In 1983, Dutch director Dick Maas made an impact in the horror genre with The Lift, an insane film revolving around elevators that went haywire. The success of that film led Maas to become one of the best known directors from the Netherlands after the great Paul Verhoeven (Robocop). Maas returns to the horror genre by combining the “serial killer” genre with an action adventure theme that became the third highest marketed film at the American Film Market in 1988.
A prostitute has just finished her shift. When she takes a taxi home, she is accosted by the driver only to refute his advances. When she refuses help from a homeless woman, the woman leaves. However, someone else has arrived. A figure coming out of the water and attacks the prostitute. The figure is then dragged into the canals and the next morning, the body is found by a tour group when their boat hits the body, which is hung on the bridge.
Assigned to the case is detective Eric Visser, a tough cop who is also a single dad, living with his teenage daughter Anneke. As the figure randomly begins killing off more and more, Eric wonders if he will be able to solve the case. He is partnered up with former best friend turned rival John, a river policeman. The two patch up their differences and in the midst of investigating, Eric meets Laura at a sporting club. The two start a relationship. In the meantime, Eric faces a serious dilemma and he must find out who has been killing people at random and why.
Seeing this film for the first time on late night television back in the mid 1990’s, it was quite a surprise to see how director Dick Maas has come up with a great concept that mixes the serial killer genre and something that you would see in James Bond films. The film has many unconventional characters, including the main protagonist, Eric Visser, played the Huub Stapel. Eric is one of the best cops in the Amsterdam Police, but has a tendency to be somewhat unorthodox. In a fun scene to show how he is different from the other cops, he sees a robbery at a bakery and art twists the robber and shoves his face in a cake. Ironically, the robber had planned to steal sweets and not money. The canal murders seem to get the best of Eric’s ego, as if on a subconscious level, the killer is playing mind games with Eric, which culminates with the boat chase sequence.
The film has an interesting subplot involving Eric’s daughter Anneke and her schoolmate Willy, who thinks he is a psychic. Anneke and Willy do their own investigating of the killer and have come close in one particular scene. Anneke has a tendency to mock Willy’s “visions”, but it may seem as if by the film’s end, Willy’s intentions may in fact be true, but one never knows in the end.
While the killer doesn’t have a hit list, he stalks people at random, at times giving the viewer his point of view, and using the canals of Amsterdam as his method of transformation is a major surprise twist and a very good one at that. The underwater breathing is reminiscent of a pseudo-Darth Vader tone, but it plays out very well and the identity of the killer at the film’s conclusion is a real surprise. It is the truly the most shocking twist of the entire film and the very reason why ultimately, the film was a success in the Netherlands and did quite modestly upon its home video release in the United States from the defunct Vestron Pictures label.
The film can be considered an action film with “slasher” overtones. While the killer’s methods involve the canals, one death shown off-screen leads to an imagination that can be quite stomach-churning. It involves his victim being a young woman on a gumboat. As for action set pieces, two sequences really stand out. There is a motorcycle chase scene involving a possible suspect and the piece de resistance, a boat chase between Eric and the masked killer that was influenced by the 1971 film Puppet on a Chain. One piece of this chase was seen on a TLC program involving the stunt industry years ago.
The film is truly a one-of-a-kind and I hope it never gets a remake treatment as personally, I feel it can destroy the integrity of the film. I hope the film will eventually see a U.S. DVD release, perhaps in its original Dutch language with subtitles. An interesting note is that for the United States release, actors Stapel, van de Ven, Serge-Henri Valcke, Wim Zomer, and others actually dubbed their own voices in English. Maas definitely gained international fame with this film and a U.S. DVD release is long overdue.
WFG RATING: A-
A First Floor Features Production in association with Concorde Film. Director: Dick Maas. Producers: Laurens Geels and Dick Maas. Writer: Dick Maas. Cinematography: Marc Felperlaan. Editing: Hans van Dongen.
Cast: Huub Stapel, Monique van de Ven, Serge-Henri Valcke, Wim Zomer, Hidde Maas, Tanneke Hartzuiker, Lou Landre, Tatum Dagelet, Edwin Bakker, Door van Boeckel.