Color, 1984, 87 mins. 31 secs. / 90 mins. 19 secs.
Directed by Carl Schenkel
Starring Götz George, Wolfgang Kieling, Renée Soutendijk, Hannes Jaenicke
Subkultur (UHD & Blu-ray) (US/Germany R0 4K/HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

One of the two great elevator trauma Out of Orderfilms to come out of Out of OrderEurope in the '80s (along with The Lift), this stylish German thriller has no supernatural angle but doesn't skimp on the tension with a simple but clever premise in the grand tradition of enclosed space films descended from Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat. Using the social divide of West Germany for most of its subtext, Out of Order (originally Abwärts, or "Going Down") proved to be a solid international calling card for Swiss director Carl Schenkel following his goofy 1979 monster sex comedy, Dracula Blows His Cool; the director went on to The Mighty Quinn, Knight Moves, the interesting slasher film The Surgeon, the made-for-TV horror film Bay Cove, and... uh, Tarzan and the Lost City.

Late on a Friday night at an office building, the elevator repairman (a fun cameo by Fassbinder regular Kurt Raab) decides to hang up a sign and finish his work the following week. Young courier Pit (Jaenicke in his debut) has a close call with an open elevator shaft and thinks the coast is clear when he finally gets on a working one with three other departing people: bickering couple Jörg (veteran TV and film actor George) and Marion (The Fourth Man's Soutendijk), and older employee Gössmann (Kieling) who's carrying a satchel filled with money swiped from his boss' safe. However, the elevator isn't quite as stable as they thought as they end up trapped in the middle of the shaft-- with a long weekend ahead, a limited supply of oxygen, and personal tensions simmering that will soon erupt into violence.

Extremely stylish and featuring razor-sharp editing, Out of Order plays like a combination of high-concept disaster film and locked-room chamber piece (a la Cube) with a quartet of excellent performances at its center. The limited setting never becomes Out of Orderstatic with the camera and lighting keeping viewers on their toes, dipping up and down the area outside the elevator and using the cramped space inside to its advantage especially once Out of Orderthe lights go out and everyone starts to get very sweaty and agitated. One of German crime TV's most beloved actors, George is the main attraction here for domestic audiences with a complicated and believable character whose morality starts to slowly erode as the confinement goes on, while the other three match him every step of the way keeping their characters' actions plausible even as the film gets into full-on action and thriller terrain in the final stretch.

A success in West and East Germany at the time, the film was given a less respectful presentation in the U.S. where it ended up being dubbed for a minimal theatrical release and sent off to VHS by Vestron with some understandable confusion over which genre it would actually go under. Since then it's been something of a hidden secret among English-speaking viewers, though German label Subkultur (whose track record is still pretty impeccable at this point) aims to give it a shot at a bigger audience with a gorgeous dual-format UHD and Blu-ray package. First released in Germany (where it sold out very quickly), the U.S. edition appears to be identical apart from the English-friendly packaging (and limited slipcase). The UHD is a particular stunner with Dolby Vision and HDR bringing out an intensity in the steely blues and silvers throughout while featuring a great deal of gradation in the white lighting that tended to blow out in past editions. The Blu-ray is no slouch either and looks excellent, too. Audio options include the DTS-HD MA 1.0 German mono theatrical mix and a pretty effective 5.1 remix (with optional English or German subtitles), the latter making Out of Ordernice use of the rear channels for all those ambient industrial noises and whooshing Out of Orderair sounds. Also included is the English mono dub if you want to relive the glory days of its VHS release, plus a mono DTS-HD MA isolated music track.

An entertaining interview with Jaenicke (28m.), one of the two surviving stars, covers how he accidentally fell into acting and went to drama school in Vienna, then to theater work in Germany, his discovery by Schenkel during a performance in Bonn (which he continued while shooting this film in Munich with a lot of commuting), the stubborn personality of his director who sadly died far too young in 2003, and his admiration for the incredibly hard-working George (who did up to 60 takes sometimes), the kind Kieling (who had glaucoma by that point), and Soutendijk, with whom he's still friends and who shot the film just after giving birth. He also shares lots of other stories from the set including an instructive tale about why you shouldn't urinate in an elevator shaft. Then an interview with cinematographer Jacques Steyn (18m32s) explains how he worked his way up from production assistant using his technical knowledge to get various gigs behind the camera, leading to the inventive work he pulled off here under sometimes challenging circumstances between the elevator set and the real Frankfurt building (as well as his businesslike director). An interesting bonus here is an alternate version of the film built from the HD master with SD inserts for a couple of minutes of extra character-focused scenes that turned up on an early home video release; you can read a thorough breakdown of the additions here but the theatrical should definitely be your primary viewing option. Also included are the silent English opening and closing credits, textless opening and end credits, the German theatrical trailer, and a 2m36s gallery of posters and lobby cards.

Reviewed on July 16, 2022