Amsterdamned (1988) Retrospective

Opening in a point of view, a murderer looks around the city of Amsterdam at night through the canals the city is famous for. He sneaks into a Chinese restaurant’s backdoor and steals a butcher knife while the cooks aren’t looking. The killer finds his first victim in a local prostitute who, after refusing advances from a cab driver, gets thrown out of the cab. A baglady watches from a distance as the killer plunges the knife into the hooker and drags her back into the water. The next morning, a tour boat on the canal collides with the body of the prostitute, who has been hung on one of the small bridges. As the tourists scream, the body drags on the top of the boat until an opening shows her bloodied body and face.

Assigned to the case is detective Eric Visser, a hard-boiled detective who is raising his 13-year-old daughter Anneke after a split from his ex. He spends an hour in a bath, comes home late from work, and tends to drink now and again. Nevertheless, Eric is praised as one of the best detectives on the force. His partner, Vermeer, meets Eric at the site where the body was found with fellow cop Potter attempting to get through to the baglady, who tells Eric that it was a monster who killed the prostitute and that it came out of the water.

That night, two environmentalists are taking water samples in an ongoing investigation against a nearby chemical plant. However, when the killer emerges, one of the men is taken underwater and when his partner attempts to grab the anchor, he is horrified to find the man’s head on the anchor. Scared, the surviving environmentalist swims to the nearby shore and calls for help when he sees a truck pass by. As the truck driver comes out from a distance, the killer grabs the environmentalist and drags him back into the water.


When Eric and Vermeer see the bodies of the environmentalists, he is convinced that there is a serial killer. Eric runs into John, an old friend from the police academy. John works for the river police and we learn that Eric’s ex-girlfriend used to date John before Eric stole her from him. When John asks about what happened, John and Eric renew their friendship and are now partners on the case to find the killer.

During a search at a local sporting club, Eric meets Laura, a museum guide as well as Martin Ruysdael, a former diver turned psychiatrist and Laura’s doctor/friend. Eric begins to have eyes for Laura and she begins to like him too. Meanwhile, that night, a salvationist and a young woman on a gumboat the next day are the next victims of the killer. As Eric begins to get frustrated with nothing turning up, he and John eventually think they find a suspect in a former chemical plant employee known for his violent outbursts. When the suspect is caught, Eric begins to have doubts. When he sees Laura that night, a skipper at the nearby dock is the killer’s next victim with the boat sinking.

John decides to go underwater and investigate the next day. At first, he finds the skipper’s body but as he approaches out of the skipper’s sunken boat, the killer emerges and a tussle leaves John slashed and killed. Eric arrives to hear the bad news about John. When the killer is located at a marina, a speedboat chase ensues between Eric and the killer. Eric eventually tracks the killer to a local sewer only to be shot at close range in the shoulder with a harpoon gun. When the killer attempts a coup de grâce, Eric shoots the mask before waking up in the hospital.

When Laura goes to her appointment and finds Martin isn’t home, she stays but hears a noise in Martin’s underwater basement. She finds the broken mask and thinks Martin is the killer. An attempt to call Eric fails when he is still unconscious. When he awakens, the nurse tells him of Laura and both he and Vermeer head to Martin’s house. Martin arrives and waits for Laura only to hear a sound in his basement. Laura confronts him and hits him repeatedly with an oar. However, the killer comes out of the water and grabs Laura. Eric arrives in time and shoots the killer. Martin finally confesses that the killer is a childhood friend of him and fellow diver who was shunned by society after a commercial diving job caused him to be disfigured by uranium hexafluoride poisoning. The killer arrives at his home, where he reveals himself and decides to take his own life before the police arrive.

Since 1983, when his feature debut The Lift (1983) earned him international kudos with its story of a killer elevator, Maas has been busy solidifying his position as an independent filmmaker by establishing his own production company, First Floor Features, together with producer Laurens Geels. Their first project was the internationally acclaimed art film ABEL (1985), directed by Alex van Warmerdam. Maas followed that by directing FLODDER (1986), an anarchic comedy revolving around a rather unorthodox family which broke Dutch boxoffice records. Maas shot AMSTERDAMNED during the summer of 1987 and released it in Holland early last year. The film is now being given a regional release by Vestron in this country.

