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.

Reborn on the Fourth of July

RAF Mildenhall
RAF Mildenhall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The USAF sent me to the United Kingdom in 1982. It was not problem, I had volunteered to go. My first marriage had died a pretty messy death and the airbase I was at held too many harsh memories. My unit commander had suggested I put in a transfer request. He said that he happened to know there was still a place or two left open in England.

Alamogordo Air Force Base in New Mexico was my first assignment in the Air Force. I had just changed jobs and my new commander was a “re-tread” an officer who had been promoted from the enlisted ranks. He was one hell of a guy.

He had been stationed at RAF Mildenhall years before and had loved it. His idea was to get me away from the memories that were making my life a misery. I put in for a transfer and got it. We were a small career field  so it was a bit easier to get ‘choice’ assignments.

I drove my immediate superior’s car to Dover AFB. She was being reassigned to Germany and wanted to ship her car. On my way I stopped by and visited with my son, my parents and the rest of my family. Sad, bitter thoughts kept me from enjoying anyone’s company too much and I was anxious to “get going” and start forgetting.

I flew into England via the “Freedom Bird.” The Freedom Bird was usually a stretched commercial aircraft, stretched meant that it had moved the seats closer together so they could fit more military personnel on the flights. It was cramped and uncomfortable. This commercial aircraft was dubbed the Freedom Bird because it, or another one like it, would be the aircraft that would take us back to the USA when our assignment was over.

The minute my feet hit the tarmac in England I fell in love. Instinctively I felt that I this was the place I had always been looking for. I had conflicting emotions running through my head. I was excited, relieved, expectant, and sad all at the same time.

I was also jet lagged.

England was a welcome change for me. I got the chance to ‘live’ my life again. After a few years I fell in love with a girl from Cambridge. We tied the knot and we moved to The Netherlands for four and a half years. While we were there she gave birth to our beautiful daughter. And we made plans to move back to England when our stint in Holland was over.

Then I got out of the Air Force in 1993 (under the downsizing drill in 1992) and made England my home. I became a British citizen and my visits home had to stop due to lack of funds.

Fast forward to 2011. My second marriage was over. Thankfully for different reasons than my first one, I’d learned that much at least, but it lasted a lot longer than my first marriage. The first thing I knew I had to do was to go home and visit.

My daughter and I flew over for a two week ‘rest period’ and as luck would have it, we would be in the USA over the Fourth of July.

English: Downtown Miami on July 4, 2007
English: Downtown Miami on July 4, 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We spent the holiday at my brother’s house with his family. He went all out for my daughter’s first 4th of July in America. She saw her first baseball game and saw her first firework display at the ripe old age of 21. She fell in love with ‘live’ baseball and America. She will be coming back to live and work there.

She also saw her first Rodeo and got to see a lot of the places I’d lived and visited when I was a whole world younger. She also got to visit family she’d either never met before or she’d only met when she was too little to really remember.

Something else happened on that flight home. Something important.

It started on the flight over. I sat (watching one of the in-flight movies) and my eyes started watering and I got a lump in my throat. I was going home. I hadn’t been there since 1990. It was a little overwhelming. The culmination of this feeling came on the 4th itself.

As we sat watching the brilliant firework display put on by the town of Coppell, Texas tears ran down my face as I ‘taped’ the colourful explosions. I suddenly remembered that I was an American.

It was like being reborn.

I had spent so many years ‘overseas’ that I had forgotten what I was, where I was from, and who I was deep down. I had begun to think of myself as a citizen to of world and of course I was an British citizen as well.  I think that visit helped both my daughter and me a great deal.

We still live and work  in England but life has changed. We both discovered our ‘roots’ last year. My daughter for the first time and I got back in touch with mine. So while I’m setting here writing this, I am reliving last years 4th of July celebrations. The smell of the popcorn and other delicious foods at the ballgame and the sounds and smells of the fireworks.

So even though I was born in September, I was reborn on the 4th of July.

English: A chocolate cake during the 4th of July
English: A chocolate cake during the 4th of July (Photo credit: Wikipedia)