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Amsterdamned

After watching THE LIFT as part of my hard hitting Summer of 1985 coverage I knew to pay more attention to this Dutch writer/director/composer Dick Maas. And some of you had already recommended his 1988 scuba-slasher epic AMSTERDAMNED.

As the miraculous once-in-a-lifetime perfect title indicates, it takes place in Amsterdam, and yes, it’s about a serial killer swimming around the canals and surfacing to murder people. I love that it opens with a HALLOWEEN style first-person stalking, because as is traditional you hear his heavy breathing, but this time it’s the sound of breathing in a scuba mask. When we do see him it’s a good slasher look because it’s functional but also creepy, fetishy, and all black.

The outsized scumminess of Maas’ Amsterdam is established by the cab driver who picks up a prostitute after a long day of work, first harasses and then tries to rape her before dumping her off far from home. And after being victimized by him the diver finds her.

The one thing about the movie arguably more perfect than the title is the first daylight scene. A tour guide gives a boatload of school children – and those of us at home who haven’t been to Amsterdam – an expository overview of the city’s canal system. Very clever. And then the little boat goes under a bridge, where the poor first victim is strung up upside down, the boat hits her and she slides up the windshield, smearing blood across it, then drops through a sunroof and dangles amidst the horrified tourists. I give this scene on its own an A+, but only because a higher rating doesn’t exist. You’re crazy for this one, Dick Maas!

The hero of AMSTERDAMNED is eccentric police detective Eric Visser, played by Huub Stapel, same guy who played the hotshot elevator repairman/amateur detective in THE LIFT. He’s divorced and raising his thirteen year old daughter Anneka (Tatum Dagelet), who immediately steals the movie by telling someone calling from police headquarters, “He’s in the john. I expect that he’s masturbating.” And her dad earns our respect by not at all reacting to this provocation. He’s clearly used to her messing with him like that, and maybe even thinks it’s funny. That’s just their humor with each other.

As far as over the edge cops who play by their own rules go Eric is relatively harmless, because his big act of aggression is to smoosh a guy’s face into a cake for holding up a bakery, and then the baker gets mad and accuses him of police brutality (which turns into a running gag). In most action movies it’s the spectre of alleged bureaucratic red tape and uptight people-who-take-oversight-semi-seriously that prevent police from expressing themselves through their own personal styles of violence and illegality. Here it’s the members of the community present on the scene who call him on it.

The subplot with his daughter is goofy in a fun way, with her and her superdork friend doing their own investigation, but she kind of peaks with that first scene.

As with most of the most enjoyable slasher movies, much of the imagination and elbow grease goes into the murder sequences. Anchors and harpoon guns are used as weapons. There’s a great one involving a woman sunbathing spread-eagle on an inflatable raft, so that we can see the killer swim up beneath her before stabbing through the raft. And it turns into a possible visual homage to the bath tub scene in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. There’s also an underwater search of a sunken boat, with a cool shot of a floating corpse, that turns into an underwater slashing.

Also I want to mention a scene where a guy is on his little boat at night, it’s raining, he’s sitting below deck with little portholes he can look out, playing an opera record on his turntable, pouring himself a glass of Four Roses. Yeah he’s gonna get attacked but before that it seems like a pretty good way to spend an evening. Salute.

In his investigation, Eric interviews a museum guide named Laura (Monique van de Ven, TURKISH DELIGHT, STUNT ROCK) and starts sleeping with her, as happens during these serial killer investigations. There are various clues, theories, suspects and red herrings. That’s the downside of this movie, in my opinion. It has that feeling of some of the more dry Italian and British horror movies where more time than I want is spent on the procedural part of the mystery – interviewing people and meeting in offices or on streets to discuss the investigation, as if that’s what’s most important to us. I won’t say what happens here but sometimes with the giallos the real explanation comes out of nowhere anyway so did we really need to go through all that?

My distaste for that sort of story makes me realize something about horror: I think part of its appeal is how often it takes the perspective of the powerless. We grow up but we still watch these movies about teenagers and college kids because it’s more interesting to see people who don’t have many resources and aren’t respected or believed by authority figures trying to figure out how to overcome impossible circumstances than, like, a bunch of police investigating something and then shooting people.

