Skip to content

Plot: who or what is prowling and killing in the Amsterdam canals?

After the box office success of De Lift (1983) the sky was the limit for producer/director Dick Maas – or at least insofar something like that was possible in Dutch cinema. The only real competition he had regionally was Kortrijk-based producer/director/writer Johan Vandewoestijne. First Maas went on to create Flodder (1986), a crude general audience comedy that played on Dutch stereotypes and told of a family of asocial misfits accidently housed in the upper class neighborhood of Zonnedael. If nothing else it introduced Croatian-Dutch model and sometime sex bomb Tatjana Šimić, or the closest thing to a Dutch Gloria Guida and Janet Ågren, to the world. Maas returned to his horror roots with the creatively titled Amsterdamned. Once more he teamed up with Flodder (1986) producer Laurens Geels and casting director Dorna X. van Rouveroy with key crew members from De Lift (1983) reprising their roles behind the camera. Amsterdamned was to be Maas’ response to the slasher craze of the mid-to-late 1980s. By all accounts Amsterdamned arrived late to the game but thankfully is as much of a police procedural and thriller as it is a genuine horror. When Amsterdamned proved lucrative at the box office Maas briefly toyed with the idea of a sequel, provisionally dubbed Rotterdoom. However, this idea was scrapped as sequels to Flodder (1986) made more sense from an economic point of view. Thus, Amsterdamned was not the birth of a franchise but a timeless Dutch genre classic.

By 1988 the American slasher was on its last legs. In its twilight years the subgenre had to resort to some pretty preposterous ends to remain relevant. The Italian giallo had mutated into a near unrecognizable abomination by succumbing to the American conventions of the form. Amsterdamned looked to the thriller instead and had a good idea of where the police procedural was going. Instead of adhering to the tired and worn out slasher conventions of the day Maas was prescient enough to foresee the horror and thriller merging into one. To its everlasting credit Maas’ Nederhorror classic effectively pre-dated genre-defining efforts as The Silence Of the Lambs (1991), Se7en (1995), The Bone Collector (1999) and in Spain with Thesis (1996) and The Nameless (1999). Only Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986) got there earlier but is often eclipsed by and forgotten in favor of its more popular (and enduring) cousins. By not strictly adhering to the conventions of horror Amsterdamned easily sidestepped its limitations. Amsterdamned never professes to be horror for horror’s sake but rather a chilling and atmospheric police thriller not afraid to take cues from Maas’ preferred genre. At times like a slasher, in others somewhat of a Dutch giallo but a thriller and police procedural through and through Amsterdamned has something for any genre fan.

When a prostitute (Barbara Martijn) and a salvation army soldier (Simone Ettekoven) are brutally and bloodily slain near the Groenburgwal hard-nosed workaholic (and semi-alcoholic) detective Eric Visser (Huub Stapel) is put on the case. To crack the case discreetly and efficiently Visser takes along his partner Hans Vermeer (Serge-Henri Valcke) before teaming up with river policeman John van Meegeren (Wim Zomer). The investigation quickly leads Visser and his team to the local high-end diving club where the detective strikes up conversation with Laura (Monique van de Ven) and her friend psychiatrist Martin Ruysdael (Hidde Maas). Visser’s daughter Anneke (Tatum Dagelet) claims he works too much while her love interest Willy (Edwin Bakker) believes he has psychic powers that will break the case wide open. After two environmentalists (Koos van der Knaap and Pieter Loef) and a nubile young girl (Leontine Ruiters, as Leontien Ruyters) are victimized Visser is duly expected by his chief (Lou Landré), the commissioner (Helmert Woudenberg) and, more importantly, the Amsterdam mayor (Jules Croiset) to expedite a viable suspect. The police pick up a man (Hans Dagelet) fitting the description but the detective has his doubts about his involvement. The more he puts the clues together Visser suspects Ruysdael behind the slayings. Visser becomes so consumed with the investigation that Anneke and Willy under the cloak of night embark on one of their own. Things take a turn for the personal when van Meegeren is killed and Laura is assaulted during a clandestine search of the psychiatrist’s home. Who’s prowling the canals and what’s their motivation?

Never change a winning formula. Amsterdamned is famous for its ensemble cast of Nederhorror royalty. First and foremost, there are Huub Stapel and Serge-Henri Valcke from De Lift (1983). Monique van de Ven would go on to do the atmospheric occult thriller De Johnsons (1993) and Jules Croiset would figure into the disasterpiece Intensive Care (1991) that Dorna X. van Rouveroy directed some scant three years later. Van de Ven doesn’t get to do as much as in her other movies but she fills the role as love interest admirably. Providing some of the skin and much of the sex appeal is Leontien Ruiters. Amsterdamned elevated her profile so such degree that she became the co-hostess of the popular gameshow Wheel of Fortune (1989-1997). From there she parlayed her newfound fame into small, mostly decorative roles in the Flodder (1993-1998) syndicated series. While doing that she pulled double-duty as hostess and weather girl for Dutch TV station Veronica from 1995 to 1996. In more recent years Leontien could be seen in the series Soccer Wives (2007-2009). Ruiters was married to popular singer Marco Borsato (from 1998 to 2020) with whom she has three children. Borsato recently found himself in hot water when allegations of sexual misconduct arose (with possible legal consequences) during his tenure as a coach on The Voice Kids from 2012 to 2020. Ruiters immediately distanced herself and the marriage was dissolved. As an action-packed thriller Amsterdamned delivers exactly what you’d want and the high risk speedboat chase is rightly revered. Not only was such a thing seldom undertaken in Dutch cinema, it almost ended up killing Huub Stapel.

