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Plot: teen girl and her mother are beset by seven homicidal psychopaths.

The year is 1992. Horror was in a completely different place and had become an entirely different beast upon the dawning of the new decade. The once-flourishing Italian horror industry had gone all but extinct, the Spanish fantaterror would not make a comeback until Álex de la Iglesia’s The Day Of the Beast (1995), and in France it would take until the tall end of the decade’s second half before returning with Two Orphan Vampires (1997). In America The Craft (1996) and its junky imitations kept the genre afloat until Scream (1996) reimagined the tired (and tiring) slasher of the prior decade. The Netherlands hadn’t partaken in the zombie and slasher craze of the eighties. Now that the wave for both had crested Intensive Care (1991) was poised to set the Netherlands on the international horror map. It did, but probably not in the way the producers/director intended. Instead it turned into a massive critical – and commercial misfire. If there ever was a time to turn Dutch horror into something cerebral and atmospheric, that time was now. To everybody’s surprise this horror attracted a healthy 200.000 attendees and was a critical darling on film festivals across the world. Not bad. Not bad at all. And the feature to do that? De Johnsons (The Johnsons, internationally) or the project that everybody had given up upon.

The basis for The Johnsons was conceived at the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1988 where actor, producer, and director Roy Frumkes was employed as a teacher. Frumkes had gained notoriety with his documentary Document Of the Dead (1980) that offered an extensive and highly-detailed look behind-the-scenes during the production of George A. Romero’s zombie epic Dawn Of the Dead (1978). With his own Crystal Plumage Films Frumkes would write, produce, direct and act in Street Trash (1987). In his screenwriting class Frumkes had two students, the American Rocco Simonelli and Dutchman Richard Abram. Abram’s father invested $100,000 and set up the R.A. Film Marketing Projects development company with the idea of developing two scripts the men were working on. Simonelli, the star pupil of Frumkes’ screenwriting class, was developing two scripts with his teacher. One was the raw urban drama The Substitute, the other the occult horror The Johnson-Blues that had grown out of an earlier draft called The Jackson White. After spending a year Stateside Abram was forced to return to the Netherlands. R.A. Film Marketing Projects was dissolved and the assets were divided equal. Frumkes and Simonelli retained the rights to The Substitute and Abram got to keep The Johnson-Blues. Frumkes would bring his own script to the screen as the solid The Substitute (1997) (with Tom Berenger). Five years prior Abram returned to the Netherlands to produce The Johnsons-Blues.

With an estimated budget of 5 million gulden and director Ruud van Hemert – a lovable eccentric prone to exageration and known to push his actors to the limit to get the performances he wanted – attached to direct with Liz Snoyink starring in what was shaping up to be the Netherland’s most expensive horror production up that point. Van Hemert had directed the black comedies Darlings! (1984), the sequel Hitting the Fan! (1986) and the raunchy sex comedy Honeybun (1988) (with Nada van Nie) but after a spat with producers Chris Brouwer and Haig Balian he was let go. Inheriting the project was Rudolf van den Berg, a specialist of thoughtful and socially aware dramas and documentary maker for the VPRO channel, a director for the elite and the intelligentsia. Van den Berg recruited Leon de Winter to rewrite the script to their liking. Kees Beentjes had some involvement with these rewrites, although the extend of his involvement has never been fully disclosed. The specialized (and general) press had nothing but scorn and derision for a director just trying to make a living and he was chewed out accordingly. How scandalous was it that the man behind Bastille (1984), Looking for Eileen (1987), and the Gerard Reve adaptation Evenings (1989) was lowering himself to the populist muck of horror. Now starring were Monique van de Ven from the early Paul Verhoeven features Turkish Delight (1973) and Katie Tippel (1975) as well as other Dutch classics as Burning Love (1983), The Assault (1986), Amsterdamned (1988), and The Discovery of Heaven (2001). Co-starring would be 18-year-old Esmée de la Bretonière - a debutante and starlet that would build an extensive career on the small – and big screen and model from time to time, including for Playboy (September 2003). Also present is Johan Leysen, he of The Girl with the Red Hair (1981) and Desiring Julia (1986) (with Serena Grandi).

