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Plot: experimental treatment turns disgraced doctor into homicidal maniac.

Intensive Care is the stuff of legend in the history of Dutch cinema, horror and otherwise. Conceived by the dynamic duo of director Dorna X. De Rouveroy - daughter of Robert Rouveroy, who did uncredited special effects work on David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983) – and producer Ruud den Dryver as the Dutch-Belgian alternative to Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980). Announced with big fanfare and extensive media coverage, both televised and in print, Intensive Care failed to do much of anything. Allegedly a hit in Russian cineplexes and sold to 50 countries worldwide Intensive Care bombed spectacularly at home. Only 20 copies were produced for multiplexes, it played only for a week in Dutch cinemas (attracting a mere 5,000 spectators), and never was officially released in Belgium. In Nederhorror circles there were simply plain better alternatives such as Amsterdamned (1988) and De Johnsons (1992) and as such it remains an item of deserved obscurity and infamy and a quaint curiosity.

With an estimated budget of somewhere between 1,8 and 2 million gulden, in part funded by the Dutch Film Fund and private investors, and filmed at the Slotervaartziekenhuis general hospital in Amsterdam with additional location shooting in Belgium and France this was meant to launch a franchise. Since the international market was always the aim it was shot in Dutch and English simultaneously and even the prerequisite faded American star was cast. That star was George Kennedy, winner of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and nominee for the corresponding Golden Globe for Cool Hand Luke (1967). He of The Dirty Dozen (1967), Airport (1970), and Earthquake (1974). This wasn’t even Kennedy’s first foray into independent horror as before his career revival with the Naked Gun (1988-1994) he was in Just Before Dawn (1981). Allegedly Kennedy filmed his scenes, totaling in some 8 or so minutes of actual screentime, in a single day taking most of the budget with him.

As for the Dutch and Belgian talent there was Nada van Nie, famous around these parts for her turn in the racy comedy Honneponnetje (1988). Nada put on a few pounds in the three years in between, but they look good on her. Intensive Care pretty much buried her career. From 1999 to 2002 she was regular on Dutch television just the way she was prior to Honneponnetje (1988). Nada has not acted in any theatrical releases since 2004 and 2008 and it appears family life has taken precedence. Koen Wauters was the up-and-coming Belgian teen idol of the day as the charismatic frontman of Belgian pop-rock band Clouseau. Wauters was the subject of a portrait by documentary maker Paul Jambers which elevated his profile considerably. Intensive Care was intended to be his star-making turn and it heavily capitalized on his popularity with the teen set. The movie was marketed in all the usual tabloid and teen rags. Wauters had previously acted in the drama My Blue Heaven (1990). He has since become a veritable media institution in the Flemish television landscape reinventing himself as a host, quizmaster, and general devil-do-all. His band Clouseau has become an implacable monument of contemporary pop, an evergreen, and remains incredibly popular to this day.

Dr. Bruckner (George Kennedy) is a brilliant surgeon on the verge of a scientific – and medical breakthrough that will revolutionize treatments within his field of expertise. After mishandling a standard operating procedure all funding for his research is summarily pulled on questionable ethic – and moral grounds, plus he’s terminated of his institution with immediate effect by his direct superior, the benevolent Dr. Horvath (Jules Croiset). Angrily Bruckner storms off and moments later he’s caught in a fiery road collision. The disgraced doctor sustains third-degree burns on at least 90 percent of his body and falls into a seven-year coma. On New Years’ Eve the heavily disfigured Dr. Bruckner (Martin Hofstra) comes to life and decides to enact his homicidal retribution starting with the resident hospital staff before fleeing into the night. In a nearby neighborhood Amy (Nada van Nie) is babysitting her precocious little brother Bobby (Michiel Hess) while trying to ward off the advances from off-duty nurse Peter (Koen Wauters) and leather jacket wearing bad boy Ted (Dick van den Toorn). As the bodies start to pile and Bruckner singles Amy out for extermination Inspector Fox (Fred Van Kuyk) is put on the case. Will anybody be able to stop the blade-wielding murderous surgeon?

