial intelligence, our battles with technology will only continue to escalate.

          Included on Blue Underground’s disc is “Going Up,” a 9-minute interview with Huub Stapel. He pilots a boat along Amsterdam’s canals on a beautiful day, making for a nice departure from the typical interviewee-sitting-in-a-chair arrangement. Unfortunately, the downside of this approach is that Stapel is continually distracted due to navigating the craft among others on the water. His remembrances of the film are thin and unremarkable, and it’s a good thing the interview is brief. One gets the impression Stapel would prefer to be boating alone.

          Other special features are a 4-minute film by Maas (“Long Distance”), two trailers, and a poster and still gallery. Reversible cover art and a booklet with an essay by writer and filmmaker Chris Alexander round out the package.

          The region-free disc comes with Dutch 5.1 and 2.0 audio (with English and Spanish subtitles), and in English 2.0, which viewers should avoid at all costs. The high-def transfer enhances color (especially the bank of elevator doors that nearly scream “Pay attention to me!”) and allows us to appreciate the cool color palette and mechanical feel that pervades the film. Since The Lift will probably never see a 4K UHD restoration, this is as attractive as it has ever looked, and fans should be pleased with the results.

          Maas directed a remake of The Lift in 2001, simply titled Down (which was further degraded to The Shaft, a moniker that better expressed what viewers felt like they were getting). Changing the setting from the Netherlands to New York did it no favors; and enlisting the aid of Naomi Watts (who’d go on to star in two more dubious remakes: The Ring, 2002, and King Kong, 2005), James Marshall, Michael Ironside, and Ron Perlman failed to make any impression. Down/The Shaft never got out of the basement.

                                                 Sixteen thousand feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, a team of miners employed by the Tri-Oceanic

                                       Corporation prepare to end their 90-day work rotation. On their final job, two crew members stumble upon “Leviathan,” a

                                       sunken Russian vessel that appears to have been intentionally scuttled. A safe salvaged from the wreck contains the ship’s log

                                       that hints of an illness that infected the crew. It isn’t long before the peculiar ailment begins to spread among the miners.

                                       However, this is more than just a strain of virulent disease: those who die are being changed into something far from human.

                                       A race against the clock ensues as the crew—slowly being whittled down one by one--try to cope with a deadly ichthyic mutation and a collapsing, unsustainable facility.

          Three genre films with aquatic themes were released in the summer of 1989: Sean S. Cunningham’s DeepStar Six, James Cameron’s The Abyss, and Leviathan. In one of the special features, creature designers Tom Woodruff, Jr. and Alec Gillis candidly admit that everyone knew Cameron’s film would be the best. The question was whether Leviathan or DeepStar Six would be the worst.

          Truth be told, Leviathan is a mediocre film. It’s monster-on-the-loose-in-a-confined-area is too reminiscent of Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing. Plot devices, characters, and situations are borrowed liberally from both with no real attempt made to camouflage the pilfering: there’s the soulless corporation, an obvious red herring among the crew, and even a “chest buster” variant. The monster effects borrow heavily from Rob Bottin’s work on The Thing with some of the Dr. Pretorius creature from From Beyond (1986) thrown in as well. If the movie itself fails to hold your attention you can always play “spot the influence/steal/idea” from other genre films.

          Despite an underwater setting, viewers will quickly notice there are no air bubbles, no fish, and no plant life to be found. This is because only the final scene was actually shot in water. Everything else was filmed on dry land at the Cinecittà (pronounced “Cheena-Cheetah”) studios in Rome. The film was under-cranked to produce sluggish, submerged motions, and bits of ash were used to create the illusion of plankton and dirt floating in the “water.”

          George P. Cosmatos, best remembered for Rambo: First Blood Part II and Tombstone, turns in a non-descript directing job, cranking out movie-of-the-week stuff that fails to generate tension or terror. The cast is filled with recognizable faces, led by Peter Weller (Robocop), and including Richard Crenna (the Rambo franchise), Daniel Stern (C.H.U.D.), Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters), Amanda Pays (“The Flash” TV series), Hector Elizondo (“Last Man Standing” and “Grey’s Anatomy” TV series), and Meg Foster (They Live). Everyone does the best they can with the material they’ve been given. Stern makes the most of his role as an obnoxious, libidinous crewmember, while Weller emotes only marginally more than Robocop.

            The image quality on this Blu-ray is sharper and cleaner than the film probably ever looked during its initial release. Details such as computer screens can easily be made out and the film is much brighter, allowing us to appreciate more of the quality production design. Audio options include 5.1 or 2.0 DTS-HD. I previewed the 2.0 track and found it well balanced and never overbearing. English is the only language option offered.

            Lacking an audio commentary, Shout! Factory has included something almost as good: “Monster Melting Pot,” a lively 40-minute interview with Tom Woodruff, Jr., Alec Gillis, and Shannon Shea, who were part of Stan Winston’s crew that designed the creature effects. This special feature is actually more entertaining than the film itself as the participants clearly have fun reliving their memories. They share stories of working with Winston and Cosmatos, along with the assorted trials that followed the film--from Winston doubling their workload to the creation of one ignominious effect that was thrown together at the last minute. Viewers are treated to an easygoing look into just how hectic, pleasurable, frustrating, and creative it was to work for an effects house in the days before computer-generated imagery.

          Other special features include the 12-minute interview “Dissecting Cobb with Hector Elizondo,” who really doesn’t talk much about the character he played, but is friendly and engaging throughout; the theatrical trailer; and “Surviving Leviathan,” a 15-minute interview with Ernie Hudson who thought the monster looked like a chicken, and whose character’s aversion to waves wasn’t hard for Hudson to portray due to his own inability to swim.

Leviathan     1989     Scream Factory Blu ray