March 1990, I paid a visit to my one and only source for all things foreign
horror. A small comic book hole-in-the-wall roughly half-an-hour from my house
was a New Jersey version of Stephen King’s Needful
Things. This store, long gone because of the Internet age, boasted VHS
bootlegs and imported foreign laser discs of uncut horror film titles I had only
read about in black and white fanzines written and printed by young adults.
This is where I saw the uncut version of Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981), a film that had
played theatrically seven years earlier in a horrifically butchered
eighty-minute version that removed some forty-five minutes of footage from an
already convoluted albeit brilliant film.
movie that came to my attention at that time (despite having been released on
VHS here a year earlier, though I was unfamiliar with it) was the uncut edition
of Dick Maas’s 1988 thriller Amsterdamned,
which was shot on location in the Netherlands in the summer and fall of 1987. When I
put the VHS tape into my player I was presented with an image that was so dark,
so grainy, and so difficult to see that I had no choice but to shut it off
several minutes into it. I was disappointed because I had read that it was a
fairly decent movie. I never would’ve imagined at that time that it would take
me some twenty-seven years to see it. Thanks to the fine folks at Blue
Underground, Amsterdamned has now
been restored to its original glory and is available in a Blu-ray and DVD combo
pack. The result is a stellar 2K scan and high definition presentation of one
of the most enjoyable and intriguing thrillers that I have seen in quite some
time. While the story itself may not seem entirely fresh, the cinematic
execution is top-notch.
Amsterdamned is essentially an aquatically-themed
thriller concerning a scuba-diving lunatic stalking seemingly random folks in
the city of Amsterdam. The killer spends much of his time lurking about the
polluted canals of the titular city. The camera is kept at eye level (think
Steven Spielberg’s Jaws from 1975) as
he snakes through the water, his presence telegraphed by the bubbling and
gurgling of his oxygen tank and Darth Vader-like breathing which acts as a
harbinger of death for anyone unlucky enough to cross paths with him. After he
kills his first victim, an unfortunate prostitute from the infamous Red Light
District, a murder spree with no discernible motive is set into play. Eric
Visser (Huub Stapel) is the cop assigned to the case. He has a thirteen-year-old
daughter who is precocious and tries her best to help him along now that his
ex-wife is nowhere to be found. Much of the film revolves around Visser and his
partner chasing the killer through a series of “Damn, he got away again!” set-pieces, and while this may
sound boring and derivative, director Maas has a visual style that keeps things
tense, interesting and moving forward. There is a fairly elaborate canal chase
involving the killer and Visser in separate speed boats that is very well-mounted
and edited together that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Lewis Gilbert
mounted a similar chase in the James Bond film Moonraker (1979) and used rear projection for some of the close-ups
of Jaws (Richard Kiel), but director Maas does it all for real here, much like
the other predecessor in this arena, Geoffrey Reeve’s Puppet on a Chain (1971) which also set a boat chase through
being under the gun by his superiors to catch the killer, Visser manages to
find time to romance a scuba diver named Laura (Monique van de Ven) who is
jovial and cheerful and agrees to a date. Their passing fancy with one another comes
under close scrutiny from her friend and psychiatrist Martin Ruysdael (Hidde
Maas) who used to be a scuba diver (red flag!) but gave it up years ago. Visser
and Laura become closer and consummate their relationship. Laura becomes the
perfect damsel in distress towards the film’s end and despite the revelation of
the killer, Amsterdamned still
manages to pack a decent punch.
director also wrote the musical score (think John Carpenter) and it works very well
for the film. It exudes a definite air of tension. Amsterdamned boasts the best Jaws-inspired
underwater scare that pays homage to the Ben Gardner death from that film. It
ends with (what else?) an Eighties pop-tune called (guess!) “Amsterdamned”!
The new set comes with a wealth of extras:
First up is a feature-length audio commentary with writer and director Maas and editor Hans van Dongen moderated by Severin Films’ David Gregory. Rarely does this commentary go off-topic; it’s engaging and the conversations stick to the action at hand, filled with interesting recollections and tidbits about the history of the making of the film.
Amsterdamned – The City, The Film, The Creators is a thirty-six minute documentary by Hans Heijnen which is a behind-the-scenes look at the opening shots in the canal, the canal chase, the final sequence in the paddle boat with helicopter, the first murder with the Scouts, etc. Since filming in the Red Light District was (and still is) prohibited, the city of Groenburgwal had to stand in for this area for one sequence by the art direction team. There is also the revelation of the use of a matte painting that completely fooled yours truly, and left my jaw agape when the trick was revealed. Ingenious!
Tales from The Canal is an eight-minute onscreen interview with now white-haired lead actor Huub Stapel (Eric Visser) aboard a speedboat through the canals in the Kaiserstraat section of the Netherlands..
Damned Stuntwork is an eighteen-minute interview with Stunt Coordinator Dickey Beer who began his career on Richard Attenborough’s 1977 film A Bridge Too Far and continued on with Return of the Jedi (1982) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), in addition to many others.
The Dutch trailer which runs 3:13.
The U.S. trailer which runs 1:42.
The Lois Lane band’s music video of the song that plays over the end credits, "Amsterdamned", directed by Dick Maas! It’s interspersed with scenes from the movie and runs 3:30.
Poster & Still Gallery.
There is also a lavishly illustrated collectable booklet with a typically excellent and informative essay by author Michael Gingold who writes about how the idea for the film came about as a result of an incident that occurred in 1985.
(Note: this is a region-free release and can play on any international DVD/Blu-ray system).