What is there possibly to be said about a movie having the gall to call itself Intensive Care, and then place the majority of the action outside of a hospital? The screenplay - a collaborative effort between Dorna X. De Rouveroy and Ruud Den Dryver with input from Leon de Winter - was based on an original script by Hans Heijnen is a series of unfortunate events that abides by most of the subgenre’s 1980s rules while also surprisingly foreshadowing the more sanitized approach of the dawning decade. In what is perhaps its greatest error of judgement the international English-language version tries to pass off the Dutch and Belgian locales as America, Washington state to be exact. The choice of victims is completely arbitrary and random that it gives no insight into the means, motivation, and opportunity of the perpetrator. Horvath never becomes a target despite slasher logic would brand him a prime candidate. Ted and the police officers have nothing to do with Bruckner’s case, yet are sliced for no reason. The special effects – and make-up work from Harry Wiessenhaan, Sjoerd Didden and Floris Sculler, respectively, are often lambasted and ragged upon. Wrongly so, in our opinion. They may be a bit uneventful and colorless in the grand scheme of things and they in no way are a match for, say, Bloody Moon (1981) or Pieces (1982) – but, then again, Nada van Nie was no Olivia Pascal either – but, damn, if they’re not budget-efficient. By 1988 underground directors as Wim Vink were doing far more interesting things on non-existing budgets. Above all else, Intensive Care was a wasted opportunity. This could’ve been grand.

Where else are going to see something as utterly deranged the following: when Peter sustains multiple stabwounds and a beating by Bruckner, Amy runs to his rescue sobbing and panicky, spouting the Dutch line that single-handedly ensured Intensive Care’s elevation into cinematic immortality and enshrining into the De Nacht van Wansmaak Hall of Fame, “do you want me to get some band-aid? Gollygosh!Intensive Care had the gall to make everybody speak English even though the great majority of them either weren’t native speakers or had to learn their lines phonetically. George Kennedy knew what a turkey this was turning out to be, and hammed it up gloriously. Jules Croiset, the serious Dutch actor, is visibly uncomfortable through out – and Nada van Nie is passively resigned to the fact that, yes, her top has to come off again. Not to put too much of a fine point on it, but the budget that went into the ridiculously overblown piece of pyrotechnics for the car accident was better spent on hiring Ted Rusoff and his usual drunk dubbers. If the Italians could hire him for a plate of spaghetti, what’s the excuse here? Even Rabid Grannies (1988) was able to overcome the language problem better or at least was consistently funny in doing so. We’ll defend Johan Vandewoestijne (or James Desert) over this any day of the week. In those days before Calvaire (2004) and Sint (2010) Nederhorror wasn’t what it is today.

To the surprise of absolutely no one Intensive Care was torn to shreds by the Belgian and Dutch press. As legend has it the director’s cut ran 90 minutes, but the theatrical print that saw very limited release only ran for 74. In the thirty years since it has seen very limited, almost collectible-level, select release on various home media here and there. As is tradition it has been shown annually (or closest to it) as part of the traveling De Nacht van de Wansmaak (Night Of Bad Taste) festival across Belgium and the Netherlands. A sequel was briefly talked about, starring Belgian goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff, but understandably never materialized.

So what happened to Dorna X. De Rouveroy? She returned some eight years later with the thriller An Amsterdam Tale (1999) and got an even worse reception. Since then she has wisely turned to television where she has cornered a niche in directing documentaries pertaining military history and the two World Wars. Producer Ruud Den Dryver redeemed himself in the eyes of the press and detractors with the Willem Elsschot adaptation Lijmen/Het Been (2000) (or The Publishers, internationally) from director Robbe de Hert and remains active to this day. Koen Wauters refuses to acknowledge Intensive Care exists. Nada van Nie probably likes to pretend it never happened, and is content living as a retiree/housewife. Will Intensive Care ever be restored to its mythical 90-minute original? Three decades’ worth of hindsight have not dulled the fascinating mystery behind Intensive Care, how it fumbled the slasher so gloriously, and its subsequent unceremonious burial. Did Wauters and van Nie use their collective clout to have and keep it buried? It’s not outside of the realm of possibility – and would explain Intensive Care’s scarcity on any format or streaming service. If you do find it somewhere, pick it up – and be amazed.

