Dick Maas: The John Carpenter of the Netherlands

dickmaas

One of the greatest unsung heroes of horror cinema, and in a whole, the world of Dutch cinema is Dick Maas. He is considered the Netherlands’ answer to John Carpenter not only because he is an excellent director, but he composes his own scores in the same way Carpenter does with his films. While he has delved in various genres ala Takashi Miike for example, he is more known in the U.S. for his penchant for horror films. And it all began thirty-seven years ago.

Born on April 15, 1951 in Heemstede, Netherlands, Maas started his film career in the 1970s doing short films. In 1982, he was hired to direct the music video of “Twilight Zone” from Dutch rock band Golden Earring. However, in 1981, he made his feature film directorial debut with the comedy Rigor Mortis, starring Rijk de Gooyer. However, it would be his second film that would make him a breakout all over the world.

The Lift was the first horror film Maas directed, and even during production, he was fired by producer Matthijs van Heijningen. However, van Heijningen would re-hire Maas because it was his vision that made him want to produce the film in the first place. The story of killer elevators was quite a novel one and the film would revolve around a series of accidents inside of a building and a maintenance worker who teams up with a nosy reporter to uncover the mystery of the elevators.

The film would be the first collaboration between Maas and Dutch actor Huub Stapel. Stapel had briefly appeared in supporting roles opposite Dutch icon Renee Soutendijk with this film being his first lead role in a movie. As Felix Adelaar, a maintenance worker who is having just as many issues at work as well as home because of his wife having issues with him, it is clear why Stapel would become to Maas the same way Robert de Niro would join forces with Martin Scorsese. The two clearly work well together. Willeke van Ammelrooy plays reporter Mieke de Beer, who shows no romantic interest in Felix, but looks for answers as to why the elevators are acting up.

With a sci-fi edge to things, the film’s highlights are the death scenes, most notably the decapitation of a night watchman, played by Gerald Thoolen. At the time, practical effects included a head cast of Thoolen took many takes and as a result when the scene finally is seen on screen, the head itself has a bit of some dirt and smudges. And yet, it is still effective. When the film was a success, Media Home Entertainment released a dubbed version of the film with what appears to possibly be Stapel dubbing his own voice in English as his command of the language is quite impeccable. The film would also feature a trademark that would be featured in Maas’ horror films: the bloody upside-down corpse, in this case, a cleaning man who falls victim to the elevator to the horror of a psychiatrist who works in the building.

The success of The Lift would result in Maas teaming up with producer Laurens Geels to form First Floor Features in 1984. Maas would follow The Lift not with another horror tale yet, but a comedy entitled Flodder. The film revolved around the titular family, who were forced out of their home in the dumps of the city due to government restructuring. The government, realizing their error, decide to move the family to the nouveau riche area of Zonnedaal, where the family, headed up by the chain smokin’ Ma Flodder (Nelly Frijda) and oldest son Johnny (Huub Stapel), causes all sorts of havoc for their new neighbors. The film would be a hit in its native Netherlands when it was released in 1986.

However, in 1987, Maas decided to go back to the horror genre and mesh the serial killer film with a tale of action and set the film in the heart of the capital. The film, Amsterdamned, would star Huub Stapel as Eric Visser, one of Amsterdam’s top detectives, who is tasked with finding a mysterious killer who uses the city’s famed canals as his hunting grounds, using his skills in diving to kill random people. The film’s highlights are not so much the skills but the stunts of the film, with coordinator Dickey Beer even doubling Stapel when the first day where the now famous boat chase scene resulted in Stapel suffering permanent nerve damage to his arm as well as back pain. Forced on the sidelines for three weeks, Stapel returned to finish the film with a harness to quell the pain.

Nevertheless, the film remains perhaps Maas’ most famous film as it was the 3rd highest-selling film at the American Film Market in 1988. In addition, an English dubbed version featured most of the cast dubbing their own voices in English. Maas would also direct the music video of the titular theme song from music group Loïs Lane, which features both Huub Stapel and co-star Barbara Martijn, who played the first victim of the film.

Maas would focus most of the 90s on his Flodder legacy. In 1992, he made the sequel Flodder in Amerika, in which the Flodders and their case manager, Sjakie, played by Amsterdamned co-star Lou Landre, head to New York in an attempt to quell the tension from their antics in the original film. Along the way, they protect a nightclub owner from some thugs, Sjakie gets his own misadventure in the heart of NYC, and more Flodder chaos. The success of the sequel would result in a TV series in which most of the cast, except Huub Stapel would reprise their roles. A third movie, Flodder 3, made up of two stories of the series, would be released in 1995 and the series ended in 1997 after the passing of Stapel’s replacement as Johnny Flodder, Coen van Vrijberghe de Coningh, who suffered a fatal heart attack at the wrap party of season four on November 15, 1994, only 3 days after his 47th birthday.

