The Shaft had to sit on the shelf a good long time before anyone released it. Not that it's a bad film, it's actually a fairly competent schlock-fest, but because it screams PRE-9/11 in almost every frame. Filmed just before the attack on the World Trade Center and unceremoniously released overseas in limited runs, The Shaft finally finds its way to a built-in audience (thanks to the presence of The Ring's Watts and a subtle as a heart attack Ring-like cover). I'm actually surprised it got released at all given the references to terrorism, Osama Bin Laden, and the ever present specter of the Twin Towers looming in the distance. Seeing them again in a "new" film made me realize just how much things have changed since the fall of the towers, and especially the effect it had on an entertainment industry that once thrived on the very sort of plot devices we are now so cautiously guarded from.
When a series of mysterious and deadly accidents occur in a high rise building's elevators, police and government agencies immediately assume it's some sort of terrorist plot. A journalist (Watts) and an elevator repairman (Twin Peak's Marshall) have their own theories, however, and join forces to investigate the cause themselves. With every answer comes a new question as the trail leads them to a shocking possibility: the building may be alive....
Of course, all of this is quite silly and the REAL explanation is downright ridiculous, but The Shaft seems to be aware of that fact. While I wouldn't say The Shaft is a straight out comedy, it does have a sort of lightheartedness to it, even when it's being nasty. The film has all of the classic elements of the golden age sci-fi/horror flick; the handsome rebel, the beautiful heroine, the evil scientist, and, of course, the monster, all neatly served on a modern dish with the obligatory blood and boob trimmings. While there are a few genuinely tense moments (and even a couple of effective "jump" scares), much of it is played for chuckles, and with a plot as wafer thin and implausible as this, it's a good thing.
The DVD from Artisan is a bare bones wreck, featuring a full screen transfer that’s watchable but is just simply too grainy and washed out to be considered acceptable in light of the film’s age. Add to that the fact that it’s a full-frame release, and this DVD becomes nearly impossible to recommend for fans of this film. I realize the company is trying to grab the biggest audience they can by releasing a full- frame film, but it's time to stop catering to that rapidly dwindling group of consumers who "don't like the black bars". At least release a flip disc featuring both wide and full screen versions of a film, like so many other "budget" titles offer (especially if you're only going to include a trailer as an extra). The film also features choice of Dolby 5.1, 2.0, as well as Spanish/English subs and dialogue, and...err...a box to put it all in?
The Shaft is a charming bit of 50's style b-movie hokum that's fairly entertaining and easy on the brain. Sadly, the film is presented in an assembly-line manner that shows it no love. Still, it's a small wonder the film got any distribution at all given the subject matter, and I give Artisan credit for releasing it with none of the footage of the Twin Towers altered or cut out altogether. In this post-towers era, it seems as though we are slowly being trained to forget they even existed, which is real a shame.
While The Shaft is by no means an important film, it will be one I'll remember simply for this epiphany it so unwittingly provided; times have certainly changed.