Plot: Charlie Case is a champion gymnast and a spy. Catch her if you can.

Hawaiian trash specialist Albert Pyun was never below stretching budgets, cutting corners were he could, and he had an affinity for making up projects on the spot. He had learned an important lesson on The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982) and Cyborg (1989): costumes, sets, props, and production design – all that stuff costs money. Why not set the action in a near-future where practically no extra work was required? Pyun was right on the money as the home video success of Nemesis (1992) would prove, and his follow-up Arcade (1993) was actually pretty ahead of its time. The big project Pyun was working on at the time was the cyberpunk/martial arts hybrid Heatseeker (1995). As these things tend to go, pre-production had been underway for some time but the project stalled for unknown reasons (in all likelihood having to do with money). Not one to sit around old Al packed up his cameras and shot one (or two) movies on the producers’ dime for as long as principal photography on Heatseeker (1995) was delayed. And so it was that Pyun shot Hong Kong 97 (1994) and Spitfire on the downtime. Lo and behold, thus the world got three Pyun romps for the price of one.

Giving credit where it is due old Al had an eye for spotting talent. He casted the practically unknown Borovnisa Blervaque in Nemesis (1992); the young, spunky and obviously talented Megan Ward in his Arcade (1993), and Spitfire (no idea what the title has to do with anything, but just roll with it) would be the star-making vehicle for Kristie Phillips. And who was miss Phillips? She was one of the most visible and publicized gymnasts in the mid-1980s. Kristie was on the cover of Sports Illustrated (September 1, 1986), crowned the 1987 senior U.S. National Champion, and on the fastlane to become one of the front-runners for the 1988 U.S. Olympic team. In short, Albert had found his star. Phillips was disciplined, flexible, and looked good in a leotard. Pyun would later introduce the world to Jill Pearce and Kimberly Warren with his Mean Guns (1997) and the ill-fated Blast (1997). The only thing needed now was a script. So Pyun, David Yorkin, and Christopher Borkgren set to outlining a halfway coherent premise on whatever napkins and empty pizza boxes that were lying around the office. That it just so happened to resemble Gymkata (1985) was purely coincidental, no doubt. Armed with something resembling a screenplay and his usual warm bodies filming began. The most creative thing about Spitfire is the Saul Bass inspired credit montage with Tina Cote furthering the idea that this really was supposed to be a James Bond knock-off.

In a luxurious resort philandering British secret agent Richard Charles (Lance Henriksen) has been spending quality time in the bedroom with his former paramour and CIA operative Amanda Case (Debra Jo Fondren). After the obligatory thrusting and fondling Case entrusts him with Ukrainian missile codes and bestows him with the knowledge that he has a daughter. The two are ambushed by Soviet spy Carla Davis (Sarah Douglas) and her henchmen (Robert Patrick and Brion James). Amanda ends up taking a bullet while Charles manages to escape with his jetpack. Meanwhile in Rome, Italy gymnast and martial arts enthusiast Charlie Case (Kristie Phillips) and drunken and disgraced reporter Rex Beechum (Tim Thomerson) both are at the sports complex. She’s preparing for the semi-finals in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and the world finals in Athens, Greece and he’s looking for the next big scoop. After the first round Charlie happens to see Richard surrender to Soviet spies and in the confusion the spy is able to slip a disc containing nuclear launch codes in her bag. Believing to have witnessed an exchange of steroids Beechum pesters Charlie on the particulars. With the clock ticking the high-kicking hottie and the permanently drunk reporter must stay out of the clutches of enemy operatives, obtain a key with help of Charlie’s spy half-brother Alain (Simon Poland), deliver them to her other half-brother Chan in Hong Kong, and rescue her father from the encroaching Soviet spies. On top of all that Charlie and Rex have to remain on schedule to partake in the tournaments in Malaysia and Greece.

