My friends, we have not only come to the conclusion of my exploration of the films of Dick Maas, but the culmination. His first film THE LIFT showed me that the Dutch writer/director has a strong shooting style, a taste for deadpan absurdity, and a knack for quirky character detail. AMSTERDAMNED applies that to a more ambitious I-can’t-believe-I’m-seeing-this story (action-packed scuba slasher), and even his 2001 American THE LIFT remake DOWN is trashy, audacious fun. (I also checked out his Halloween episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which you can read about on Patreon if you’re interested.) Some joy was dampened by the amount of screen time spent on dull procedural business in the ’80s ones, but I liked them all. I’m a fan now.
Let me bring up a completely unrelated director for a second. When I reviewed EXTREME JUSTICE recently I wrote about how Mark L. Lester doesn’t get enough credit for having directed CLASS OF 1984, FIRESTARTER, COMMANDO and SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO. And yet I (rightly or not) have little faith that Lester’s 21st century movies like PTERODACTYL, POSEIDON REX or DRAGONS OF CAMELOT would be worth watching, because I assume they’re not coming from the same place. I had similar feelings when I heard that Maas made a killer lion movie in 2016.
But – holy shit! Maas’ most recent movie – which I found as UNCAGED on Shudder, but it has apparently also been released as PREY – is a new instant favorite. It has most of what I loved about his other films, but way more of it. It’s loaded with quirky characters (both the leads and incidentals) who say and do funny things within the context of a story that is knowingly ridiculous but unashamed to take itself seriously. And unlike those other ones it never slows down for long because it has a high, unforgiving body count and provocatively over-the-top gore to attend to. UNCAGED is a total blast.
(Thank you Martijn for trying to tell me in the comments for THE LIFT. You were right!)
The movie has hints of JAWS, serial killer thrillers and more straightforward monster movies about huge creatures biting people’s heads off. It’s based on the absurd premise that a lion – one that looks about as big as a horse – is sneaking around Amsterdam eating people.
After a spectacular opening where a whole family gets eaten we meet our hero, zoo veterinarian Lizzy Storm (Sophie van Winden, BROTHERS), and I was instantly won over by her attitude and dry humor. Her doofus TV news cameraman currently-off-again boyfriend Dave (Julian Looman) barges in while she has her arm inside an alligator’s mouth, and when he asks about what she’s up to she casually pulls out a handful of human fingers. She tells her assistant, “It’s like my purse. Can never find anything.”
Lizzy’s expertise is called upon by Inspector Olaf Brinkers (Rienus Krul) because they worked together that one time when they found “those red pandas in the water.” She spent some time in Africa and, as he feared, feels very confident that the mauled remains he shows her are from a lion and not, like, wild dogs or violent gangs.
There’s a bit of teasing but they quickly start showing the lion, which usually appears to be a digital creation. I’ve found reviews complaining about the FX, which are certainly not photorealistic, but much more appealing than the SyFy sort of thing I expected. Maybe its the animatronic shots, but sometimes he has kind of a herky jerky stop motion vibe. I was never embarrassed for him. The attack scenes are well staged, playful and even mischievous. He invades everywhere from people’s homes to city tunnels to a light rail car. He does not discriminate between assholes that are fun to watch get mauled (the businessmen on the golf course – shout out to NINJA III: THE DOMINATION), characters we like (the delivery driver we meet in a cute little lamb curry vignette) and complete innocents (more than one small child is devoured!).
There are many long, thick trails of blood and strewn body parts. And there’s laugh out loud black humor like a scene where a whole squad of police and vigilantes manage to massacre themselves with their own traps, or when the sanitation worker tries to warn the streetsweeper about the severed head in the gutter ahead.
There’s also some humor in the authorities’ attempts to keep the lion a secret, and then in their overconfidence about their ability to handle it. The police chief hires his arrogant big game hunter cousin (Victor Löw) to lead the hunt, and after he gets eaten concedes that “in hindsight” maybe it was a bad idea. Then they agree to fly in Lizzy’s recommendation, her alcoholic ex-boyfriend Jack (Mark Frost, FAUST, MAYHEM), not knowing he had one leg eaten by a lion in Africa so he drives around in an awesome wheelchair with Wall-E style tank treads that can go up stairs.
It’s kind of a cliche that Jack is some kind of eccentric genius who smells the poop for clues and stuff, but it’s really funny to see him roll into where the cousin got eaten and immediately nitpick the height and placement of the bait. Dave fears him getting in the way of his relationship with Lizzy, and instead is instantly charmed by him even though he gets drunk and fires a gun in a crowded restaurant while telling a story.
To show I have some type of standards I will mention a few minor complaints about the movie. One, there are maybe three little parts where the (modern, not retro) electronic score (by Maas, as usual) sounds a little on the cheesy Full Moon side. But most of it works.
Two, there’s a joke early on where Dave is confronted by a woman and her boyfriend because, during the two weeks he was broken up with Lizzy, he apparently scammed this woman into doing a porn casting video. If I understand correctly, he pretended to be a porn producer so he could videotape her naked, and it’s supposed to show what a rascal he is – Lizzy is mad, but gets over it, more like it’s an embarrassing indiscretion than a criminal act of sexual coercion. Since this reminds me of a notorious serial rapist in Seattle a few years ago who got women to have sex with him as an “audition” for non-existent porn, I did not find this to be a cute character detail.
So I’ll pretend that scene never happened. A more standard story weakness is that Lizzy’s animal expertise sort of gets abandoned and she just becomes the one who’s helping Jack try to kill it. But at least she doesn’t get sidelined – she repeatedly chooses to place herself in danger to help, going John McClane on the motherfucker. And it’s sweet that the three points of the love triangle all work together to save the day.
There’s something that really appeals to me about this basic story format of inserting an outlandish element of chaos into a heightened depiction of society and letting it savagely fuck shit up. I wouldn’t say it’s exactly satire, but it feels kind of cathartic. It’s a much more straight-faced movie than MARS ATTACKS!, but I think there’s a bit of a kinship there. We meet all these different people in various walks of life, all stuck on their own particular bullshit, and get to laugh or wince (with a smile) as it’s interrupted (and torn to pieces) by the extreme what-the-fuckness of a god damn giant lion.
Maas has a beautiful premise and, contrary to the laziness we associate with the modern genre of the CG monster attack movie, he loads it with more humorous situations, characters and bodily desecrations than any of his other movies I’ve seen. I liked THE LIFT, AMSTERDAMNED and DOWN, but UNCAGED is now my favorite Dick Maas movie. I ain’t lion, it’s a roaring good time, king of the streaming horror jungle, well worth the scratch, Dick Maas can hold his head up with pride, etc.
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.