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.