AMSTERDAMNED (1988) Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Director: Dick Maas
Blue Underground

"You can't hide from the monster reptile" when Dick Maas' exciting, horror-tinged action thriller AMSTERDAMNED comes to Blu-ray/DVD combo from Blue Underground.

When the gutted body of a hooker is discovered hanging from a bridge, the mayor is worried about the impact on tourism of a "psycho killer in Amsterdam's famed canals," especially once the shredded bodies of two fisherman turn up on the docks, a Salvation Army officer turns up in the canal garbage, and a bathing beauty is eviscerated in broad daylight. All Detective Eric Visser (Huub Stapel, THE INDECENT WOMAN) and his partner Vermeer (Serge-Henri Valcke, SLAUGHTER NIGHT) have to go on is a bag lady's claim that it was a "monster who came out of the water." A fragment of rubber, a depth gauge, and the wounds on the victims suggest to Visser and river police colleague John (Wim Zomer) that the killer is a diver, and the twenty-five miles of canal crisscrossing the city provide him ideal cover and access to victims. With more than eight-thousand registered divers and even more sport divers in the area, Visser and his colleagues must determine the motive for the killings to narrow down the list of suspects.

A thoroughly-exciting thriller that shows off Amsterdam at its best – Rembrandt's "The Night Watch" makes an appearance when Visser visits the Rijksmuseum new love interest Laura (Monique van de Ven, TURKISH DELIGHT) at her tour guide job – AMSTERDAMNED moves at such a good clip and is shot through with murder set-pieces, an exciting car chase, and an even more exciting and ambitious speedboat chase that the bum plotting is entirely forgivable. Against a gorgeous backdrop, director Dick Maas – working with a larger budget than his previous genre effort THE LIFT on the basis the big screen popularity of his unexported comedy FLOTTER – relies heavily in his scripting on Hollywood thriller clichés to drive the plot from one set-piece to the next, giving single dad Visser a daughter (Tatum Dagelet) for comic relief (and one expendable sequence that provide a hint of the supernatural), a love interest to imperil during the climax, a long-suffering partner for pratfalls, and a once best friend before a woman came between them to become the latest victim of the killer to push Visser over the edge. The killer's identity is hinted at in a line of dialogue about an obvious red herring character that is such a throwaway bit that it draws attention to itself, and Visser does not so much solve anything as give chase and turn up either just in time or too late. That the film remains entertaining with repeat viewing is up to Maas' obvious love of mainstream cinema and his ambition to try new things in a country from which Paul Verhoeven had to emigrate before he could play in the big leagues (even though one could argue that Verhoeven's true masterworks were made closer to home). Maas's own attempt at breaking into Hollywood was an attempt to inject the scale of AMSTERDAMNED into a remake of THE LIFT titled DOWN (or THE SHAFT in the US), but the script's attempt to incorporate post-9/11 terrorism paranoia was half-baked, the cast – including Naomi Watts (THE RING), James Marshall (TWIN PEAKS), Michael Ironside (VISITNG HOURS), and Ron Perlman (HELLBOY) – all sounded flatly post-dubbed with their own voices, the visual effects were poor, while the colorful photography of Maas-regular Marc Felperlaan and the production design of John Graysmark (LIFEFORCE, THE BOUNTY) looked exceedingly cheap. Much of his subsequent output has not been widely exported apart from his Christmas horror movie SAINT NICK.

Released theatrically, on laserdisc, and VHS by Vestron Pictures, AMSTERDAMNED received little love after that, but fortunately the rights seem to have reverted to Maas in English-speaking territories (it is still handled by Studio Canal in some other territories including Germany where it was released on Blu-ray). Blue Underground's Blu-ray/DVD combo is derived from a new 2K scan of the original camera negative; however, despite being a huge improvement on what has been available before stateside, the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen encode suffers from the same compression issues as THE STENDHAL SYNDROME, most noticeable in solid blocks of color from John's yellow wet suit to the off-white walls of one suspect's modern home during the climax that are swimming with blocky noise. Blue Underground has already prepared a replacement program for THE STENDHAL SYNDROME but are have not made such an announcement about this title yet. The original Dutch track has been remixed in 5.1 for a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track along with the inclusion of a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track, although I am not sure if this is a downmix or the original. The surround remix gives some depth to the music and is more active during the action set-pieces but, of course, does not compare to a modern 5.1 track (Maas was more playful with the possibilities of 5.1 with his later film DOWN/THE SHAFT). The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track's dialogue can sometimes be recessed in the mix but is always intelligible, but it appears to have always been this way while the Dutch tracks mix the dialogue up to the same level as surrounding noise. A French Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track is also included along with English subtitles for the Dutch track, SDH subtitles for the English audio (you have to select this track for the lyrics to the theme song), and Spanish subtitles. The English subtitles reveal some wild variations between the Dutch dialogue and the English dub (the coroner reveals that two victims were vegetarians but one had some sausage on the Dutch track and tofu on the English track, and that the meat of the undigested hamburgers in the hooker's stomach was "probably McDonald's" on the Dutch track and "top quality beef" on the English track).