As for the rest of the cast outside of Lance Henriksen and Kristie Phillips the usual suspects are all here. Tim Thomerson, Brion James, Chad Stahelski, and Simon Poland all were Pyun regulars. The biggest names were probably Robert Patrick and Playmate of the Month (September, 1977) and Playmate Of the Year 1978 Debra Jo Fondren. After his stint with Cirio H. Santiago in the Philippines Patrick had landed a pair of high-profile appearances with smaller and bigger roles in Die Hard 2 (1990) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). Apparently those weren’t enough to establish him as an A-lister and before long Robert found himself right back in the low budget wasteland from whence he came and now at the mercy of Albert Pyun. Chad Stahelski has had a career revival in recent years as a director with the John Wick franchise. Henriksen is, of course, a living monument who has appeared in as many classics as in just as many low budget trash spectaculars. And then there’s Tina Cote. Cote was something of a muse for Pyun, and here she merely can be seen in the credit montage. The entire thing does sort of brings up the one lingering question: why was there never a Tina Cote spy-action romp? Albert obviously loved filming her. Imagine what a James Bond imitation with Cote could have been, especially with that tiny black number she was wearing in Mean Guns (1997) and how Pyun loved filming her in that.

When Al’s on fire, he truly is the master of low budget action. When Al’s on point he does low budget action better than anyone else, but even in 1995 it was clear that those occassions had become the exception rather than the rule. Hong Kong 97 (1994) had the good fortune of being set in Hong Kong and starring Ming-Na Wen and Spitfire was nothing but a little timewaster and diversion before Al could commence work on the thing he was actually invested and interested in doing, Heatseeker (1995). When it comes right down to it Hong Kong 97 (1994) and Spitfire are two sides of the same coin. Not only do they share similar plots, cast, and locations – it’s almost as if either could act as a subplot or background story for the other. The action direction is actually pretty good and the choreography is better than usual with Pyun. Faint praise as it may be, but there’s actually a figment of a good idea in Spitfire. For reasons only known to old Al he never saw it fit either revisit Spitfire or extend it into a franchise, either with Phillips or without, despite all the potential the concept held. Nemesis (1992) was a minor hit on home video, and that somehow spawned four sequels, three of which Pyun directed. Why waste something as exciting as a globe-trotting gymnast / super spy fighting baddies of any stripe. No, somehow Heatseeker (1995) was the priority. No wonder Kristie Phillips never acted again.

It all becomes even more the infuriating considering the depths that Pyun was in. The mid-nineties hardly were his best time. The avalanche of Nemesis sequels were that… sequels – and they did everything but live up to the promise of the Hong Kong inspired original. By 1995 Pyun was no longer able to ride the coattails of Cyborg (1989) and The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982). Arcade (1993) was an inspired little cyberpunk ditty obviously meant to capitalize on the virtual reality craze following The Lawnmower Man (1992), but that was two years ago. As near as we can tell Pyun was in dire straits and in desperate need of a hit. It probably didn’t help that he was a year away from the disastrous Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (1996). Not only did it kill the career of Natasha Henstridge in an instant, it also was subject to extensive studio-mandated re-writes/re-shoots. If that weren’t bad enough, said re-shoots failed not only to improve the main feature, they also spawned Nemesis 4: Cry Of Angels (1996) as a by-product. More than anything else Spitfire was a missed opportunity. There was a renewed interest in James Bond with the release of GoldenEye (1995), and while old Al usually could be counted upon to strike the iron while it’s hot, he didn’t do so here. Even without Lance Henriksen (and/or a new lead actress) Spitfire begged to be further explored and expanded upon. For shame, Albert, for shame.