Amsterdamned (1988): Still Quite a Thriller (Review)

Monique Van De Ven and Huub Staple

Amsterdamned is a taut thriller written and directed by Dick Maas and starring Huub Stapel  and Monique van de Ven (who starred with a young Rutger Hauer in the 1973 cult classic film Turkish Delight).   Maas as a director made films that looked polished and suitable for marketing in the United States, indeed, world-wide and Amsterdamned was no exception. The film is still quite good and having aged exceedingly well provides a number of solid scares.

The story of a serial killer who haunted the canals in Amsterdam was actually edge of the seat viewing when the film came out. I watched the Dutch video when it was released in 1989, sans subtitles, and only catching around every other word, it had me watching the scarier bits through my fingers.

Huub Stapel is Eric Visser who is a single parent raising his daughter Anneke (Tatum Dagelet). Eric is also a more than capable detective on the Amsterdam police force.  A prostitute is murdered along a canal in the capital. Her body is strung upside down from a low-water bridge. The bloody body is drug across the glass top of a scenic boat full of tourists and school children.  

This traumatizing event is the start of a string of bodies left in and around the canals. Eric must catch the killer before he is taken off the case. Along the way he meets and romances Laura (van de Ven) a tour guide at a local museum.

Amsterdamned  is dark, tense and damned scary in places. There is an underwater scene in a sunken canal boat that will make you jump and the action is well choreographed and pretty thrilling.  There are plenty of twists and turns and this police drama is more horror than suspenseful thriller.

Anyone who has traveled to Amsterdam will know that the canals are full of rubbish, until they have been dredged, and bacteria that can make the hapless person who falls in very ill.  The same world traveler will recognize that some of the excellent boat chase stunts took place in Utrecht and not Amsterdam. The cafe settings are much closer to the canal than any in the country’s capital city.

Maas sets the scenes very well and manages to make the film scream by in terms of pacing. At almost two hours long the film should have a few slow spots but does not.  Even the scenes with Eric’s daughter and her “boyfriend” (which do feel a tad like filler) do not detract from the storyline. One scene, in fact, has  a lovely fillip to the proceedings that is impressive and chill inspiring.

For  a “slasher” serial killer film, there is a surprising lack of gore.  Certainly there are the odd limbs scattered here and there and, apart from the murdered prostitute at the start,  not much in the way of claret.

In many ways the film feels like a homage to every American detective movie made in the 1980s. Most of the detectives wear leather jackets and the music is evocative of most crime  films that featured heavy police work and a high body count.

It should be noted that Huub Stapel worked with Maas on the 1986 film Flodder  and its first sequel Flodder in America!.

Amsterdamned is still cracking cinema that delivers as much of a punch now as it did in 1988.  This horror/thriller continues to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat and provides enough scares to impress.

This is a 5 star film. The special effects are quite good for the time and the tight direction, excellent cast and the taut/scary storyline makes for an almost perfect film.  It can be seen on YouTube, in its entirety, with English subtitles.

‘Kidnapping Mr. Heineken’ a Record Breaking Ransom Story

Film Poster for Kidnapping Mr. Heineken
Kidnapping Mr. Heineken is the story behind the record breaking ransom asked and paid for Freddy Heineken to be released in 1983. Based upon the true story, this film is the second telling of the event, the first being the 2011 film The Heineken Kidnapping starring Rutger Hauer as the billionaire beer magnate. The first film was a Dutch production and it admitted to being a “fictionalized” version of the real abduction of Heineken and his driver.

Both films are based upon Dutch reporter Ken R. de Vries’ version of events who wrote about the crime based on interviews with the two leaders behind the kidnapping. Interestingly, Willem Holleeder, who was second in command to Cor van Hout, tried to have the Dutch film banned from cinemas and failed. Reporter de Vries has publicly denounced both the versions of the film, the one in 2011 and the most recent 2014 movie, saying that things have been portrayed inaccurately.

The story is set in 1983 and tells of a group of friends who need money decide to kidnap Freddy Heineken. In reality, if an informant had not called the police and tipped them off to Cor and Willem, along with the rest of the group, there is a good chance they would never have been caught. The film would have had a completely different ending or perhaps never have been made.

Directed by Daniel Alfredson (Wolf, Echoes of the Dead) the film stars Anthony Hopkins as Heineken, Sam Worthington as Willem Holleeder and Jim Sturgess as Cor van Hout. The rest of the cast do a good job in their respective roles and feature actors from Holland and from France.

