Friday, September 1, 2017

Retro Review: AMSTERDAMNED (1988)

(Netherlands - 1988)

Written and directed by Dick Maas. Cast: Huub Stapel, Monique van de Ven, Wim Zomer, Serge-Henri Valcke, Hidde Maas, Tanneke Hartzuiker, Lou Landre, Tatum Dagelet, Edwin Bakker, Pieter Lutz, Barbara Martijn, Door van Boekel, Lettie Oosthoek, Jaap Stobbe, Freark Smink. (R, 113 mins)

A movie guaranteed to be on the shelf of any video store you walked into in the late '80s into the mid '90s, the brilliantly-titled AMSTERDAMNED has acquired a major cult following over the decades and is finally available on Blu-ray courtesy of Blue Underground. Dutch writer/director Dick Maas cut his teeth on music videos like Golden Earring's 1982 hit "Twilight Zone"  before establishing himself with genre fans with the 1983 possessed elevator saga THE LIFT, which Blue Underground will be releasing on Blu-ray in October, along with Maas' little-seen 2001 US remake DOWN, aka THE SHAFT. After the 1986 comedy FLODDER (the first in very popular series of movies and TV spinoffs in the Netherlands), Maas returned to the thriller/horror genre with AMSTERDAMNED, an action-driven Dutch giallo, with Amsterdam in a state of panic over a string of murders committed by a maniac in scuba gear who emerges from the canals to claim his victims before going back to the water undetected. Plays-by-his-own-rules cop Eric Visser (Maas regular Huub Stapel) frantically pursues the killer, perpetually one step behind and following multiple leads that prove to be dead ends.

Maas spends a lot of time establishing characters, showing single dad Visser's home life with snarky teenage daughter Anneke (Tatum Dagelet), who he's raising alone after his wife walked out on them years earlier. He's also reluctantly partnered with canal officer John (Wim Zomer), the guy his ex-wife left for him. He also engages in some ballbusting banter with boss Vermeer (Serge-Henri Valcke) and gets involved with widowed museum guide and diving enthusiast Laura (Monique van de Ven), who he meets chasing a lead and who may be involved with a vaguely sinister shrink (Hidde Maas) who doesn't seem to like Visser very much. Despite the foreign setting and the Dutch dialogue with English subtitles (Stapel and several of the main actors dubbed themselves for the English-language version that got a limited theatrical release by Vestron in late 1988, so either option is fine, though there are some descriptive elements that get lost in the English translation), AMSTERDAMNED is very much an American-style action/suspense thriller with decidedly giallo-like elements, especially in the black diving suit and mask worn by the killer and in some of the imaginative murders. Maas' dark, macabre humor comes through in amusing ways, whether it's a murder that cuts to a shot of squeezed ketchup, a phallic knife shot that would make BODY DOUBLE-era De Palma proud, or the unforgettable scene early on when the first victim is found hanging from a bridge over a canal before being snagged by a passing tour boat and dragged across its glass ceiling in full view of horrified tourists.

Stapel is a solid hero with a very 1980s Rutger Hauer-like screen presence, but the romance with van de Ven's Laura seems superfluous at times and probably only exists to inevitably put her jeopardy. After starring in Paul Verhoeven's 1973 breakout TURKISH DELIGHT with Hauer, van de Ven would later co-star in Brian Trenchard-Smith's incredible 1978 cult film STUNT ROCK before spending the late '70s and most of the '80s alternating between Hollywood and Holland, logging guest appearances on TV shows like STARSKY AND HUTCH, REMINGTON STEELE and VOYAGERS! while also starring in Dutch films like Fons Rademakers' THE ASSAULT, the 1986 Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film. In addition to the giallo-style murders, the big standout in AMSTERDAMNED is a pair of chase sequences, one involving a motorcycle that's short but extremely well-crafted, the other a stunning speedboat chase through the canals (though most of this sequence was shot in Utrecht) with some death-defying stunt work, most of which was done by Stapel himself, who was knocked out of commission for three weeks after a boat crashed into a wall in one on-location mishap. The AMSTERDAMNED speedboat chase is one of the great unheralded movie chases, thanks in large part to veteran stunt coordinator Dickey Beer, who's worked on several Bond movies among countless others (his most recent credit was for some stunt driving on XXX: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE and he's working on the upcoming JURASSIC WORLD sequel), and stunt legend Vic Armstrong, another Bond vet who served as stunt double for Christopher Reeve on the SUPERMAN movies and for Harrison Ford's first three turns as Indiana Jones. AMSTERDAMNED runs a little long and could use some trimming in the first hour (as entertaining as Dagelet's scenes are, she doesn't really serve a purpose), but ultimately, it's a clever, atmospheric, and frequently hair-raising thrill ride that takes full advantage of its unique setting in a city with 160 canals totaling 25 miles, where a madman can literally be swimming anywhere under the surface to strike at any moment. Also, try to get the closing credits tune by Dutch pop duo Lois Lane out of your head.

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