But having a cop hero does have an upside: more than most, this brings real action movie shit into a movie that almost fits into the slasher genre (though Maas apparently doesn’t consider it to), including foot chases, underwater battles and best of all a speedboat chase through the canals. That truly gives it something special that you just don’t get in the rest of the genre. Very impressive. Stunt coordinator Dickey Beer is Dutch but he has worked on many Hollywood/international movies – he’d been the ski unit stunt coordinator for LICENCE TO KILL, and in the 2000s he did a string of DTV Seagal movies (INTO THE SUN, TODAY YOU DIE, BLACK DAWN, MERCENARY FOR JUSTICE, SHADOW MAN, FLIGHT OF FURY, URBAN JUSTICE, PISTOL WHIPPED, THE KEEPER). For this one he recruited the legendary Vic Armstrong, who he’d been working with on RAMBO III.

As usual, Maas went the John Carpenter route and did the score himself, with good results. There’s also a catchy theme song by a band called Loïs Lane. If Maas directed the video it’s not listed on his IMDb, but whoever did made an excellent summary of the movie’s money shots, plus the band performing on themed sets.

They later recorded their self-titled first album, which included “Amsterdamned.” The album’s first single, “It’s The First Time,” attracted the attention of Prince, who had them open for him for some shows of his Nude Tour in 1990. They asked him to appear on their third album Precious in 1992, so he produced it, co-writing two songs and playing on others.

I have not been able to find any information about whether or not Prince saw and enjoyed AMSTERDAMNED. So I’m gonna assume he did and agreed with me that it’s pretty good and has enough truly unique qualities to be special.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 6th, 2020 at 12:50 pm and is filed under Action, Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

27 Responses to “Amsterdamned”

  1. I’ve been championing this weird little movie for years. I’m glad you dug it, Vern. I admit that it spends too much time on the “Dudes In Blazers Discussing Things” segments that no European genre movie made in the 20th century felt that it could live without, but you combine that amazing title, that awesome theme song, that ludicrous yet totally perfect premise, incredible location shooting, lot of underwater photography, solid slasher sequences, some Larry Cohen-esque dry humor, that amazing boat chase, and just the fact that it exists at all and you’ve got some kind of amstergoddamned miracle. Dickmas came early this year.

  2. I’ve been wanting to see this for two decades after seeing a clip of it in some horror award show and holy smokes it exceeded my expectations. This is now my go-to movie recommendation for people who haven’t seen it.

  3. I saw this at the cinema in ’88 – and loved it. Seen it a couple of times since. But when I visited Amsterdam, hoping to buy a decent bluray, nobody there had even heard of it.

    Majestyk, Dickmas sounds like a movie from a whole other genre.

  4. The Undefeated Gaul

    October 7th, 2020 at 12:29 am

    Pegs – nobody had heard of it? You mean people in shops? That’s strange, to my knowledge it’s still known as a classic here. You’re out of luck when it comes to that bluray though, seems there was one released in 2016 but apparently the image quality is shit plus it’s a cut version (I have no idea why since censoring is not really something we’re known for).

  5. Maybe they were just sick of tourists asking about AMSTERDAMNED? But yeah, this and the FLODDER movies are still the best known of Dick Maas’ body of work. There is a German uncut Blu-Ray from Studio Canal, but if you don’t speak Dutch or German, you might not get a lot of enjoyment out of it, since these are the only two languages available on it, both in sound and subtitle form.

  6. What various people know about their own culture differs, I know, but, yes, these where shop people. But I guess CJ’s right. A gang of drunken Norwegians on holiday doesn’t excactly get a warm welcome everywhere they go.

  7. And sadly the theme song is only available through an OOP vinyl single. You can get the score on CD and digital, but the song isn’t on it.

  8. Jasper Langedijk

    October 7th, 2020 at 3:09 am

    CJ Holden, Spotify has the soundtrack album and the Lois Lane title song:

    Amsterdamned (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

    Dick Maas · Album · 1988 · 25 songs.

    Second song on this album is the titlesong:
    https://open.spotify.com/album/3E1cWRofwyQ2VndOBBfof4?si=rPTmaPPYS3u-Pal2dptBDg

    Lois Lane performed this song in my high school some years after the movie came out (I live in the Netherlands). The boat chase part where the boats jump over the low parts with terrasses was filmed in my hometown Utrecht (same canals, but with those lower parts Amsterdam does not have). Lois Lane tried to make us sing ‘Utrecht, Utrecht’ instead of Amsterdamend Amsterdamend in the chorus, but we all sang the original line.

  9. Ha, nice, thanks Jasper. That album is even buyable digitally. But the shop I use has a pretty shitty search engine, so I guess that was the problem. Still looking if I can find the CD anywhere, preferably before Halloween.

  10. The car chase is good too. If not as memorable as the boat chase. Anyone seen PUPPET ON A CHAIN recently? The boat chase is almost identical, isn’t it?

