Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #457
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 11 February 1988
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Running Time: 114 minutes
Director: Dick Maas
Producer: Laurens Geels
Screenplay: Dick Maas
Special Effects: Sjoerd Didden, Martin Gutteridge, Karin Van Dijk, Hans Voors
Cinematography: Marc Felperlaan
Score: Dick Maas
Editing: Hans van Dongen
Studio: First Floor Features
Distributor: Vestron Video
Stars: Huub Stapel, Monique van de Ven, Serge-Henri Valcke, Hidde Maas, Wim Zomer, Tanneke Hartzuiker, Lou Landré, Tatum Dagelet, Edwin Bakker, Door van Boeckel, Barbara Martijn, Pieter Lutz
Suggested Audio Candy
 Loïs Lane “Amsterdamned”
 Dick Maas “Main Theme”
I’ve never been to Amsterdam. There are a number of reasons why it has always seemed a tempting proposition and you don’t need a degree in metaphysics to work out what they are. Basically, they include red lights and dense smoke clouds, and I’m assured that the Dutch capital has both in abundance. Part of the reason why the Netherlands is yet to be explored is that they keep themselves decidedly off the radar. Having been a servant to film ever since I first learned to crawl, I have been far more interested in what the Italians and Americans have been up to, which is why they are my favorite holiday destinations. Both the giallo and the slasher provided a rather delectable brochure and these movies became a staple part of my filmic diet growing up. Even Dutch Edam hasn’t managed to tempt me over to Holland.
However, around the mid-eighties, this great nation revealed itself to me courtesy of a certain Dick Maas. It started with The Lift and Amsterdamned provided further proof that the Dutch have game too. At the time I worked in a local video store and I recall the movers and shakers at the time. Movies such as Jack Sholder’s The Hidden found their natural homes in the rental market, having sidestepped the multiplexes and appearing straight on video. Maas’ rocket propelled action/slasher hybrid performed exceptionally well on this platform and the feedback was anonymous: it was a whole cavalcade of cool. However, for some unknown reason, I never actually offered it my man hours. Indeed, it has taken almost thirty years for our primary introduction. Turns out, I’m glad we came.
It’s clear where his influences lay and this is far closer to the standard giallo than anything from the American cycle. Maas and his producer friend Laurens Geels are clearly indebted to the Italians and their film contains numerous nods to their filmmaking style. Having said that, he is evidently mindful of the exclusive opportunity being presented to supply us with an exclusive picture postcard and this means straying from the formula and giving Amsterdamned its own badge of identity. You see, for as much as this is classic whodunnit, it’s also not averse to supply the occasional max speed motorcycle chase or, better yet, high-octane speedboat pursuit through its tight canals. Timothy Dalton suddenly has cause to look over his shoulder with trepidation as Eric Vesser becomes our very own 007.
He’s more of the Roger Moore variety, if truth be known. I engaged in a number of hijinks with Moore during the eighties and he was never against a little light humor to keep things joyful. Vesser is similarly well equipped and, what he lacks in suave, he makes up for through a little refreshing self-effacing. This is very much the film of Huub Stapel and everyone else is on the fringe. He guides us through a tour of this pungent playground as he blunders ever closer to the killer through his limited detective skills and the rest of the cast have to be content with mopping up his man sweat. Upon our initial introduction, in a bath tub no less, he has clearly spent the night before somewhere deep in the Red Light District and is feeling a touch off-kilter as he clutches his rubber ducky. Not so much hard-boiled as over easy.
Moments later, after being publicly called out for masturbating during his soak down by his twelve-year old daughter Anneke (a delightful Tatum Dagelet), the grizzled cop places his bare foot in his cat’s feeding bowl. Stapel is delightful, sporting a male perm which he rocks, five o’clock shadow which he wears through supper, and borderline drinking problem, he wanders around in a virtual stupor for much of the time but rolls up those sleeves as and when necessary, despite dreading the paperwork. His opposite number is particularly elusive and Vesser is constantly thwarted as the net closes in at all the wrong parts of town. Meanwhile, the body count keeps rising, and Amsterdamned thrill seekers and fisherman keep turning up dead at all manner of inopportune moments.
Sure, there’s a case to crack, but a man needs to clear the pipes from time to time and this means a little fraternization with museum guide Laura (Monique van de Ven) as he attempts to drain her moat. We’re still none the wiser as to the identity of our amphibious killer and, when not dropping anchor, Eric is getting desperately close to apprehending his rival, culminating in a breathless pursuit, first by speedboat and then via sewer as he finally earns himself a look into the whites of his eyes, albeit behind steamed goggles. It’s looking like the old coup de grâce is on the cards for our hero but Maas isn’t done yet and there’s still plenty of oxygen in the tank.
Speaking of which, our very own Scuba Steve is something of a badass. Resourceful, elusive, unpredictable, bullet proof, and even fire resistant, he leads the entire Dutch police force a real merry dance before his ultimate “fuck you” final statement. Maas does particularly well here and it is easy to spot parallels with Jaws. After an opening shot from his submerged POV, the predator slinks back into the shadows and remains there for the entire first act. There’s even a strategically placed one-eyed corpse aboard a sunken vessel which may or may not be Ben Gardner’s Dutch second cousin.
However, Jaws didn’t have to endure uranium hexafluoride poisoning and the stinging indignity of irradiation scarring and, in this respect, Phantom of the Opera is perhaps more fitting. Occasionally he comes up for air and one standout scene involving none other than a bathing belle in a two-piece bikini atop a transparent tube pays affectionate homage to Steven Spielberg’s epic. Starting from his underwater viewpoint as we ascend topside, the blade penetrates the inflatable and twists between her legs akin to a shark’s fin. Priceless.
The action scenes are exhilarating, particularly the speedboat chase, which throws in everything including the kitchen sink. Stapel navigates his vessel through increasingly narrow passages in hot pursuit of his slippery target, leaping quays, skidding across waterfront terraces, and thrusting through the wreckage of a rowing team’s coxless boat, before being sent tumbling by a turbulent wave and forced to hang onto a docking rope. There he hangs on for dear life and rides his own slipstream, inches away from the rear propeller. Not since Geoffrey Reeve’s Puppet on a Chain has Amsterdam played host to such glorious action, despite the fact that the scene was actually filmed in nearby Utrecht.
Indeed, there are many reasons to have a soft spot for Amsterdamned. Maas knows precisely how to quicken our pulses and also how to tickle our humeri. His film is pacy, well shot, and even features it own eponymous end credit song courtesy of two-piece girl band, Loïs Lane. With Paul Verhoeven having relocated to Hollywood in the early eighties, Dutch cinema had no other representation around this time, and it’s no fluke that Maas has gone on to enjoy a long career, working with the likes of Naomi Watts, Michael Ironside, Ron Perlman, and William Hurt amongst others. It’s not Jaws, neither is it quite The French Connection, and is a far cry from Profondo Rosso, but somehow it still leaves you smiling wide. There’s a lot more to the Netherlands than clogs, windmills, tulips, the color orange, and the famed Dutch brined herring. There’s also Amsterdamned and, to quote that infectious theme song, “eyes that follow your stride.” Viva de Nederlandse.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Never particularly violent although our wetsuit-clad killer is particularly handy with his harpoon gun and indulges in a little decapitation to use up the last of Maas’ Dutch guilder. Meanwhile, the scene where a gutted street hooker introduces herself to a tour boat filled with screaming children and mortified nuns by sliding along its glass ceiling and dropping in for a quick Goedemiddag is simply golden.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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