AMSTERDAMNED is from Maas own script about a maniac who springs mysteriously from the canals of Amsterdam to embark on a murder spree. Huub Stapel, star of Maas’ FLODDER and THE LIFT, plays the cynical police inspector brought in to solve the baffling case. The killer turns out to be a horribly scarred professional diver, unmasked at the climax, the addled victim of exposure to a corrosive chemical substance during a botched salvage operation.

Maas said he got the idea for the film from a newspaper article about an Amsterdam prison escape in which assistance was provided by a frogman. “Then I started imagining,” said Maas, “what if the canals of Amsterdam were being stalked by a maniacal diver?” The director said he doesn’t see his film as an extension of the American “slasher” genre.

“I don’t think my film can be compared to all those films that followed in the wake of HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH,” said Maas. “Mine is more of a traditional police thriller in which a homicidal maniac is being tracked down, albeit in a rather spectacular way. There is also less gore than usual in the stalk-and-slash films.”

Cinefantastique v19n03 (March 1989)

Maas said emphasis on action instead of blood and gore is what differentiates his film from the rest, using as an example the gruesome scene where the body of a prostitute is dragged by the maniac across the roof of a canal tour boat in broad daylight. “The emphasis in that scene is on the chaos that’s brought about by the appearance of the corpse,” said Maas. “The actual murder is shown from a great distance.”

Staple is opposed in his investigations by business interests who want to cover up the crimes for fear that exposure will hurt the city’s tourist trade. Despite its grim storyline, the film still comes off like a Chamber of Commerce promo for Amsterdam, showing off the colorful location to good effect. “Hopefully it works a bit like DON’T LOOK NOW,” said Maas. “That presented Venice in a way that made you think: ‘Gosh, what a fascinating city!” Maas has fun showcasing the windmills and other Dutch icons in his film. “I don’t particularly like our barrel-organs,” he said, “so I decided to have a police car crashing into one!”

The Making Of Amsterdamned (1988)

A major hurdle for the Dutch-based production was coming up with the expertise to do the film’s elaborate stunts and makeup effects. For a harrowing speedboat chase through the city’s narrow canals, stunt coordinator Dickey Beers hired experience in Vic Armstrong and his crew veterans of Rambo III (1988) and several Spielberg productions. Going the same route for makeup effects was considered-British Oscar-nominee Chris Tucker was approached initially-but makeup supervisor Karen van Dijk decided to develop home-grown talent instead, hiring Sjoerd Didden, whose only experience was in theatre. “They did a lot of experimenting,” said Maas. “The results they came up with turned out to be quite nice. By American standards it’s probably not such a big deal, but for us it was all new.”

Van Dijk said that realizing the film’s makeup effects “was like reinventing the wheel. All those American books on Tom Savini and his colleagues were of little use to us,” she said. “Most of the ingredients they use are unavailable over here, and it takes something like three months to get them shipped in from America.” Van Dijk said they coped with the problem by spending three months developing their own methods with the materials at hand. “I was constantly searching through the yellow pages,” said Didden. “I’d spot a strange jar while waiting in a shop, used for something like sealing up windows. I’d take it with me and if I couldn’t use it. I’d just throw it away.”

The makeup artists, including Hennesien van Walderveen. worked from storyboards prepared by Maas. For the look of the maniac, Didden showed Maas pictures of actual burn victims. From those, ten different prototype makeups were tried in photos and with test footage. quickly and cheaply, ranging from the extreme to the less extreme. Said van Dijk, “Eventually we agreed that our maniac would have to be able to generate a certain amount of compassion from the audience.”

Amsterdamned (1988) Soundtrack/Score

Dick Maas

Laurens Geels

Dick Maas

Dick Maas

Huub Stapel as Eric Visser
Monique van de Ven as Laura
Serge-Henri Valcke as Vermeer
Tanneke Hartzuiker as Potter
Wim Zomer as John van Meegeren
Tatum Dagelet as Anneke Visser
Hidde Maas as Martin Ruysdael
Lou Landré as Chef

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