I saw Down, under its alternate U.S. title, The Shaft, on cable back in the mid-2000s. I was only peripherally aware of a Dutch “horror” flick called, The Lift, decades before that, but until Blue Underground announced the bluing of these two I never knew Down was a remake, filmed, even, by the same director. And now that I’ve seen the original, which feels like a sci-fi black comedy, I can really see the contrast between them. The revelation at its core is still the same in Down, but Dutch Director Dick Maas went for a more sci-fi action flick, and I don’t blame him. His original flick was a low budget movie that’s actually pretty damn good. I admit I had low expectations going in, but it won me over. His American remake is everything you’d expect him to do with it once he secured serious financing, making it the glossiest, big-budget film you’ll ever likely see about a “killer elevator.”
The plot for both is the same: a lightning strike on a building seems to mysteriously trigger “something” in an elevator system that leads to deaths and near-deaths for random people using it. The elevator repair guy who keeps getting called in to find the problem and can’t turns detective as the body count grows. A reporter is thrown into the mix, so is a scientist who reveals “biological microchips” were used to power this particular elevator, turning the elevator sentient, and homicidal, (the lightning strike was the catalyst that kicked off all this sentience), leading to a final confrontation between elevator repair guy and killer elevator in the final act. Yeah, I know this sounds all so laughable and unbelievable, but the Dick Maas’ original film feels very Stephen King-ish. Don’t forget King wrote a tale called, The Mangler, about a demon possessed industrial laundry press machine, which was also made into a movie that was fairly grounded in believability, well, until the end, I mean.
Huub Stapel is protagonist, Felix Adelaar, in The Lift; he has a wife and two kids. Married for ten years, and we get to see some of that domestic life played out until hot reporter, Mieke de Boer (Willeke van Ammelrooy) enters the picture, and she takes the kids and leaves him one day thinking they’re having an affair. The movie leaves the marriage at that point too. In the remake, James Marshall is elevator repair guy, Mike Newman, reluctantly fixing elevators in the big apple at the fictional Millennium Building. It made sense to me that Maas set the remake in a huge city, specifically New York, a better environment for a killer elevator to thrive with so many victims at hand. You might say the way Maas filmed it was like a monster movie, it feels like that in the final act, but I’m getting off track here. Newman doesn’t come off, at first, as the hero in this. Eric Thal (The Puppet Masters) is his partner and longtime friend, Jeff (they’re both ex-marines from the Gulf War), when the movie gets past it’s expensive prologue, it’s Jeff we see first and naturally we assume this is the main guy, for Mike isn’t the greatest of guys. He likes to fight and can’t seem to keep a job. Unlike his Lift counterpart he isn’t married, but in a brief scene discovers his girlfriend just cheated on him, so, now, he’s single again.
Thal’s character feels like a combination of two characters from The Lift. There’s a guy who worked on the elevator, but quit and went insane. He’s visited by Felix in the asylum where we learn nothing at all other than he’s frightened out of his mind. Felix doesn’t work with a partner. Jeff feels like this guy, and we learn in Down he was partnered with someone named Kowalski who committed suicide and both he and Jeff worked on these elevators. So, as the movie, goes on we learn Jeff knows something about what’s happening, but never lets Mike in on it. His eventual death is exactly the same as the floor cleaner in The Lift who disappears one night near the elevator. Actually we never see the death just the discovery of his body, Jeff drops out of the film at one point, so does that floor cleaner in The Lift, and both of their bodies are discovered when the manager of the building, played by the late Edward Herrmann (The Lost Boys) in Down, is riding the elevator one day, and the roof is open, droplets of blood on his lapel draw his attention to the opening and down falls the bloody body, upside down, leg caught on a cable.
Before-she-was-famous Naomi Watts plays the reporter, Jennifer Evans, and Maas gave this character much more screen time in Down. In The Lift her small part peaks when she suddenly appears at the end to save Felix by dragging him out of the elevator shaft, but this character is more intrinsic in Down for she learns what’s really going on and actually voices it during a conversation with Mike in a car ride, pretty much summing up the movie you’re watching by saying it’s a “sentient killer elevator.” I’m paraphrasing here, to which Mike scoffs at her. Unlike her role in The Lift, the “hot reporter” is also the love interest, but that doesn’t come to fruition until the epilogue, which The Lift doesn’t have.
Most of the deaths and near-deaths are played out exactly the same from Maas’ original, deviating only slightly, but the end result is exactly the same. Case in point, the death of the blind guy, in The Lift he has a cane, and not knowing the elevator isn’t there, the doors open and he steps out into a “deceleration trauma” of a demise. In Down he has a seeing eye dog and the elevator takes him on a ride to another floor before letting him die in a fall, he also, unfortunately, takes his dog with him, and we get a needless shot later on of the dead dog hanging in the shaft.
The only time where Down seriously deviates from The Lift is the death of all the people in the elevator near the final act. The elevator is loaded this particular day and it accelerates heading straight for the top floor when the floor suddenly opens up and drops everyone out. Some hold on as it keeps going faster and faster towards the top, and not only did Maas kill an animal in this version he also killed a kid, as we see one fall out and hit something below with a sickening crunch. This mass execution is punctuated by the elevator bursting from the top floor. This leads the authorities, including he President of the United States, to believe terrorists were involved; the next night the building is awash with a SWAT team and military. I wasn’t sure what the objective here was. Are they looking for terrorists, protecting the building, or both? Some of the military personal drop boxes of rocket launchers on one floor that left me scratching my head. This whole final act is clearly in action movie mode. The ending where our elevator guy rides up and down the shaft remotely controlling the elevator searching for some sign of these “organic microchips” is exactly the same in both flicks, even locating the “fuse box” with the dripping, slimy chips inside, it’s just in Down this search is complicated by the SWAT team and army guys looking for Mike, or the “terrorist” they think was responsible and has returned to the scene of the crime.
