Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Ten of the best - Lifts in the movies

After watching Drive last week, every time I get in the lift at work my mind wanders to the disturbing scene where Ryan Gosling turns into a very violent man. With the beautiful classic music contradicting the brutal on screen violence akin to the juxtaposition Kubrick used throughout A Clockwork Orange, this could quite possibly be one of the finest scenes ever filmed in a lift.

Nicolas Winding Refn is not the only director to take advantage of this claustrophobic setting though, and here is a list of the most memorable lift scenes in cinema in no particular order.

Dark Water - This is the first of many horror films to be included on the list as lifts make the perfect environment for creepy occurrences. There is nowhere for the protagonist to run, and this lack of escape routes makes the appearance of the unexpected even more unnerving in such a confined space. The original Japanese film is far superior to the Hollywood remake which fails to replicate the subtle scares of its predecessor. After rescuing her child from a flooded apartment, Yoshimi believes all her troubles are over. It's only when we get a glimpse of her daugther that we realise things are not as they first appeared. Creepy as hell, and a standout moment in a classic J-Horror.

Angel Heart - Mickey Rourke has undertaken a huge transformation since his heyday as an actor, and this fantastic film features one of his finest performances before he turned into a beefcake. Troubled by nightmares involving a descending lift that appear more vivid as he comes closer to solving the mystery, Harry Angel is a private investigator involved in a deadly case. By the time we realise the significance of the lift, Harry's fate has been well and truly sealed.

The Eye - Once again I am referring to the original film, not the poor Hollywood remake, as Asian horror films tend to be far more effective than their American counterparts. Whilst the story lacks emotional punch, the scares are downright disturbing, with this scene set in a lift likely to unnerve even the most hardened horror fan. Our protagonist is sure there is someone else in the lift with her, and the reveal that she is not alone is not an instant shock but a relentless build up of dread as the apparition gradually appears only to stick around for the rest of the lift's journey.

Liar Liar - Moving on to less disturbing lift rides is this fantastic scene from one of Jim Carrey's better comedies. If you're a fan of the film then you already know the sequence I am referring to. Nothing beats a fart joke, and this one is almost exruciating to watch as Fletcher is forced to own up to farting in the lift thanks to an incident that means he can only tell the truth. The immortal line 'It was me!' is uttered, much to the surprise of his fellow passengers, making this one of the most awkward scenes filmed in a lift.

The Shining - Back to my favourite territory with this landmark horror film based on a classic Stephen King novel and also featuring Stanley Kubrick behind the camera, does it get much better? The lift plays a pivotal role as jack Torrance, played brilliantly by Nicholson, has a number of flashbacks pertaining to the violence that has occurred in the Overlook hotel many years prior to his arrival there. Although it is not the most frightening scene in The Shining - the lady in the bath wins hands down - it is still essential in creating the sense of dread that builds up as the film progresses.

The Silence Of The Lambs - I watched this film before reading the book and as such I was blissfully unaware of the incredible scene that would transpire in the lift as Hannibal Lector attempts his escape from police custody. As the lift slowly passes down the levels, the build up is almost unbearable as the cops guarding the ground floor entrance steady themselves in anticipation for the cold blooded killer. The final reveal as the police force storms the lift shaft is an example of extraordinary direction, and it is not until the following scene that the audience realise what has happened. Incredible film-making, and an essential slice of cinema for anyone with even the slightest of interest in the thriller genre.

The Apartment - Once again I felt compelled to return to lighter territory, with one of Billy Wilder's finest comedies owing the development of chemistry between the two leads to a chance encounter in the lift. Jack Lemmon is hysterical as the overworked and lonely Baxter who is duped into letting his boss and other company managers use his flat for their romantic trysts. Baxter's first lift ride with Fran is a wonderful moment and it is no surprise that The Apartment garnered five Oscars back in 1961.





Deep Red - One of the most memorable death scenes involving a lift, this scene from Dario Argento's Deep Red is a great example of the danger posed by the iron shutters that are supposedly there to protect the passengers. The film's protagonist, Marcus, has been on the trail of a serial killer, and in this sequence he narrowly avoids his demise whilst defending himself from an attacker. The woman in question is pushed back and her necklace becomes lodged in the lift's shutters. No prizes for guessing the outcome here, people familiar with the first Resident evil film will be well aware of what can happen when people's heads get stuck in lifts.


Aliens - No sooner do we think that Ellen Ripley has escaped from the Queen alien's grasp, heading to the safety of her ship's landing pad in a lift, we discover that the aliens have far more intelligent than we would give them credit for. The Queen Alien gets in the other lift shaft, and even manages to select the correct floor, what a clever lady, if you can call 'it' a lady that is. In all seriousness though, its a great scene, and the first of so many moments throughout the last part of the film when we believe that Ripley is finally safe before the relentless buggar makes another appearance, which is a direct reference to the final nail-biting scene of its timeless prequel. Aliens remains as one of the greatest sci-fi action films ever created, and thanks to the Alien's familiarity with lifts (it's probably seen most of the films on this list) we are treated to a spectacular showdown.

Mission Impossible - Emilio Estevez meets a cruel end in this fantastic scene from the first Mission Impossible when he is unwisely positioned on top of a lift. He plays Jack Harmon, part of a crack team of experts who are on a top secret mission that falls apart due to foul pay, leaving Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) as the sole survivor. When Jack loses control of the lift's operating system, it rises up suddenly and violently until he becoems impaled on a spike. Lovely stuff, and well deserving of a place on this list.

So, these are my ten favourite lift scenes, let me know if you agree or disagree on their inclusion or if I've missed out any of your favourites. And just be careful next time you take the lift, you never know who could be waiting in there for you...