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.
October 6th, 2020 at 2:31 pm
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.