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.