Back in 1983, Writer/Director Dick Mass* released the Horror movie, DE LIFT aka THE LIFT. Thing is, it wasn't that horrifying. Oh sure, there were the usual pop-clique suspects pounding sand up their own self-indulgent egos in various alternative magazines by over-rating the damn boring thing until I was convinced that it was worth traveling to another city; to a state university; to pay the non-student ticket price; to watch that piece of shit. I learned soon after that my choice of reading material at that time was populated by pre-school film critics laboring under the brain water that any movie made in another country (in this case, Norway) is better by default than anything made in their motherland.
Apparently, Dick Maas thought his flick was a turd as well. Nearly 20 years later a much older and presumably wiser Dick decided to remake and release his own film (now made in France). Only this time, he called it DOWN.
DOWN became THE SHAFT in the U.S. and may never have seen release were it not for the fact that one of the nobody actors in the film became a somebody a year later when she starred in THE RING. That actress was Naomi Watts (CHILDREN OF THE CORN IV, MULHOLLAND DR.) and Artisan films, the US distributor, decided to hack the DVD cover of THE RING right down to some young boy standing in front of the elevator shaft. The boy isn't in the movie, but Artisan hasn't had a hit since they tripped over THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT at Sundance, so they're willing to sell their ass on Broadway for a buck^.
The movie starts out as bad as I expected. Late at night on the observation deck of the "Millennium Building" (think The Empire State) in New York City, two building security guards use the view scope to spy on some sexy shenanigans going on in an another building. The scene is horribly weak thanks to a lame script and Guard Gary playing a Jar Jar Binks role. The scene is only saved by the brief but full frontal nudity of the two women they are watching.
Lightening strikes the building, shaking everyone up, and causes the security monitors to get a funny warp in their video feed. Soon after, merry mishaps occur.
Next we get an introduction to two elevator mechanics on their way to a job. The club fisted introductory exposition between the two of them makes you appreciate the first scene even more by virtue of the nudity.
We eventually get back to the building and another attack by the evil elevator.
Now here's the thing about these kinds of Horror flicks. When it comes to Horror you have two ways to go. One is the Horror that can attack anyone anywhere anytime (TREMORS, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, FINAL DESTINATION). The second, and more popular Horror, is the one that is localized, incapable of leaving its limited environment, and it grows in power by virtue of the fact that either nobody is aware of it, believes in it, or isn't ready to accept that the Horror is that dangerous (JAWS [just stay out of the water], HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL [just stay out of that house], THE EXORCIST [stop playing with that little girl]).
Now out of those options, a haunted elevator has to be the most limited of all. It's not like the entire building is haunted, just the elevator. If you take the stairs, yer safe. Ah, but The Millinneum Building is one of the tallest buildings in New York. Nobody wants to walk up 100+ flights of stairs to go to work every single freaking day: why I'd rather DIE than take the stairs! - and there is work to be done and money to be earned to cover food and home. So to work we must go and I sure hope that damn elevator doesn't murder ME today!
And that's the plot. Television and newspapers report on the elevator killing people everyday. The cops investigate, the elevator company tries to fix the problem, but all to no avail. People die every time they open the elevators up for business.
Are the elevators possessed?
Well, Police detective Lt. McBain (a possible reference to The Simpson's character but played by Dan Hedaya: THE ADDAMS FAMILY, MULHOLLAND DR.) doesn't believe in such things but is willing to believe in terrorists.
Building manager, Milligan (Edward Herrmann: THE LOST BOYS), doesn't know what to believe in, he just wants the deaths to stop. Deadly elevators are bad for business.
Elevator manufacturing owner, Mitchell (Ron Perlman: THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, ALIEN: RESURRECTION, BLADE II, HELLBOY) thinks somebody on his staff is being stupid and he hopes it isn't the new guy, Mark (James Marshall), because he's already gone out on a limb for him once before. Then again, it could be his R&D expert, Gunter Steinberg (Michael Ironside: SCANNERS, TOTAL RECALL, STARSHIP TROOPERS, THE OMEGA CODE, HEAVY METAL 2000). Gunter has a pretty checkered past doesn't he? And besides, he's played by a perennial movie bad guy! What was I thinking to hire a perennial movie bad guy?
It's around halfway through the movie when all of the major character actors are introduced and the movie picks up. Maas tries for stylish lighting and makes good use of the art deco set design. But like 18 years before, Maas has no clue what to write or where to go until he can get the action going. Only when those who have it "figured out" are ready to do actual battle with the elevator, do things finally pick up. The last 40 minutes of the movie almost make up for the crappy first 69. Maas starts pulling out all of the stops and throws in some truly inventive sight gags and shock moments, making you wonder why he didn't go back in his script and make the first pages as good as the last.
THE SHAFT has a really cool ending and for that I begrudgingly give it a just earned 3 Shriek Girls.
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