A couple of things about the film stand out, leaving out the odd mistake here and there such as the color of the Heineken bottles in 1983 being incorrect and Heineken dying in 2003 rather than 2002. Firstly, Hopkins, with his wispy white hair and stubble, resembles the late actor Klaus Kinski more than he does the real life Heineken. Secondly, filming took place in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and it helps with the overall authenticity of the action and for anyone who has lived there it offers a sense of familiarity.

The plot, based upon the real events as related to de Vries, follows what went into the kidnapping which resulted in the record breaking ransom request of 35 million Guilders, back before the currency was replaced by the Euro. It also shows how the friends fell out after arguing over just about everything once the object of the abduction was caught and being held against his will.

These disagreements carried over into the receipt of the money and ended with the gang going their separate ways and, as stated just before the closing credits, never got together again. Hopkins, as Heineken tells one of the men that one can either be successfully monetarily in life or have lots of friend, but never both. The film seems to prove his homily to be true.

According to the film, a good portion of the ransom was never recovered. One thing not mentioned, but alluded to, is that prison sentences in Holland tend to be pretty light compared to other countries. Frans “Spikes” Meijer, played by Mark van Eeuwen (Rendez-Vouz, Finn) pleaded insanity as was sentenced to incarceration in a psychiatric hospital where he easily escaped.

The closing message also states that a good portion of the money was never recovered and that the two “leaders;” van Hout and Holleeder, went on to become the “godfathers” of The Netherlands until the former was assassinated in 2003. Regardless of the true facts and how close the film did or did not portray them, the movie is a fascinating look at how the criminals fell apart after committing the most infamous caper in the world.

A good solid “based on a true story” film with capable performances from all concerned and extremely entertaining. 3.5 out of 5 stars with a drop due to the inaccuracies in the film and the fact that Hopkins did look more like Kinski than Heineken. Steaming on US Netflix and worth a look.

Miley Cyrus Twerking and Toking on Amsterdam Stage

Miley Cyrus Twerking and Toking on Amsterdam Stage

Just when it appeared that Miley Cyrus could not be more controversial if she tried, the 20 year-old entertainer has managed to top her MTV VMA performance. By twerking with a “little person” and toking a spliff/joint/marijuana (or insert slang name of choice here) cigarette live onstage in Amsterdam at the MTV EMA event, she has outdone herself, once again.


Name dropping Pt 5 or Van der Valk pt 2

After my huge disappointment at not having  Peter Snow write a part for me in that episode of the New Van der Valk, life went on as normal. I kept doing adverts for the AFN guys and presented (for a very short time) a program called Why and How. But I was no longer having to rely on the chaps at AFN for acting work.

I had done a commercial for Tonka Turbo Tricksters with the production company Fireside Productions. I had gotten that job because the casting folks were the same ones who had hired me for Murder Story. I had been cast as a motorcycle cop even though I had shown up late on the day of the Amsterdam auditions. The train was late, something unheard of in Holland,  which in turn made me late, an unforgivable sin in the entertainment industry. I know, it cost me a job years ago when, despite running at the speed of sound, I was late by two whole seconds for an interview in an office building just off Sunset Blvd. But regardless of that obvious faux pas, I was the fair haired boy and I was given another audition in Rotterdam the next day.

My champion at the casting company was Patricia. Patricia called me to let me know of work on another Van der Valk. I rang and talked to Ian, the chap who I had dealt with on the other audition. The pay wasn’t very good, but I did not have to perform for anyone this time. It involved about a half days work so I said yes.

When I arrived I met the other two chaps I would be working with. The first was Ian Gelder another jobbing actor who I have seen in many other shows. He was friendly and welcoming, not mention good fun to work with. The second was Frank Vincent Ogilvy a Scottish actor working mainly in Holland. We would also be working with Melanie Thaw, the adopted daughter of that great actor John Thaw, and Richard Huw, who was making a name for himself in the UK.Ms Thaw was lovely. A stunning blonde with a willowy figure and full of grace and charm. She came up and introduced herself to the three of us. “Oh, you must be the actors I’ll be working with today. Pleased to meet you, I’m sure we’ll have a good time today.” Frank and I were stunned as she shook our hands and then wandered off to find the director Jim Goddard. The reason we were so surprised by her actions is that in this particular episode we were literally part of the furniture. Ian was a gangster type and we were to be seated with him in a disco. That was it. Now Richard Huw’s attitude towards us was more in character. He ignored us completely. If he did spare us a look, it was one of utter disdain. Not so nice.

