DAMNED Fine Movies

Making their debut in impressive hi-def upgrades are two ’80s horror films from Dick Maas, the Dutch John Carpenter. The Lift (’83) is about a psychopathic elevator (it goes all the way to the top and then some); Amsterdamned (’88) has a psychopathic serial killer who wears a wetsuit and prowls Amsterdam’s canals, picking off his luckless victims with sadistic ingenuity.

Silly as both plots may sound, each works as far as the demented logic (or its opposite) often in more absurdist horror films, like Halloween. The production values, acting and direction are far more detailed and expansive than usually expected from such films. In Amsterdamned in particular, we get a nice overview of one of Europe’s more interesting, unusual cities.

Given the confining nature of the plot, The Lift is mostly limited to an office building with elevators that have taken on a life of their own. Or not. The opening sequence shows two wild and crazy Dutch couples leaving the building’s restaurant on the upper floor, with booze in their blood and sex on their brains. Screwing around in the elevator, they nearly die when the system stalls the car between floors and the air conditioning turns to heat.

Other colorful methods of attack and demise include a blind man punching the wrong button, a guy who sticks his head where he shouldn’t and a little girl with her doll.

The film’s unlikely hero is Felix Adelaar (Huub Stapel), an elevator company service technician in charge of the building’s lifts. He tries to figure out what’s going on. The bad guys are a familiar breed: corporate bigwigs-in-bed-with-an-electronics-firm that’s developed a new microchip capable of literally taking on organic life.

Add a bolt of lightning to the brew, and there’s your plot.

Like Carpenter, Maas provides his own synthesizer music for both The Lift and Amsterdamned. Again like Carpenter, whose creepy theme presaged every appearance of Michael Myers in Halloween, Maas prepares us for the next jolt with a tonal riff. It’s corny but it works.

Everything about Amsterdamned’s approach to suspense would seem to indicate the shadow of Carpenter, yet in the director’s commentary on the new release, Maas credits Spielberg’s Jaws as his major influence (John Williams, by inference). As unlikely as that sounds, this particular elevator does demonstrate a healthy appetite, dining to music.

The script pads out a slim story with a side plot involving Saskia (Josine van Dalsum), Felix’s wife. She suspects he’s having an affair with reporter Mieke (Willeke van Ammelrooy) who sniffs a good story in the works. The Lois Lane kind of gal and the hunky mechanic are capable dealing with the curious vertical monster, but their relationship is strictly platonic.

Huub Stapel returns as the lead in Amsterdamned, this time playing city detective Eric Visser, who has to plumb the city’s canals for a killer who’s been methodically killing the locals. The Jaws influence is obvious in the first scene; it resembles Spielberg’s classic opening in several ways.

After a long night, a cab driver kicks a hooker out of his cab when she refuses to give him a freebie. Meanwhile, someone’s tracking all the action below the surface of the water, bubbles rising from his breathing apparatus. As the wretched slattern tries to gather her scattered things, the rubber-suited killer strikes with a long knife, pulling his prey into the water.

In the morning, her butchered body, dangling from a city bridge, shocks a boatload of tourists.

That’s the first of many such murders, gleefully concocted by Mass, again tripling as writer, composer and director. A whodunit of sorts, the script deliberately leads us to suspect the killer’s identity a little more than halfway through, only to uncork another surprise with the final unmasking. Contrived? Maybe, but Amsterdamned, like The Lift, will appeal to horror fans, a rare breed of viewers as forgiving as they are finicky.