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Feature


Down in the murky depths of Amsterdam's famous canals lurks a murderous predator. Surfacing at night, he kills at random and disappears without a trace. As the bodies begin to pile up and mass hysteria envelopes the city, Detective Eric Visser is assigned to head the investigation. With only the escalating number of victims to go on, Visser pursues his quarry with a vengeance, unaware that his beautiful new girlfriend may be the mysterious killer's next victim. (From Blue Underground’s official synopsis)

 Amsterdamned
It’s easy enough to refer to Dick Maas’ Amsterdamned as one of the best slasher movies you’ve never seen, because 1) you’ve probably never seen it and 2) it’s a pretty good slasher movie. What you might not believe is that it’s also one of the best neo- gialli, crime thrillers, and B-action movies you’ve never seen. Its general lack of availability outside of the Netherlands and undeniable exploitation appeal (as indicated by its deliciously silly title) have kept it off many a cult fan’s radar since its release, but, at the risk of overselling it, Amsterdamned is one of the most thoroughly entertaining ‘kitchen sink’ thrillers of the late ‘80s. In simple terms, it’s sort of like a serial killer-themed episode of Miami Vice – one that happens to be set in the Netherlands and is occasionally interrupted by scenes from a related, but tonally different family sitcom and R-rated violence. This mixed-genre method is designed to get butts in seats, but those butts likely remained glued, because Amsterdamned is actually a pretty good movie. As expected from any worthwhile thriller, it’s technically well-made, despite its comparatively low budget, and features some very evocative (sometimes funny) suspense sequences. Its by-the-numbers narrative is also easily anticipated, but narrative shortcomings are often nullified by compelling characters (the entire major cast has an easy, believable charm), ironic sense of humour, and action scenes that would put most late-’80s/early ‘90s Hollywood movies to shame.

Maas came out of the early MTV music video directing generation (his most famous work in the field was a somewhat controversial video for Golden Earring's “Twilight Zone”) and, like his contemporaries Russell Mulcahy, Steve Barron, and Mary Lambert, he brings some of that flashy aesthetic to Amsterdamned. However, he got a lot of that aesthetic out of his system when he made his first feature, a haunted elevator movie called The Lift (Dutch: De Lift, 1983 – also on its way to Blu-ray from Blue Underground). For his second movie as director he streamlined the experimental photography and ultimately tries to match mainstream Hollywood standards. He also nabs shots and scene ideas from a load of other movies, which helps to solidify the charmingly patchwork genre quality. This is especially true of the murder scenes, which are lifted wholesale from a multitude of more famous movies, including John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and especially Spielberg’s Jaws (1975). Outside of this, he’s constantly moving the camera via track, steadicam, crane, or even helicopter; all of which gives the film loads of much-needed production value. Again, it is the action scenes – specifically the French Connection-worthy car vs. motorcycle chase and a wonderful, never-ending boat chase – that make Amsterdamned a must-see, even for folks that aren’t Euro-horror enthusiasts.

 Amsterdamned

Video


Amsterdamned was not completely unavailable stateside in the pre-digital era – there was a VHS release from Vestron in 1989 (whose cover art tried very hard to make it look like an action flick and not a horror movie). However, it was never available on North American DVD. Prospective fans would have to import PAL discs from German (Studio Canal and Eurovideo), Holland (Dice DVD), or the UK (Nouveaux Pictures and Shameless Entertainment). Blue Underground’s Combo Pack represents the film’s first official DVD release in this region and the first Blu-ray release anywhere. Its mere availability is exciting enough, but the company has upped the ante by using a brand-new 2K scan of the original film negative for their restored, 2.35:1, 1080p transfer. The results are quite impressive and squeeze loads of detail from the material without messing with the natural grain structure. Elemental separation is tight, but this doesn’t lead to many ‘steppy’ gradations or edge enhancement effects. The restoration process makes the common mistake of pushing blacks a bit too far and creating some crushy shadows. The issue is most obvious during the overbaked daylight sequences, rather than spooky night shots, where, fortunately, important details are still clear (except in some of the killer’s purposefully smeared and wet P.O.V. shots). The colour grading is also more ‘modern’ than I assume the filmmakers originally intended. While the slight orange & tealing (perhaps more yellow than orange...) is kind of obnoxious (again, mostly in daylight – the cooled night scenes fit the tone perfectly), hue qualities do remain consistent and vibrant. All in all, this is a fantastic effort – one of the studio’s best, in fact.

Audio


Amsterdamned is presented in its original Dutch in 2.0 stereo and a new 5.1 remix. Blue Underground has also included the English dub in 2.0 and all tracks are uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. The remix is respectable of the original stereo, offering only slight, natural-sounding directional enhancements (both effects and vocals) and better-centered dialogue/incidental effects tracks. The English dub seems to have been recorded specifically for Vestron’s VHS release. A number of cast members actually dubbed themselves, so the tone and inflections are ‘accurate,’ even if the lip sync is not. The bigger issue is that the English dialogue was mixed at inconsistent levels. The bouncy vocal volume is especially noticeable, because the music and effects tracks are nearly identical to their stereo Dutch counterpart. Maas composed the dramatic, sometimes downright danceable synthesizer score himself. It sounds rich on all three tracks and gets a decent bass boost from the 5.1 remix.

 Amsterdamned

Extras


  • Commentary with director Dick Maas and editor Hans van Dongen – Blue Underground’s own David Gregory moderates this new director and editor commentary. Discussion largely surrounds the technical aspects of filmmaking, audience reactions, and Hollywood influences (Maas jokes that “all of his movies” are based on Jaws).
  • The Making of Amsterdamned (36:15, HD) – This vintage featurette/press kit is made-up of scenes from the film (although taken from the new transfer and added by BU), raw behind-the-scenes footage recorded during the prep and filming of the boat chase, a look at the construction of the sewer sets, and cast & crew interviews.
  • Tales from the Canal (8:38) – Lead actor Huub Stapel revisits the canal locations and talks about his character, working with Maas, and permanently injuring himself during the boat chase sequence.
  • Damned Stuntwork (18:12) – In the final new interview, stunt coordinator Dickey Beer discusses his larger career, designing stunts, and the logistics of shooting on-location in Amsterdam.
  • Loïs Lane "Amsterdamned" music video, directed by Dick Maas (3:29, SD)
  • Poster, video art, lobby card, and promotional still gallery
  • Dutch and American trailers


 Amsterdamned

Overall


Again, I fear I’m overselling Amsterdamned a bit with all this praise, but I really do think people will be genuinely surprised by its dry wit, charming characters, and impressive action. Revisiting it on this remastered Blu-ray merely solidifies its drastically underrated status. Blue Underground’s new transfer slightly crushes the blacks and leans more yellow/orange than I’d like, but its detail, clarity, and natural film-like qualities are all top-tier stuff. The DTS-HD Master Audio sound options are great, as are the mostly brand-new special features. My hopes are now quite high for the company’s release of director Dick Maas’ first film, The Lift. Stay tuned!

 Amsterdamned

 Amsterdamned

 Amsterdamned

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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