Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Census Flashback: Globetrotting

On our Fright Flashback/Census Bloodbath crossover, every week this summer we'll be exploring an 80's slasher film that is in some way a spiritual precursor to the weekend's upcoming blockbuster.

In anticipation of Mission: Impossible - Fallout, I'll be reviewing a movie that features a hallmark of the spy movie genre: exotic European locations. See if you can guess which city this one takes place in: It's Amsterdamned!

Year: 1988
Director: Dick Maas
Cast: Huub Stapel, Monique van de Ven, Serge-Henri Valcke
Run Time: 1 hour 54 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I feel like this summer I've been testing the limits of how far the title of a slasher movie title goes in terms of making the film interesting. Where Mountaintop Motel Massacre and Slashdance have awesome titles that immediately go bust, Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge and Psychos in Love are only improved by their wacky monikers. Amsterdamned is probably the best title yet, so it'll have to be the cornerstone of whatever thesis I can prepare at the end of this. Let's see if it lives up to that promise...

So far so good.

In Amsterdamned, the canals of Amsterdam are being stalked by a maniac in a scuba suit who drags people into the water, never to be seen again except as scraps of bloody chum dredged up the next morning. It's up to detective/single father Eric Visser (Huub Stapel) to discover the killer's identity and capture him, under mounting pressure from the tourism-obsessed Jaws mayor. During the course of his investigation, he meets and falls in love with (or at least into bed with) sexy scuba student Laura (Monique van de Ven) and rebuilds a bridge with his old friend John (Wim Zomer), a member of the River Police force.

All while wearing sunglasses and a rad leather jacket.

I have seen my fair share of European slashers for this project, but the bulk of them hail from Italy, which has a very strong national cinematic identity of stylish, black-gloved slashing and incomprehensible murder mystery plots. But that title isn't just for fun. Amsterdamned hails straight from the Netherlands, and is certainly the first Dutch slasher I've ever come across. It's similar to an Italian giallo in certain ways, but the differences in culture and presentation are extreme and delightful.

For one thing, the film is an extremely effective tourism ad for Amsterdam (which, upon reflection, might not mean it's a terribly scary horror movie), highlighting its beautiful canals, bridges, and restaurants inside windmills with loving caresses every chance it gets. And with the culture being so inherently tied with the water, it only makes sense that that's the arena the killer would be able to do the most damage. It's the Amsterdam version of the guy who hides under cars in the mall parking lot to slash your ankles. The other major difference from an Italian giallo is the wacky joie de vivre that's ever-present in the film's atmosphere, from the komedy kop who tags along with Visser, dropping everything he ever touches and tripping over his own feet, to the bizarre subplot involving Visser's daughter Anneke (Tatum Dagelet) and her schoolmate Willy (Edwin Bakker), who is a straight-up psychic who can detect the killer's whereabouts. This plot line is given as much credibility as the romantic subplot, as if this were just a thing that happens in Amsterdam every other day.

All of this interplays with some pretty brutal horror elements, all things considered. An autopsy sequence which reveals that the killer stabbed his victim with such force that the tip of the knife literally broke off inside her will send chills up your spine. It's not particularly gory (a huge minus for me: the killer's scuba outfit is a great iconic costume, but his M.O. of dragging people into the water and killing them offscreen neuters some of its potential as a slasher rather than a police procedural), but certain moments of implications are just as rough.

Especially this scene, where she's hanging onto a banister that literally begins to break apart because of how strong the killer is pulling on her ankle.

Also living up to the European standard for horror, Dick Maas crafts some truly indelible images here. The discovery of the first body, where a woman's corpse hanging from a bridge slides across the top of a glass-ceilinged boat full of children and drops down through a skylight wouldn't be out of place in an Argento masterpiece, and a moment where the killer's eye mask is shot, instantly turning his already unreadable face into a web of cracks and shattered glass, is unspeakably beautiful.

So there really is a lot to like in Amsterdamned, and maybe I'm being a baby for growing increasingly weary of it thanks to its run time that brushes dangerously close to two hours. If you're not going to deliver on the gore, you at least need to have a murder mystery plot that keeps you guessing, which this film patently does not. You will never guess the exact nature of the killer because - guess what - it's a character we've never met before (my favorite outcome of a mystery! so satisfying!), but the twists and turns the movie takes along the way are as predictable as an episode of Law and Order.

The third act of Amsterdamned drags on, overstaying its welcome by a kilometer. It sucks out everything good and satisfying about the film and all you can do is focus on its flaws and how tired you are of watching it. But at least there's an awesome boat chase, I guess!

Fly right into my heart, you crazy killer.

Killer: IDK, some guy (Door van Boekel)
Final Girl: This is a cop thriller, so we don't really get one, but technically we do have a female survivor, Laura (Monique van de Ven)
Best Kill: The underwater stabbing is not only one of the few kills we actually get to see, it's a cool concept that I don't think I've ever seen before.
Sign of the Times: Obviously, the prostitute's Debbie Harry wig and giraffe-print dress belong in the 80's horror outfit hall of fame.

Scariest Moment: After Laura knocks out who she assumes is the killer, the real killer lunges at her from the water.
Weirdest Moment: While driving to a crime scene, Eric stops a bakery robbery, slamming the culprit's face into a cake, which the man then begins to eat.
Champion Dialogue: "Does your mother-in-law have an alibi?"
Body Count: 8
  1. Prostitute is stabbed.
  2. Hendrick is decapitated and his head is impaled on an anchor.
  3. Kees is stabbed in the ankle and dragged into the water.
  4. Salvation Army Girl is dragged into the water.
  5. Floatie Lady gets stabbed in the crotch.
  6. Drunk drowns in his own boat.
  7. John is stabbed to death underwater.
  8. Maniac kills himself with a harpoon.
TL;DR: Amsterdamned is a solid wacky foreign slasher that slowly drains itself of potential with an exhausting run time.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1172

1 comment:

  1. A scuba killer? So it's like a Humanoids From the Deep where the monster is just some dude. Still, that's a unique MO.

    I don't think you ever did Humanoids, but you could fit it in as a slasher. It's gory, certainly, and really gross in a lot of ways but one big ultra-gross misogynist way, but I appreciate how it's basically a disgustingly honest version of Creature From the Black Lagoon, and failing to review it conjunction with The Shape of Water (the Oscar winning movie about consensual fish-sex that is based on a lie of what Creature From the Black Lagoon is about) is a great regret of mine.

    This is incredibly tangential but I've never seen Amsterdamned and am very bored at work.