It wouldn’t be a Dick Maas feature if the man didn’t get to extensively pay homage to whatever popular movie of the day caught his attention. In that capacity you can see Maas do his own take on the famous bathtub scene from A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984), there’s a “gearing up” vignette not unlike Commando (1985) and the synth score at various moments echoes Brad Fiedel’s work on The Terminator (1984). While Amsterdamned spends inordinate amount of time pinning red herrings on and setting up Martin Ruysdael as the villain, it’s in fact a character nobody mentioned anywhere before and introduced literally in the last ten minutes to be killed just as quickly. As always there’s Maas usual throughline of environmentalism, government corruption and corporate conspiracy. While there’s no real Šimić equivalent to speak of Leontien Ruiters is the prerequisite Dutch blonde bombshell that Maas loves. Huub Stapel is his usual rugged self whereas Monique van de Ven is wasted in a mostly decorative role. Hidde Maas makes an excellent nominal villain but the entire bit feels a bit empty once the true identity of the culprit is revealed. Had this been the hook upon which Amsterdamned as a franchise would’ve hinged it would’ve been excusable. As a stand-alone feature it comes off as somewhat lazy (or convenient) writing at best.

In more recent years Dick Maas has fallen on hard times. In the 2010s there were but a scant three Maas horror features with Sint (2010), Quiz (2012) and Prey (2016). As of that year Maas has found himself in a political – and societal climate that’s increasingly hostile towards independent filmmakers like him strangling them with overregulation and restrictions, logistical and otherwise, adverse to their craft. As of this writing the most recent Maas-centric feature was the Jeffrey De Vore documentary The Dick Maas Method (2020). Whatever the case, the legacy of Dick Maas as the Lowlands primary purveyor of mass audience swill and Nederhorror pioneer remains unquestionable and uncontested. Maas kicked open all the doors and paved the way for filmmakers in the Netherlands and Belgium to think big, to aim for the international market. If anything else, that’s hardly the worst thing to be remembered for. Fortune favors the bold, and Maas was bold enough to light a fire under Dutch genre cinema when no one else would. Pioneers are often misunderstood for their accomplishments and the case of Dick Maas is no different. Here’s hoping there’s more in the tank for monuments like Dick Maas and his ilk.

Plot: malfunctioning elevator kills people in luxury office tower block.

It’s interesting to note that Belgium and the Netherlands never developed regional (exploitation or otherwise) cinematic industries of their own whereas their surrounding countries in continental Europe did. Belgium and the Netherlands frequently could be found co-producing with fellow countries but seldom produced genre cinema of their own. Whereas France, Germany, Italy, Great Britain and Spain were veritable forces in genre cinema Belgium and the Netherlands lagged behind as what little of a cinema industry they had relied heavily on government funding. Of the two the Netherlands had a stronger standing and more pronounced presence on the European cinematic map. As filmmaking was seen more of a cultural venture horror (and its adjacent genres) is generally shunned for all the obvious reasons. This necessitated brave producers and maverick directors to make the genre movies they wanted to see on their own. One of these entrepreneurial visionaries was a man by the name of Dick Maas. This, of course, begs the question: who exactly is Dick Maas?

Like any young writer/director Maas produced about half a dozen or so shorts in between 1975 and 1980 before finally directing his comedy debut Rigor Mortis (1981). He landed his first big break when he was offered the chance to direct the music video for ‘Twilight Zone’ from Dutch rock band Golden Earring. In between this and the filming of the Golden Earring live television special ‘Live from The Twilight Zone’ Maas directed the Matthijs van Heijningen produced De Lift (The Lift internationally). Van Heijningen specialized in respectable adaptations of classic Dutch literature and prestigious socially aware dramas. Filmed in 32 days on an estimated budget of ƒ 750.000,00 (€359,534.58 or $416,666.66 in today’s currency) this was the only horror van Heijningen ever produced. Maas’ formula was always to aim at the international market and that’s exactly what happened at Cannes in 1984 where De Lift became the first Dutch production to be picked up by Warner Brothers for North American distribution. This gave Maas the impetus and clout to make the broad comedy Flodder (1986) and the horror Amsterdamned (1988). Without Flodder (1986) there would be no Honneponnetje (1988). Maas duly remade his breakthrough hit in Hollywood as the English-language Down (2001) to little fanfare. Around these parts Maas is forever etched in our black heart with the holiday horror Sint (2010).