The finale in The Lift fits more in the “quiet horror” vein, roughly speaking. Felix, intent on finding proof, returns to the building late one night when no one is around and rides the shaft. In both versions the elevator tries to kill our hero, and just before we think Felix has had it, the reporter shows up and pulls him to safety. Down has our sentient elevator ending up on fire and careening towards Mike after he’s been bitchslapped all over the shaft by it. It’s definitely an ending that feels very much in line with what an American audience is used to seeing, and I for one enjoyed the hell out of it. What can I say, I’m easy to please, at times.
The supporting characters in Down are some serious name character actors. I’ve already mentioned Herrmann, but we also have Michael Ironside playing the German scientist responsible for inventing these “organic chips.” He’s the human villain in all this, and his character is there in the end to try and rectify/fuck things up for everyone involved. His death is exactly the same as his counterpart in The Lift as the elevator uses the cables like tentacles and grabs him from the hallway and sends him into the great beyond by hanging him by his neck until he’s dead, except in Down there’s more blood involved. Another favorite character actor of mine, Ron Perlman, shows up in an equally too small of a role as the manager of the company that fixes these elevators. Last but not least, Dan Hedaya, has a small spot as the detective investigating all these deaths.
The most disturbing death in both flicks is the decapitation. I learned early on when I was a kid eye trauma in movies (Horror Express) was too disturbing for me to cope with, I also learned around that time, thanks to The Fly (1958), ‘crushing deaths” make me squeamish too. Remember the hydraulic press crushing David Hedison’s character in the beginning? Later on in life I worked in the mailroom of a newspaper that was next to a series of hydraulic presses and the idea of being squashed to death sends shivers up my spine. You don’t see a lot of “crushing death” in either of Maas’ films, but the impression is there since that would be one of the ways a killer elevator could end your life. The decapitation comes the closest when one of the security guards gets his heard trapped between the doors and the elevator slowly descends to cut it right off. It looks more realistic in Down, sans the extreme amount of blood that I imagine would be jetting everywhere.
I will say there’s more bloody deaths in Down than in The Lift and the most unbelievable death, as in the one I had a hard time suspending my disbelief on, was the one involving the skater who gets sucked into an elevator in the parking garage, zoomed at incredible speed to the tip of the building and literally spit out and tossed over the edge into another “deceleration trauma” demise where he goes splat one the pavement below, showering his buddy with his precious blood. That death falls into the unintentionally comic category. Why was the inside of the elevator awash with bright light, and how did it suck him in, and for that matter spit him out? I’m sorry, but I need an explanation for that one. There’s an awful lot of F-bombs dropped in Down too. I wonder if Maas thought, well, since it takes place in New York, everyone has to swear like a truck driver, because maybe he assumes that’s how New Yorkers talk. Come to think of it I’ve never been to New York, so maybe everyone does swear like truck drivers.
Even though I was pleasantly surprised by The Lift I enjoyed Down more, always have.
The Lift has never had a U.S. disc release, but Down got one under the title The Shaft from Artisan in 2003. The movie, however, being shot 2.35:1, was full frame on that disc. Blue Underground released both of these movies in DVD/Blu limited edition combos back on Halloween! Good timing. You can buy them both here on Amazon!
Video/Audio/Subtitles (The Lift): 1080p 1.66:1 high definition widescreen (2K restoration)—(Blu-Ray): 5.1 Dutch DTS-HD Master Audio, 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio, 2.0 Dutch DTS-HD Master Audio—(DVD): 5.1 Dutch Dolby Digital Surround EX, English Dolby Digital Stereo, Dutch Dolby Digital Stereo—English for Dutch Audio, English SDH, Spanish subs
Video/Audio/Subtitles (Down): 1080p 2.35:1 high definition widescreen (2K restoration)—(Blu-Ray): 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio, 5.1 French DTS-HD Master Audio, English Dolby Digital Stereo, French Dolby Digital Stereo—(DVD): 5.1 English Dolby Digital Surround EX, 5.1 French Dolby Digital Surround EX, English Dolby Digital Stereo, French Dolby Digital Stereo—English SDH, Spanish subs
The transfers looked fantastic, with Down looking a bit better since I understand that one had newer, better materials for Blue Underground to work with. It was really great finally seeing it in it’s 2.3:1 aspect ratio too.
Extras included (The Lift) . . .
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Dick Maas and Editor Hans van Dongen
- Going Up – Interview with Star Huub Stapel (9:09)
- “Long Distance” – Short Film by Dick Maas (4:13)
- Poster & Still Gallery (88 photos)
- Dutch Trailer
- U.S. Trailer
- BONUS Collectible Booklet with new essay by writer and filmmaker Chris Alexander (First Pressing Only!)
- Reverse Poster Cover Art
Extras included (Down) . . .
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Dick Maas and Stunt Coordinator Willem de Beukelaer
- The Making of DOWN (7:25)
- Behind-the-Scenes Footage (2:31:24) (Blu-ray Exclusive)
- Poster & Still Gallery (87 photos)
- Theatrical Trailer
- Teaser Trailers
- BONUS Collectible Booklet with new essay by author Michael Gingold (First Pressing Only!)
- Reverse Poster Cover Art (The Shaft moniker is used)
It’s funny, I had this review all written before I read the included booklet and learned Maas got the idea for The Lift after reading Stephen King’s The Mangler. If you’re ever looking for aerial footage of New York circa 2001 that includes the Twin Towers, check out the last half hour of the Behind-The-Scenes Footage on Down. Maas spent an afternoon and part of a night taking a copter over New York for footage to include in the movie.