My first thought when I saw the title of THE SHAFT was this is definitely some sort of porno movie. Once I realized that it was, indeed, a horror film, the next question was should I used cheesy Gene Shalit-like puns such as, “you will feel really SHAFT-ed while watching THE SHAFT”? I can see Horatio Sanz with his fake mustache now. But who needs comedy when you have this satiric attempt at horror by Dutch director Dick Maas (remaking his own film, DE LIFT)? The movie, about – you guessed it – a killer elevator – is a campy blend of comedy and horror, which is pretty entertaining as a whole. But my God – 110 minutes? That’s 20 minutes more than the maximum allowable horror running length, and you can really feel it.
THE SHAFT takes place on New York’s "Millenium Building," which has an uncanny resemblance to the Empire State Building. Some night-watchman, after spying on a threesome through the observatory tower’s telescope, have a decidedly uneasy interaction with the elevator. Things get even freakier when the same elevator takes a group of pregnant ladies fresh out of yoga on a roller-coaster ride. This was a pretty astounding scene, particularly when they all burst out their babies as a result of the traumatic experience. Who comes up with that?
Time to call in the repairmen, led by James Marshall of TWIN PEAKS "fame." His New Yawk accent was entirely over-the-top (although, turns out the actor really is from Queens, but this was a pattern in the movie, in which everyone spoke with exaggerated accents. I’m not sure whether the dubbing was off, or what. One thing is for certain: this movie was not filmed in New York. I’m guessing Eastern Europe. Anyhow, more mishaps occur, including a blind man taking a spill down the shaft, and the decapitation of one of the night watchman. Something definitely isn’t right with that elevator, but don’t tell Ron Perlman (yes, HELLBOY himself) who pops up to make a passionate defense of the elevator-repair industry (!?).
The movie is clearly one big joke, and as such, it’s a pretty funny one. It helps that it’s populated with so many B-list celebs – including Marshall, Perlman, Dan Hedaya, Edward Herrmann, Michael Ironside – and even one A-lister, Naomi Watts, making perhaps her last film before stardom found her. All of them give over-the-top performances, including Watts as an old-fashioned, intrepid reporter. But dammit, she really looks quite attractive in this film, no two ways about it.
The movie is relatively light on the horror, but it does have one fabulous scene that makes it more than worth a rental. In it, a large group of people crowd the killer elevator – old people, young people, children, etc. The elevator then starts taking it on a speed ride, down, then up. On its way up, the floor suddenly completely gives way, and those passengers who didn’t fall immediately hang on for dear life as the elevator speeds its way up. I won’t spoil what happens, but the scene is pretty fun.
As is the entire film, THE SHAFT. It knows it’s essentially a comedy, and is a very campy horror film. The effects, the B-list celebs, and the awful dialogue, all make this pretty fun stuff. The biggest drawback, by far, is its length. Why, oh why, did it have to be that long? There are so many extended and failed scenes of character development and tangential plot-lines that needed to be tossed out entirely. This is essentially an entertaining 80-minute movie couched within a tedious 110-minute one. It’s still worth watching, just keep a finger on the fast-forward button for the boring parts. You’ll know ‘em when you see ‘em.
RATING: ** and a half (out of four)