Posted on: 13 January 2008
In response to our Halloween feature Dark Passages: The Films of Dick Maas, the Dutch filmmaker was kind enough to respond to some questions in regard to his work, which spans over twenty-five years, a variety of genres, and two films (to date) concerning killer elevators. We admire Maas’ work for both its discordance within world cinema – his films are more easily associated with American blockbusters – and deft balancing of the playful, the profane, the hilarious, and the horrifying. Maas’ latest film is Killer Babes (Moordwijven), and opened in the Netherlands on December 20th.
For those unfamiliar, we recommend reading our Dark Passages feature prior to this interview.
Are there any filmmakers in particular that you’re influenced by?
There are a lot of directors I admire. Ranging from Hitchcock to Spielberg to Ridley Scott.
I was influenced by Kubrick. A Clockwork Orange was a movie I saw in the seventies and it had a great impact on me. Especially the way in which you could tell a coherent story in an almost abstract way. A story that took place in a sort of parallel universe. I knew since then that I wanted to tell stories in a universe I created. Sometimes it could be very close to the real world, but sometimes it was a different world with its own laws, but somehow familiar.
Do you consider yourself a genre filmmaker? An auteur? Or a storyteller, going with the ideas regardless of what sort of genres they might fall into?
I like all kind of genres. I like the absurdity of movies like Flodder. I also like to make thrillers that keep people glued to the edge of their seats. I’ve written dozens of scripts that cover all genres. Besides comedies and action thrillers, I’ve written romantic comedies and horror. I like to write my own material, but I would welcome a good script from someone else. In a sense I consider myself an auteur, because most of my movies I’ve written, produced, directed, scored. The only thing that I directed that wasn’t based on a script of my own was Transylvania, an episode of the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
Although, both thematically and structurally, your work honors many of horror’s cinematic tenets, there are aspects of your films that are innovative, particularly the killer elevators in both The Lift and The Shaft. Would you discuss this proclivity toward elevators?
I don’t have a special thing with elevators except for the fact that they are very strange devices. You get in a box and expect it to take you up or down. You deliver yourself for a brief time of your life to an unknown entity. It can work for you, or against you. (I have the same thing with cars, trains and planes.)
How did the idea for a Lift remake come about? Was it a chance to do some more inventive death scenes with the bigger budget? And was it a chance to better introduce yourself to an American audience?
When The Lift was released in Holland in 1983 (boy, we are getting old…) it did extremely well at the box office and was the first Dutch movie that was picked up for a worldwide distribution by Warner Brothers.
Since then there was talk about doing a (English language) remake. Since I had a lot of other things on my mind, like making Flodder and Amsterdamned, I declined.
In the nineties several other American companies asked the same question. Somehow I began taking to the idea. I made several scripts over the years and finally ended up with a script I liked. It was a chance to improve the first movie, that was made for a very low budget (300,000 dollars), and try to make it more interesting.
I was always puzzled by the fact that no one in the US had made a movie, or written a book (Stephen King, where were you?) about a killer elevator. Elevators are a crucial part of American life, so why didn’t it become a subject for one of your big blockbusters? I tried to help you by doing it myself.
Your scores are integral components in several of your films. Would you describe your process in composing scores for your work? For example, John Carpenter composed his score for The Fog after assembling a rough cut of the film. Is your process similar, or do you have a theme in mind as you’re shooting?
It differs. When we have time in the post-production, I score when we have a final cut. But The Lift, for example, I scored while we were editing. In that time, before the digital revolution, it was difficult to score accurately to the picture. So I had to play my synthesizer at home and match it to the movie in the editing room.
Nowadays I work with a computer and sampling instruments. After a hectic shoot it is fun to settle down in my studio and make some music. It’s a nice way to wind down.
I just play what comes into my head when I see the shots and the scenes. From there a theme may start. It’s an intuitive process. Sometimes it doesn’t work, sometimes I’m amazed myself by my beautiful score :-)
Two of your early films, The Lift and Amsterdamned, cast Huub Stapel as the stoic protagonist. Can you describe your history working with Huub, and is there any chance of a future collaboration with him?
I’m proud I can say I discovered Huub. I had to put up a fight with the producer of The Lift, to get him into the starring role. He became a very successful actor, as well in Holland as abroad.
Our collaboration ended when he didn’t want to do the television spinoff of Flodder. But we are still good friends. I considered him for my last movie, but he had other commitments.
Your casting choices, specifically in your later two English-language films, are quite fascinating. Silent Witness, for example, features William Hurt and Jennifer Tilly as husband and wife in a particularly unusual pairing. How did you select such a varied collection of English-speaking talent?
Well, we crossed the ocean and had a lot of casting sessions in LA. For Down [aka The Shaft], we had Mike Fenton doing the casting. We had trouble finding the female lead and were well into shooting before Naomi Watts presented herself. Since the here career has flourished :-)
I had a great time with William Hurt and Jennifer Tilly. William is very serious and Jennifer is very funny.
We’ve approached your films, the horror/thriller ones at least, with the idea that you’re out to give the viewer a taste of both the shocking and the humorous. Grisly scenes like the bloody hooker dragged along the boat in Amsterdamned are juxtaposed with scenes like the stripper falling off her chair in Silent Witness. Is this a deliberate attempt to meld genres, or more of an afterthought to add a bit of either horror or humor?
You’re absolutely right. Since I started filmmaking, I’ve attempted to meld genres. (I would still like to make a horror-western, and a musical-serial killer movie.) I still am shocked to find that people don’t get the tong-in-cheeck humor of Down. I don’t want to say it’s a comedy, but my aim was to make it a very scary thriller juxtaposed with black humor and silly characters. But it’s a very fine line I’m riding, and somehow I didn’t succeed with Down.
In our evaluation of your work, we’ve noticed how your films are rooted firmly in Dutch culture, yet they possess deviations. Some of them are like American action movies or thrillers based in the Netherlands. Do you consider yourself an inherently Dutch filmmaker, or do you consider your practices more broad?
I’m a fan of American movies (not all of them). Most of the Dutch movies are boring. I’m happy to say that I’m considered the first to bring some of the American way of filmmaking to Holland.
My films may look like American movies but they always will have a Dutch or European influence or flavor. My movies are a great success with Dutch audiences but are not that well received by the critics. Funding for Dutch movies is becoming more difficult so I’m looking to broaden my scope. I’ve got several English language scripts I’m trying to set up, so maybe my next movie will be an American one.
Finally, what’s next?
I’ve just finished a movie Killer Babes (Moordwijven). A comedy about three wealthy woman who hire a hitman to kill one of their cheating husbands. It has become, in my opinion, a very funny movie. It is the big Christmas release here in Holland.
In pre-production is a thriller called Play Off. A famous game show host is being harassed in a restaurant by a strange man who claims to have kidnapped his wife and daughter. A morbid game ensues in which the gameshow host turns out to be the candidate. I hope to shoot that movie early next year.