UPDATE: Blue Underground has not only shipped reauthored replacement Blu-rays to customers but also to reviewers and we have had a chance to look at the new disc and compare it to the old one. Gone is the distracting macro-blocking that made hash of fine detail in solid objects, while the underwater scenes are now a stunning trail of bubbles and fine grain. I'm not sure if the encode impeded detail in the night sequences previously but some of the setups seem to possess a greater depth than on the earlier disc, seeming like atmospheric setups rather than second unit establishing coverage. The boat chase also has a more dimensional quality to its head-on action shots that may also be subjective. In addressing authoring/encoding issues that should not have made it past QC, Blue Underground's replacement discs of this film and THE STENDHAL SYNDROME are hopefully indicative of future high-quality presentations of such deserving films (with more diligent attention to the presentation the first time around).

The film is accompanied by an audio commentary by Maas and editor Hans van Dongen, moderated by Severin Films' David Gregory, in which they reveal among other things that the film was largely funded by video company First Floor Features although Maas also asserts that Cannon's Golan-Globus also put in some money. Among the production anecdotes are Stapel's back injury during the boat chase which was shot first (reducing his mobility in subsequent scenes), Van der Ven (who had been married to cinematographer Jan de Bont at the time) expressing her regret at turning down THE LIFT, cameos by Fangoria correspondent Jan Doense who was on set for the production and his television presenter mother, the cooperation of the city, and plenty of detail about the stunts. The track is most interesting as Gregory probes Maas' creative methodology including his relying on what audiences are familiar from other movies in regard to police procedural and the reliance on movie reality rather than getting bogged down in research.

"The Making of AMSTERDAMNED" (36:15) is a vintage featurette – augmented by some clips from the new master – which looks heavily at the stunts, the construction of the sewer sets (modeled after the Parisian sewer system since there was nothing like that in Amsterdam that would allow Stapel and the camera to run around), clashes with the local authorities over Felperlaan's helicopter flying too low for the aerial shots, augmenting the Amsterdam canals with those of Utrecht for some shots where the speedboats actually had to come up onto the quaysides, as well as the previously unnoticed glass matte painting created by Ted Michell (LABYRINTH). "Tales from the Canal" (8:38) is a new interview with Stapel floating along the canals and revisiting locations. Understandably, he focuses heavily on the circumstances of his injury (being slammed against the quayside when the stunt driver overcorrected) which put him out of commission for all but the last two days of the three-week shoot of all the shots that comprised the boat chase.

In "Damned Stuntwork" (18:12), stunt coordinator Dickey Beer reveals how he got into stunt work on A BRIDGE TOO FAR and largely worked in England apart from a few local opportunities like Verhoeven's SPETTERS and THE FOURTH MAN before being asked to work on AMSTERDAMNED. He recalls with delight how he was given three months prep time and that the production was incredibly accommodating in order for him to achieve what Maas wanted (extending to new automobiles and boats for the stunt work), giving him carte blanche and allowing him to experiment. Since stunt work was not a specialty in Dutch film at the time, Beer imported his stunt team from the UK along with parade horses and would double for Stapel himself. The disc also includes the Maas-directed music video for Loïs Lane's "Amsterdamned" (3:29) theme song – which includes a cameo by Stapel, a stills gallery of poster and video art and lobby cards, and the Dutch (3:13) and American (1:43) trailers. Michael Gingold also contributes a fourteen-page booklet. (Eric Cotenas)