In 1999, Maas returned to feature films with Do Not Disturb, released in the United States as Silent Witness. The film would mark Maas’ first major international film as the cast featured William Hurt, Jennifer Tilly, Denis Leary, and Michael Chiklis. The story of a 10-year old American girl in Amsterdam witnessing a murder and being chased while her family protects her is quite underrated and makes good use of its setting as well as its cast.

In 2001, Maas decided to revisit his breakout film and modernize it with an international cast. The film is Down, a New York City-set remake of The Lift. James Marshall’s Mark Brown is an ex-Marine cum elevator repairman who teams with reporter Naomi Watts, fresh off her role as an another reporter in another remake, The Ring, to investigate a series of murders in the Empire…err, Millennium Building in NYC. The film, while set in New York City, had exterior shots there with interiors shot in the Netherlands. At a time shortly before 9/11 had hit, the film does have a bit of a twist involving possible terrorism, when we all know what really happened. In 2003, Lionsgate released the film as The Shaft, to capitalize on Watts’ involvement in The Ring with her being prominent on the marketing. However, since then, the film has been released under its original title courtesy of Blue Undergrond.

After Down, Maas left First Floor Features and worked on a short film entitled Long Distance, co-wrote a script with Spetters co-writer Gerard Soeteman, Claim, which stars Billy Zane; and worked on a music video, Zien, in 2004. In 2007, he returned to feature films with Killer Babes (Moordwijven), which sadly never saw a release in the United States. The story can be described as The First Wives Club with a murder-for-hire plot that goes humorously wrong. In other words, it’s a dark comedy. The script was co-written by Maas and his collaborator on the Flodder series, Wijo Koek.

In 2010, Maas returned with the controversial Sint, which was released in the U.S. as Saint. Similar to the 1984 controversy of Silent Night, Deadly Night¸ this film changed the tale of Netherlands’ version of Santa Claus, St. Niklas. Every December 5, Saint Niklas would give presents to all the children who were good. Maas’ vision involved Niklas not being the jolly saint, but rather a child-killing bishop who 400 years ago finally got his when the villagers got their revenge. Since then, every 42 years, when the full moon arrives on December 5, a zombified Niklas and his Zwarte Piets arrives and begin another killing spree.

In the present day, a cop (whose family were victims of the last set of murders) teams up with a college student framed for his friends’ murders to stop Niklas. Similar to Amsterdamned, a chase scene is a highlight only this time, it’s the police going after Niklas, who jumps from rooftop to rooftop on his horse. The big surprise is that after their collaboration on Flodder in Amerika, Maas and Huub Stapel were back together only this time, Stapel himself played the titular Saint, under some heavy make-up for his zombified look. One highlight kill scene involves Niklas confronting a SWAT team member by using his S-shaped scythe, twirling the weapon around the cop’s neck and lopping it off like a guillotine.

Maas followed Sint with a psychological thriller called Quiz, in which a game show host becomes the contestant or a morbid game from a mysterious man who kidnapped the host’s family. The film, like Killer Babes, never saw a release Stateside, but it is the next film that four years after its initial release, finally has seen the film Stateside.

In 2016, Maas unleashed Prey [Prooi], the terrifying tale of a gigantic lion who terrorizes and unleashes a deadly killing spree in Amsterdam. A zoo veterinarian, her on-off boyfriend, and the vet’s ex, a big game hunter must find a way to stop the beast from wreaking even more havoc. The film was another great horror film for Maas because not only is there a combination of CGI and practical effects, but the character development in a love triangle between vet, current on-off boyfriend, and ex-boyfriend is quite well done. The film also has lots of gore, rivaling up there with Sint as one of Maas’ goriest horror films.

After its initial release in 2016, the film was a major hit in China of all places when it was released in 2019, and four years after its initial release, the film was released in the United States as Uncaged on March 17, 2020 on DVD and Digital.

So far, Maas has not done any films since Prooi, but his legacy still earns him his reputation as one of the Netherlands’ top directors. However, in 2019, it was announced that thanks to success of Prey in China, released as Violent Fierce Lion, Maas is planning a project with China Entertainment. A documentary about the filmmaker is in the works with Maas’ full support, courtesy of director Jan Doense. With his expertise in directing, writing, and music, it’s clear that Dick Maas is the Netherlands’ version of John Carpenter.

The Lift, Amsterdamned, and Down are now available on Blu-Ray/DVD combo packs from Blue Underground. Sint is available on DVD from IFC Films. Do Not Disturb is available on DVD from Lionsgate under the title Silent Witness. Finally, Prey is available on DVD and Digital from 4Digital Media under the title Uncaged.

 

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