The Netherlands, 1988
Posted on 30 October 2007
Source Vestron VHS
Reviews The Lift
Reviews Silent Witness
Reviews The Shaft
Categories 31 Days of Horror
Amsterdamned, Amsterdamned, oh-oh
This is Amsterdamned
Amsterdamned, Amsterdamned, oh-oh
This place is damned!
Keeping to his self-made style of ironic plotlines – a mute girl witnessing a murder, a metropolis of skyscrapers paralyzed by demonic elevators – Dick Maas’ Amsterdamned is the story of how the titular Dutch city, a European utopia built around water, is terrorized by a canal-roaming killer. Though what could easily have been a standard police-procedural drama is in fact a cinematic museum of playfully sadistic murders. A hooker, forced from a taxicab, is stabbed and slung upside down off the side of a bridge; when a boat of tourists drifts by the next morning, her body drags across the glass roof, leaving a thick trail of blood. An environmentalist is pulled into the waters of a polluted shoreline, where his decapitated head is secured to the hook of an anchor for his doomed comrade to find. A lanky woman, sunbathing in a plastic raft, is sliced up the middle from below. One can only imagine Maas twiddling his fingers in delight as each scene is staged, then grinning as he imagines our reaction.
This isn’t strange, considering Maas treats his native country like a personal toy-box. In fact, there may be nobody else alive who seems to teasingly loathe his homeland more than Dick Maas. The films shot in the Netherlands depict Amsterdam as a glowing monument to laziness and sin—a new-age Sodom and Gomorrah, as Cathryn Richmond says in Silent Witness. Available drugs, legalized prostitution, slothful law enforcement, pedophilic musicians, animalistic technology—everything needed to create a festering brew of dawn-to-dusk transgressions. There is no love-hate relationship, because there is no love; nary is there a scene throughout any of his films in which Amsterdam is framed as an innocent, sleeping emerald nestled along the European coast, as many of his Western contemporaries—Fincher and Bay—are prone to do with American cities. Provided, the victims of Maas’ social monsters are usually depraved—in this case, a boozing boat captain and a fraudulent Salvationist, among others—but those who aren’t victims tend to find Amsterdam chocked full of rude, callous men and women.
Except for Eric Visser, our womanizing and alcoholic hero, who follows the murders with a half-sober diligence. He even catches the eye of a shapely diver named Laura, who in turn falls for him. His outwardly lackadaisical manner is offset by the thundering high-speed boat race late in the film, when he risks falling into the cutting wake of his own craft, colliding with other ships, and smashing into canal barriers in pursuit of his suspect. He’s by no means James Bond or Snake Plissken, and that’s probably why he’s so oddly endearing—he’s an actual human being, flimsy one-liners and all, and in the end he gets the girl.
Amsterdamned’s novelty is delivered simply and efficiently in its very title. Significantly, its title is not contrived, as the movie concerns a rogue killer that inhabits Amsterdam’s canals, and proceeds to knife those who pry too close to the water’s edge. Imagine a sort of amphibian ninja, springing forth and retreating in the instant you ignite the flint on a cigarette lighter.
To understand how this amounts to the concept of being damned – which Amsterdamned considers justly – one must realize the concentricity and number of Amsterdam’s canals, which are strewn across the city proper. None of these is easily navigable, either; they’re narrow and muddy, propelled not by any current but rather by the raw sewage propulsive underneath. Now, for one to inhabit these canals regularly, with great discretion, and without even the most passing regard for hygiene is to be both fearsome and fearsomely repugnant. It makes for an unlikely and nonetheless ingenious serial killer.
These canals are regularly navigated by tourist boats, which may house upwards of two dozen people, and are outfitted with a Plexiglas sunroof. The opening sequence finds one such floating bevy of eager tourists, including many school children and at least one pair of nuns. It is a particularly delightful day, and the captain and tour guide are both smiling so contentedly they fail to see the dead prostitute, gutted and hung by her feet, hanging from the bridge directly ahead. Urgently, the captain miscalculatedly decreases the throttle, and the ghastly corpse slides down the length of the boat as it passes slowly underneath. Blood goes everywhere, and everyone is screaming in terror.
It is a sequence so excessively violent that it recalls if not transcends the work of Dario Argento. The film largely embodies the spirit of Argento’s gialli: the killer discerned for his injudicious manners of killing and his inaccessibility—this, and his ability to drive a speed boat at top speed, in Amsterdam’s winding canals. To be capable of battling such a nefarious foe one must be largely indifferent to his strength and ingenuity. This would be Eric Visser, portrayed by Maas muse Huub Stapel, who is indifferent to everything, and only casually heroic at best. “I like to eat in the nicest restaurants,” he says without sarcasm to a date in one scene. They are in a restaurant shaped like a windmill.
Roughly the final third of Amsterdamned is devoted to Visser’s pursuit of the vicious killer, and he does so in a pair of rather exhilarating chase sequences. These, coincidentally or not, feature many of city’s more familiar locations as well as a sampling of its inhabitants. Despite the urgency of the scenes at hand, and the inherent violence of the material, Amsterdamned culminates in this, a joyous and celebratory tour of the title city.
And yet, none of what I have described above is even as remotely or sinisterly infectious as what is to come during the end credits.
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