THE LIFT (1983) – Category: A neglected bad movie classic that deserves a Plan 9-sized cult following Don’t believe the IMDB entry for this movie that lists “comedy” as well as “horror” as one of this film’s genres. Oh, it will make you laugh uproariously but if you actually watch the movie (which I swear half the IMDB people never do with the movies they provide info on) you can tell none of the humor is intentional.
This absurd horror film from the Netherlands is about a killer elevator … yes, a killer elevator. There is so much to love about this forgotten bad movie classic that it’s hard to know where to begin. For starters the movie posters sported the film’s notorious tag line “For God’s sake, take the stairs!” Somehow that just doesn’t have the same ring as “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water” or “In space, no one can hear you scream”.
Another famous ad line for this flick, and another one that is beloved by bad movie fans like me, was “One man against the perfect killing machine!” The perfect killing machine? I’m afraid not! Just like with the Daleks, if you could climb a staircase (“For God’s sake”) you had this “perfect killing machine” screwed. Hell, even if you couldn’t , as long as you just didn’t get into the thing you were pretty safe.
Since this film was imported from abroad you get the old-school bad movie fun of the dubbed-in dialogue never coming close to matching the lip movements of the actors speaking the lines. Plus the English translation seems to have been written by people who have never heard human beings actually conversing, so we get wonderful exchanges like “Have you looked everywhere?” “No, I couldn’t find it!” But my favorite weird comment comes from a very strange police detective assigned to investigate the mysterious elevator attacks. In a dubbed line laden with double-meaning he explains “I used to work for the Vice Squad, but you grow numb. A pity.”
This detective is not our hero, however. The “one man” who takes on “the perfect killing machine” is … a heroic elevator repairman. No, not a bicycle repairman (Monty Python fans will get it) but an elevator repairman. And not just any run-of-the-mill elevator repairman, but a womanizing maverick elevator repairman who becomes obsessed with getting to the bottom of the deaths being caused by the elevator.
With my odd sense of humor, this angle is the most richly comedic part of the movie. It Honest-To-God plays like those “maverick cop who plays by their own set of rules” stories where one determined lawman overcomes indifferent and/or corrupt superiors as well as political pressure to abandon the case he’s on, and solves the crime anyway.
The exchanges with his boss (who wants the elevator-caused incidents covered up to avoid souring an upcoming corporate merger with another elevator-manufacturing company) are hilariously reminiscent of heroic rogue cops arguing with their desk-bound superiors in countless films. At one point he even tells our dogged repairman “I’m pulling you off that route” in the spirit of the line “I’m pulling you off the case!” in cop movies.
Naturally, just like a cop in those films, our hero (named Felix by the way) pursues the matter on his own time accompanied by a female reporter who smells something rotten (Maybe she just smells our hero. This was made in Europe, after all. It’s a joke! Lighten up! ) behind the high-tech computer chips running the homicidal elevator.
Other things to love in this sublimely weird movie include:
* the dead-pan demeanor of our hero Felix, whose straight-faced reactions to all this absurdity help make the film so damned laughable. Especially the scene where he sits there, holding his cigarette in the European fashion and wearing an ever-so-serious expression that says “Ahhhh, I am overcome with ennui at the thought of continuing my struggle with this killer elevator” …
* some of the killings themselves – a) of a blind man that our sadistic Lift allows to plunge to his death, b) of a security guard whose head the elevator intentionally catches in its doors and the hilarious “decapitation” scene that follows, complete with the phoniest human head in cinematic history, and c) of my favorite victim, the tap-dancing janitor (Don’t ask) …
* the odd-seeming signage in the native language of the film’s country of origin, with my favorite being “Verboden Toegang!” It’s nothing without the exclamation point on the end …
* the way the previous elevator repairman on Felix’s route was driven insane and institutionalized after he realized our title menace had achieved sentience (Skynet this sucker ain’t) …
* the forced, horny jollity of the diners at “Restaurant Icarus” where our film begins (these people are so annoying you hope the elevator will kill them, but since it’s early on all the Lift does is severely cook them and land them in the hospital).
I could go on and on but you get the idea. All these little extras are what elevate (as it were) this movie to classic status in the Bad Movie Hall Of Fame. Naturally our hero succeeds in ending the homicidal lift’s reign of terror after a few more victims provide it with gore-fodder. Our female reporter shows more sense than Kolchak ever did and wisely decides nobody would believe the story if she printed it. Sadly there was never a sequel made to this film. I would have loved to see something like The Lift 2: Otis Lives!