In the Kronenstede high-rise offices in Amstelveen four people die of suffocation in an elevator when the air condition malfunctions after a bolt of lightning hits the building. Technician Felix Adelaar (Huub Stapel) is dispatched to determine the exact cause and do the necessary repairs and maintenance where required. His superior Jongbloed (Luk van Mello) urges him to report with administrator Ravenstein (Piet Römer) and to exercise the utmost discretion as this is a most valued client. After the preliminary check-up Adelaar can find no immediate cause for the disturbance and briefs back to the company. When a blind man (Onno Molenkamp) falls to his death and a night porter (Jan Anne Drenth) ends up decapitated it attracts the attention of law enforcement. For the inspector (Siem Vroom) and detective Smit (Aat Ceelen) this is a pretty open-and-shut case as they write off both deaths as unfortunate accidents. The involvement of the police attracts the attention of Mieke de Beer (Willeke van Ammelrooy), a plucky reporter for the secular left-wing weekly Nieuwe Revu. She insinuates herself into Adelaar’s professional life and shares her findings. Before long Adelaar and de Beer are so absorbed by their investigation that Felix’ wife Saskia (Josine van Dalsum) and his in-laws (Guus Hoes and Arnica Elsendoorn) suspect he’s having an affair.

Quickly they discover that former technician Breuker (Ad Noyons) has been quietly locked away in a mental ward. According to his psychiatrist Kraayvanger (Serge-Henri Valcke) the husk of a man sank into catatonia after his accident and hasn’t uttered a word since. The two then contact a professor in computer sciences (Peer Mascini) to understand exactly what they’re dealing with. They uncover that multinational corporation Rising Sun handles the electronics and software and pay them an unscheduled visit in their nearest branch. There they are stoically rebuffed by the director of the national division Kroon (Hans Veerman). When Felix addresses his superior Jongbloed about his findings he’s reprimanded and placed on immediate leave for two weeks for conducting his own clandestine investigation. This convinces the duo that something is very wrong. Jongbloed secretly meets with Kroon to let him know someone is about to uncover their conspiracy and that he should cease his experiments immediately. Desperate for a solution Adelaar breaks into Kronenstede in hopes of finally putting an end to the elevator’s reign of terror.

For better or worse De Lift is quintessentially and uncomfortably 80s. The big hair, hideous fashion, the pink neon, and blaring synths – it’s all here. There are enough hues of red, green, and blue lighting to make you think Maas probably saw one or two Mario Bava movies in his day. The score during the restaurant scene does resemble the level music of an early Leisure Suit Larry videogame. That a silly horror movie like this tries to moonlight a cautionary tale about emergent technology is something else too. As such there’s an ungodly amount of important sounding technobabble. This is just about the last place you’d expect to hear a well-intended lecture about the inner workings of microprocessors, computer chips, A.I., and the then-latest advances in robotics, information technology and biomechatronics.

Not helping is that the entire thing is pervaded with the decade’s rampant technophobia (something which would extend into the early 90s virtual reality craze) and it attempts (however feebly) to make political commentary when it addresses corruption, the bribing of government officials, and the always fashionable corporate espionage. Huub Stapel was one of the popular leading men from around this time and Maas cast him frequently. The same goes for Willeke van Ammelrooy who, along with Monique van de Ven, Nora Tilley and Nelly Frijda, was much in-demand on both the big and the small screen. A decade before van Ammelrooy had starred in the French sex comedy Erotic Diary of a Lumberjack (1974). As near as we can tell this was the only Nederhorror feature that the late Piet Römer ever lend his considerable talent to. As the first real Maas feature there’s no Tatjana Šimić precursor and imported babes like Janet Ågren or Jillian Kessner were just too expensive. The simple (not to mention bloodless) practical effects by Leo Cahn and René and Robert Stouthamer evidenced that they were destined for international careers.

Huub Stapel, Hans Dagelet and Serge-Henri Valcke would all return for Amsterdamned (1988) five years later. In what retroactively could be called an ensemble cast there’s Monique van de Ven from De Johnsons (1992), Jules Croiset from Intensive Care (1991) and Bert Luppes who also would turn up in Sint (2010). Producer Matthijs van Heijningen had little faith in the project and as a cost-saving measure De Lift was filmed simultaneously with the drama Een zaak van leven of dood (1983). It also had a significant amount of product placement before that was a thing in Dutch cinema. Van Heijningen was convinced that his drama would do good business. As fate would have it De Lift became something of an overnight sensation and proved very lucrative at the box office in contrary to van Heijningen’s serious drama. Above and beyond anything else De Lift was the work of a visionary, a pioneer, an everyman who understood the whims of the common people better than anyone else. Perhaps it would be a bit much to call Dick Maas the Dutch Roger Corman or Jing Wong of the Lowlands. Far closer to the truth would be to call him the Netherlands’ own Pete Walker or Norman J. Warren. As horror was a genre not practiced in Belgium and the Netherlands very much or at all for the longest time De Lift was held up not only as the gold standard but as the very best Nederhorror had to offer. Not bad for an underestimated little fright flick….