It was on this shoot I discovered the joys of continuity. I had been given an option of smoking in this scene. There was already a huge cloud of smoke from the dry ice machine. This was a dance floor in a bar in the 90’s. Smoking socially had not yet been banned. I thought, hello! No waiting for set-ups, filming, or anything else to have a smoke. How wonderful, I thought.

I was wrong.

John Thaw
John Thaw (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Due to the number of re-takes required because young Richard kept fluffing his lines, every time they started filming again, the continuity lady stopped everything. The reason was my cigarette, or rather the length of it. When she checked the monitor, she found that it was at the wrong length. Either too long or too short. This turned out to be real pain, until someone found a pair of scissors so I could cut the cigarettes into varying lengths.

Despite this setback, the day was great fun. The director had a vocabulary that would make a sailor blush and made Melanie fall about laughing every time he gave a “blue” direction. Because the location was in a real bar and it was Franks birthday, we got given real single malt Scotch whiskey in our glasses instead of the usual apple juice. Ian was paranoid in case the director found out. But as far as I know he did not.

By the end of the day, I was barely able to breathe, my back was killing me from the awkward position I had sat in for the scene and I was slightly tipsy. Just as well I had taken the train down. I also had two new contacts and their phone numbers for future work opportunities. Jim Goddard had graciously given me his and I had gotten the assistant directors number as well.

Name dropping, pt 4

Van der Valk, Season 1 DVD box cover
Van der Valk, Season 1 DVD box cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I got another call from my friend at AFN to tell me that they were casting for the new Van der Valk series that was so popular in England. The crime series followed the Dutch police detective Van der Valk as he solved various crimes. He was played by the late actor Barry Foster. You might know him as the killer in Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy. A brilliant actor he had helped make Van der Valk a hit in the seventies.So once again I went down to Amsterdam to meet with the assistant director and to my surprise the writer.  Of course the most surprising thing was that the writer was none other than Peter Snow. Peter had been a mainstay on British televisionfor years. He was a presenter and he also used to show how the general elections were going. A very nice chap to meet and to talk to.I was going for a non-speaking roll. The set up was this: A nightclub owner has just had his opening artist murdered. He has had a close relationship with the artist for years. He is desperate to talk to anyone in order to take his mind off his distress. I was to play a beer delivery man who doesn’t want to talk at all. We auditioned in pairs. I played the delivery man to my partners nightclub owner. We got given our directions and the camera rolled and we started.I pushed in my imaginary trolley full of beer. The nightclub owner started talking awkwardly to me. I shot him a glance and ignored him. Cut! “Michael?” This from the director. “Yes.” I replied. “You just don’t want to talk to him, you don’t want to murder him! Can we tone that look down a bit?” Much laughter from everyone in the room including me. “Sorry. I’ll try to lose the Homicidal Look.” I did my bit again, this time with no interruptions and we were then switched around. I would be the nightclub owner this time.

I was slightly lost. What did a nightclub owner do? I decided that as we were in Holland and that this nightclub served beer, it would sort of be like a pub. If there was one thing I knew about it was pubs and publicans. So we got set up, cameras rolled and… Action! I started wiping down the imaginary bar and polishing imaginary glasses. The delivery man strolls in and I say “Hello mate, you all-right?” Very English old boy. Immediately every head in the room swivelled in my direction. Uh-oh, I thought, I’ve either done something very good or very wrong. Not sure of whether what I had done was either I continued being the English publican for the rest of the scene. When we had finished, the director asked if I would mind very much doing that for the rest of the actors auditioning for the delivery man. So I did…about twenty more times.

At the end of the day, the folks that had been cast were told what they would be doing. When they got to me the director said, “Sorry Michael we have nothing for you today.” Before I could say anything, he finished with,”But Peter liked what you did so much as the nightclub owner, he is writing you a part in the show.” I was flabbergasted. I looked dazedly at Peter and he was nodding his head in affirmation. The director then asked if there was any time when I would not be available for shooting. I said yes, we had a NATO tactical evaluation in the first week of June. My new boss had never gone through one before and I needed to show him how things worked. The director nodded and wrote something in his notebook. “Okay, Michael, thank you. We will call you when Peter is finished.”

Peter Snow, Television presenter
Peter Snow, Television presenter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I never heard from the director or Peter again. It turned out much later that the time period  I was not available for was right when they would be shooting that episode.I did get to work on Van der Valk eventually but not on that episode and in a part not as big or exciting.

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