‘Amsterdamned’ or — Imagine ‘Jaws’… Except Without the Shark… and Set in the Middle of a City?
I’d never heard of Dick Maas’ ‘Amsterdamned’ (1988) until the weekend but considering my experience of Dutch cinema is completely non-existent I didn’t feel too bad about my ignorance of it. But what sort of film would it be? I was curious so decided to watch it last night and find out.
At first the vibe is that of an Italian Giallo meets an American slasher as an unseen assailant prowls Amsterdam indiscriminately slaughtering the city’s denizens whilst a divorced cop races to track down the killer whilst simultaneously raising his teenage daughter and clashing with his superiors. So it’s cliché and trope central and one that is seemingly going to contain zero surprises with the only real question being will this pre-fabricated slice of horror be worth watching at all?
The good news is that writer/director Maas hit on the silly/cool/unoriginal/original/inspired/daft/neat idea of having the killer be some form of amphibious terror that uses Amsterdam’s numerous canals to navigate the city and stalk its victims meaning Maas gets to liberally re-make ‘Jaws’ (1975) but as an urban slasher flick which, to be honest, is something I’ve never seen before or even thought was technically possible.
So there are boats dragged under by unseen forces, eyeless dead bodies popping out to scare scuba-divers, grisly remains discovered after savage attacks, bubbles on the water surface signifying approaching terror except all taking place within the capital of the Netherlands. It soon becomes part of the fun trying to guess which ‘Jaws’ cliché the film is going to rip-off next.
And it’s not just ‘Jaws’ but Spielberg in general that’s the obvious touchstone here with everything from the mood, vibe, lighting and characters having that Spielbergian touch and even though Maas doesn’t have the control or budget of the Hollywood titan he still manages to bring a surprising sense of adventure, pacing and fun to it all.
Indeed, despite the surface nastiness of the plot (there are some gruesome, and satisfying, dismemberments near the beginning) the movie’s overall tone is less to horrify or scare and simply to entertain and this is an entertaining movie. It clips along at a good pace, knows when to move onto a new set piece and even has a brief, and pretty cool, motorbike chase followed later by a really cool motorboat chase through the centre of Amsterdam that’s quite surprising in its ambition.
Admittedly the film is totally preposterous with the reveal and dispatching of the killer coming completely out of nowhere but it doesn’t trip the film up because ‘Amsterdamned’ is following entertainment logic and not “does any of this make any actual sense?” logic, which is just as well because it would be completely screwed otherwise.
I was genuinely quite taken by how enjoyable I found this curio. It’s completely derivative but you can sense the delight the filmmakers are having in smashing together ‘Jaws’, Giallo, slasher, horror and James Bond movies all together and it certainly keeps things interesting and silly. There’s also a great moment near the end when we think the culprit has been caught and dealt with only for… ooh! I didn’t see THAT coming!
So, all in all, ‘Amsterdamned’ might not be an overlooked masterpiece but it is, without a doubt, the best ‘Dutch sharkless ‘Jaws’ knock-off’ I’ve ever seen.