1971. Esteemed American surgeon Dr. Johnson (Rodney Beddall) has just delivered a septuplet via a Caesarian section. Having no knowledge of their biological lineage nor their miraculous conception the hospital simply decides to call them The Johnsons. Upon driving home the doctor is overcome by some strange malevolent force, stops his car near a local marshland and starts to engage in a strange summoning nocturnal. 1978. In a high-security prison complex the genetically similar 7-year-old Johnson septuplet inexplicably slaughter 16 of their fellow inmates adorning the walls with strange blood-drawn symbols leaving authorities and law enforcement clueless. 1992. Victoria Lucas (Monique van de Ven) is a freelance photographer who just captured the mayor (Carol van Herwijnen) in an embarassing moment during a wage strike of the municipal garbage collectors. Her photo is such a rousing success that Lucas is commissioned by National Geographic to photograph a rare bird known as the night heron in the marshes of Biesbosch. At the same time Victoria’s 14-year-old daughter Emalee (Esmée de la Bretonière, as Esmee de la Bretonière) is suffering from recurring nightmares. In a frightening vision she finds herself sexually assaulted by seven virile men wearing nothing but full-head clay masks in some bizarre ritual. Making things worse is that Emalee’s nightmares act as a precursor to her first period. Victoria figures that taking Emalee with her to Biesbosch will be the change of scenery she needs.

Winston Keller (Kenneth Herdigein) is a fellow at the university and professor of anthropology. He’s an an ardent proponent of rationalism, empiricism and the scientific method and in his latest intervention he has to protect his superstitious father (Otto Sterman) from the latest batch of disgruntled clientele to whom he sold Winti “charms”. On the way home Keller the younger stops by at the university where his assistant Angela (Olga Zuiderhoek) informs them of their latest donation. They are shown footage of the 1934 expedition of Henri Vidal-Naquet and his time living among the Mahxitu Indians of the Amazon who worship the crystal-encased embryonic entity Xangadix. The tribe spoke of an ancient prophecy of seven brothers in full-head clay masks who will bring out the Eternal Night by impregnating one of their own. Having barely collected his wits Keller is hurried into a vehicle by government spook De Graaf (Rik van Uffelen) who requires his expertise for business he has in Biesbosch. The facility where seven brothers, all aged 21, have been staying is about to close down and Major Jansma (Johan Leysen) has no idea what to do with them. When Keller learns that The Johnsons were the first to be conceived by in vitro fertilisation from eggs clandestinely donated by an unknown orphan some twenty-one years earlier, it’s just the question whether Winston will be in time to save Victoria and Emalee from their murderous offspring.

While van den Berg approached The Johnsons as “a job” he made sure to give it his own touch. He rewrote the original Rocco Simonelli screenplay together with Leon de Winter keeping the original story’s skeleton, lead characters, and overall structure the two completely rewrote it otherwise. Adding themes of anthropology, taboo sexuality (incest), religious allusions, and ancient fertility rites The Johnsons transformed from a pretty basic The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and The Last House Of the Left (1972) derivate into a full-blown occult horror. Being a specialist of dramas and human interest documentaries van den Berg ensured that the mother-daughter and brother-sister relations were properly explored and expanded upon. Since a bit of money was being thrown at The Johnsons director of photography Theo Bierkens was able to line up a number of artsy, atmospheric scenes of both the demon entity Xangadix as well as leading ladies Monique van de Ven and Esmée de la Bretonière. The special effects are actually pretty decent. Of those Sjoerd Didden had worked the year before on the disasterpiece Intensive Care (1991) while Floris Schuller, Andy Taylor, and Casper Lailey have become beloved Hollywood craftsmen in the decades since. Ben Zuydwijk meanwhile has been and remains steadily employed as a production designer. Van de Ven has since described The Johnsons as a weird outlier in her repertoire and for la de la Bretonière it was the ideal springboard to launch a model – and singing career.

It’s a strange fate that befell The Johnsons. On the one hand this was a prestigious project that forever enshrined the Netherlands in the annals of world horror cinema while on the other hand it was misunderstood, undervalued, and laughed off the screen when it originally saw release. Director Rudolf van den Berg never attested that he was attempting anything more than a decent, atmospheric fright flick. No, credit should go to writer Leon de Winter for imbuing The Johnsons with rich symbolism and allusions to religion, superstition, and the levels of perception. The father-and-son Keller subplot is rife with the merits of different perspectives and the duality of man. It deals with everything from science vs faith, of conservatism vs progressivism, and superstition vs facts. The Johnsons is far more ambitious than your average horror romp and many of its ideas are genuinely begging to be further explored. In more recent years the Xangadix Lives! (2017) retrospective documentary has taken a deep dive into the history, the mechanics behind the scenes, and the legacy of The Johnsons. More importantly, The Johnsons was never tainted or diluted by a raft of unnecessary and redundant sequels.

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 Bruckner sees all funding for his research summarily pulled on grounds of its questionable ethic – and moral implications, plus he's terminated 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 Schuller, 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.