  11. PUPPET has Vladek Sheybal in a white suit and cowboy hat, but really the chase in AMSTERDAMNED owes a lot more to Moore-era Bond, with police cars crashing into things and tourists in pedalos getting overturned. You almost expect a bystander to double take and abandon their drink. Which is not a criticism; it’s a highpoint in a great movie. SPOILER ALERT both chases do end in an explosion though.

  12. Speaking of Dickmas coming early this year, anybody else notice Ol’ Dick has a new movie out about a lion on the loose in Amsterdam? That is an extremely Dick Maas concept and I am 100% there for it. It’s called UNCAGED, it’s on Shudder, and it’s getting injected directly into my eyeballs very soon.

  13. Also, I am disappointed to learn that complimentary copies of AMSTERDAMNED are not passed out to arriving tourists at the airport.

  14. Well, “new” is a bit of a stretch, since that lion movie came out in 2016, but it’s his latest one. Haven’t seen it yet. Reviews rank from “Good B-movie fun” to “boring crap”, so I guess it’s more or less a typical Maas.

  15. I’m old. Anything that came out after like 2008 is new to me.

  16. Oh my! From the trailer it would seem that the Quint character in UNCAGED is played by Inspector Gadget. I’m in!

  17. My UNCAGED review is up soon and no spoilers but I’m excited for you guys to watch it.

  18. Uncaged is one of those movies I knew was coming out, saw it was out but wasn’t smart enough to watch it and now when I do somebody else is going to be the one to tell everybody about it and be the hero. Might as well be Vern.

  19. Great speedboat chase through the canals (every bit as good as the source that recommended this film to me promised). I had to buy a copy on VHS off ebay many years ago in order to see it, though.

  20. I had to revisit PUPPET ON A CHAIN to see if I was right. And the chase really is similar, down to the color of the boats.

  21. Holy shit that theme song! Tubi wanted to recommend some other titles but I was not having it. Lois Lane is on Spotify too so now I’ve added Amsterdamned to a playlist and will listen to their other work.

    This was one of those titles that was always on HBO and I don’t know why I didn’t watch it then. Now, between Vern and Sternshein I finally filled that gap. I realized I also got this confused with Damned River which I still have not scene.

    I thought this was a big long and padded, but that hooker hanging from the bridge gag and the boat chase at the end were pretty cool.

  22. CJ and/or Gaul, is Huup Stapel a name of some stature in Germany? I saw him on an episode of COBRA 11, and he was introduced as something of a big shot.

  23. I wouldn’t say he is a recognizable name or face in Germany, but he is known through Maas’ movies and appeared in some German productions too, so I guess it’s not too unreasonable that he would get special guest star billing in something like COBRA 11.

  24. And he speaks German? Or is he dubbed? I’m interested because Scandinavia does a lot of star these days. The world is rightly getting smaller.

  25. I honestly don’t know. Since he seems to work comparibly often in Germany, I say he speaks it. (Which isn’t too uncommon, depending on which part of the Netherlands you live) The one time I actually saw him in a German movie, he didn’t sound dubbed, although in all fairness, German dubs belong on a technical level to the best in the world. Also I learned while checking his IMDb, that he played a supporting role in a shortlived sitcom over here, and I can’t imagine them squeezing out some extra money to dub all his lines.

    It was actually pretty common decades ago, to have foreign actors appear in German movies (which were usually international co-productions anyway and either shot in English or all the languages and then had them dubbed for each country). For example in the 60s Lex Barker became a superstar here for the Karl May Western like WINNETOU, or John Phillip Law was the star in a movie based on the classic novel DER SCHIMMELREITER. One of the big local box office smash hits of the 80s were the ZÄRTLICHE CHAOTEN movies, which starred POLICE ACADEMY’s Michael Winslow as one of the three protagonists. And in the early 90s, Telly Savalas had one of his last roles as recurring guest star in the soap EIN SCHLOSS AM WÖRTHERSEE.

    Don’t know why it isn’t as common anymore. Probably because Hollywood actor salaries became much higher since the 90s or maybe there is a push in the industry to use more local talent. It still happens from time to time (For example in 2006 A-TEAM’s Dirk Benedict played in the movie GOLDENE ZEITEN an impostor, who pretended to be an 80s TV star), but not as often as it used to be.

  26. I know the Norwgian actor Dennis Storhøi (THE 13TH WARRIOR) got work in Germany after speaking German in the series THE HEAVY WATER WAR, but I don’t know what nationality his character was supposed to be. Apologies to everybody else for getting waaay off topic.

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