The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: The Shaft (2001)

Posted by Damon Swindall - January 5th 2012 @ 7:22 pm

After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. Horror’s Not Dead’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!

Foreign DVD cover that is much cooler

Another year of bloody fun at Horror Movie Night has come to a fine finish. Just as 2011 began, it ends – with a flick about a killer elevator by Dick Maas. This fine Dutch director was chosen by our wise programmer, Brian, to bookend the year and we even had a couple of his other films thrown in along the way. I can’t remember every little instance of his original film De Lift (1983) from a year ago but I do recall enjoying it. According to my personal movie logging notes, as this was before starting the weekly HMN column, I enjoyed this even though it was a tad slow. Maybe Maas felt the same way, as he felt compelled to direct an English language remake set in New York City some eighteen years later. 2001’s The Shaft (aka Down) has pretty much all of the same faults and successes as the original but it’s still a fun vertical ride.

Something strange is happening at the legendary Millennium Building in New York. The express elevators have been acting up; stopping mid-descent, having warning lights randomly go off, and, the last straw, trapping a group of pregnant women inside. The elevator repair company sends their best man Jeff and his new partner, and ex-war buddy, Mark (James Marshall from Twin Peaks, who kind of resembles a poor man’s Christian Slater if you ask me), to give the lifts a look. Everything checks out – at least until people start turning up dead. Now a struggling newspaper reporter, Jennifer Evans (Naomi Watts), is doing everything to get the scoop on just what the hell is up with these express deathtraps. She teams up with Jeff and they quickly find out that things aren’t very normal with this particular elevator and the technology on which it runs.

Mitchell: We’ve spent years establishing the fact that elevators are one of the safest means of transportation. I mean, hell, we have to! We live in a vertical world. If you can’t trust elevators, what the fuck can you trust?

The first thing I noticed about this film is that the first two deaths, one involving a blind man and the empty shaft and the other involving a security guard’s decapitation, are pretty much exactly how they pan out in the original film. Even in the same order. There are many other similarities as well. There’s a little girl with a doll who plays a game with the bank of three elevators only to get away unscathed (boo), the end result with the sentient lift remains, and both films are far too long. While I will agree that the world does need movies about killer elevators they really don’t need to run 115 minutes. That’s a story that you can tell in 80 or 90 easily.

Free fallin'

Some of the departures this film takes from its predecessor are where it really shines. The kills are definitely amped up in this version and even takes a jam packed cab of twenty riders and basically the lift says fuck you all – children included! Something also happens to the scourge of the world (aka rollerbladers) that made me smile with such glee. Fairly early on in the film there is an edit/transition that made everyone watching along with me cheer and giggle. Our evil elevator is full of pregnant women who’ve been stuck in the stuffy cab and are all seeming to go into labor. As the door finally opens we hear babies crying and see the onlookers plastered with shocked expressions as we cut to a sizzling grill of a nearby diner. So perfect

Even through the boring parts this film will keep you entertained and laughing at the bafflingly bad dialog. At every turn some one is saying something that is just so ridiculous that you wonder  if maybe ol’ Dick should have gotten a little help on the English translation of his banter. The one line that really stands out is the in the discussion on biotechnology between Mark and Jennifer where he stands his ground by scoffing, “machines, computers, do not reproduce, okay. Have you ever seen two chips fucking?” This coupled with the fact that the first time Jennifer meets Mark she quickly accuses him of rape to get the cops to let her go is just a small sample of the brilliance this film has to offer.

But act now and not only will you get cheesy dialog and plenty of bloody elevator parts, but you’ll get a crazy cast to go along with everything! Not only is a young Naomi Watts in this just months before Mulholland Dr. hit screens (according to the Netherlands release date, it wasn’t released stateside until 2003 presumably because of the September 11th attacks), but the supporting cast is pretty crazy. Dan “Nick Tortelli” Hedaya plays a cop, Ron “Hellboy” Perlman is the boss at the elevator repair company, Edward Herrmann is the Millennium building’s manager and Michael freaking Ironside plays a crazy German scientist behind the inner workings of our bad elevator. Hmm, wonder if he has something to with all of the killing? Also in a small, yet amazing, role is Hanneke Riemer as Ilsa (though credited as “Nanny from Hell”) playing the foreign daycare worker who smokes and spews a diatribe at the children she watches full of contempt for their existence. She’s hired!


If you want to witness the joy of this movie for yourself you’ll be happy to hear that it’s still available in the US on DVD. Just be prepared to wish it was about a half hour shorter, have a drink or two and everything should go quite smoothly. I can’t believe I made it through this article with little, if any, double entendre about The Shaft, because we couldn’t stop making them while watching the film. You’ve been spared.

Until next week – If 2011 was the year of Dick, I wonder what 2012 will bring… besides the end of the world, of course.

Body Count: 26 people and one poor service dog
Time to First Kill: 26:58
Best Death: Rollerblader spit out from eighty-something stories high
First Glimpse of Watts: 17:10

Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-1/4/12: The Carrier (1988)
-1/11/12: Beasties (1991)
-1/18/12: Venom (1981)
-1/25/11: TBA – Possible BYE Week

Here’s a special surprise that I worked on all last year. This is a 40 minute (!) montage of every kill from every Horror Movie Night film from 2011. Yes, it’s kind of long but it’s pretty awesome at the same time. I squeezed a lot of death into those 40 minutes. Check it out if you wish and feel free to leave me comments. Obviously it’s pretty damn NOT SAFE FOR WORK, so plan your viewing accordingly.


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  1. January 24th, 2012 | 9:41 am | #1

    Man, I’m glad I discovered your site, you’ve got some really interesting horror movies on here. Exactly the right balance of cheese and awesome. Must have taken you ages to compile the montage.

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