Youtube Film Club: Amsterdamned (1988)

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Great title, eh? Welcome to a mini-season of reviews of movies based in Amsterdam, because I’m off on my holidays there in a few weeks and it’s not like any of our other review series are crying out to be completed. I’ll try and throw in a little bit of local information too, and if any movie features the houseboat I’ve stayed at a few times (even if it’s just briefly), then it’s getting a thumbs up and a ticket to the ISCFC Hall of Fame.

This might come as handy information if you were worried about watching a Dutch movie, but “Amsterdamned” is remarkably similar to its American counterparts of the time and genre. You’ve got a no-nonsense cop bringing up a daughter on his own; a beautiful woman who’s inexplicably linked to the murderer; plenty of red herrings; an amazing stunt sequence; and overall both a more violent and funny experience.

A sleazy taxi driver tries to rape the sex-worker he’s driving home, and when she fights him off (although she just brushes his first attack off, really wanting that lift), he kicks her out, where she’s immediately set upon and killed by a person unknown, wearing a wetsuit. Then, really escalating matters, he hangs her from a bridge, where she’s discovered the next morning by a tour group, her bloody body leaving a red trail along the glass top before falling in and traumatising some poor kids for life. This whole sequence really lets you know you’re getting it with both barrels, and that’s before we’ve been introduced to the star, cop Eric Visser (Dutch TV / movie mainstay Huub Stapel). He’s an amalgam of every plays-by-his-own-rules cop of the 80s, and has a charming twinkle in his eye throughout.

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You think, briefly, it’s going to be a buddy-cop movie with river-policeman John (Wim Zomer), but he gets sliced up by our aquatic psychopath fairly early on. It’s Eric and his girlfriend Laura (Monique van de Ven, another TV star and former wife of Jan De Bont), a group of pretty hapless cops and Laura’s psychiatrist Vermeer (Serge-Henri Valcke). He’s such a huge red herring, but there’s no-one else in the cast it could really be, so you’ll be wondering if he’s just going to be the killer and screw the obviousness of it, but…nah, I won’t tell you. It’s fun to find these things out! Even if the justification, when it comes, is plenty dumb. Oh, and there’s the bizarre subplot of Eric’s 12 year old daughter and her best friend from school, who’s psychic and correctly traces the killer’s location on multiple occasions (but no-one believes him), but I’ve got no bloody idea what they were trying for there.

As we mentioned before, no US movie would have is the mix of extreme violence and quite broad comedy that “Amsterdamned” has. As the killer hacks his way through Amsterdam, Eric has a cop buddy who does a couple of pratfalls and is pure comic relief, and even the big set pieces have moments of comedy oddly placed in them. It’s unique, I suppose.

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It’s most famous nowadays, though, for its amazing central chase scene, as Eric finally tracks down the killer to a boatyard, then they both get on speedboats and go on a wild pursuit through the city. The sheer access they were given to beautiful central Amsterdam is amazing, and even though it goes on a bit, it’s a brilliantly shot and performed scene (they apparently had to go to Utrecht for a bit of it, as Amsterdam doesn’t have any of the low jetties that some of the stunts required). The scene is apparently a homage to a similar scene, filmed in the same city, from 1971’s “Puppet On A Chain”, which we’ll be covering as soon as we find a copy. Even down to the colour of the boats, which is an impressive touch.

It’s by no means cheap, either. They sink a boat and shoot real diving footage in the wreck, for heaven’s sake! And there’s an impressive attention to detail which a lower-budget production wouldn’t bother with – a case in point. A boat with a brass band on it is featured during the chase, and the conductor of the band is actually director Bert Haanstra, whose 1958 movie “Fanfare” (a Dutch classic, apparently) also features a brass band on a boat.

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Unlike so many movies, it doesn’t shy away from showing you the other side of the city. Now, Amsterdam has cleaned a lot of its central city up now, as money has put a premium on every square foot of land, but back in the late 80s there were some seriously derelict areas, really dirty and ignored. We see the entire city, and even if you’re not a little bit in love with it like I am, it’s interesting as an unvarnished view of an earlier time, and to see how the city, while not changing too much (lots and lots of protected buildings) has evolved. Sadly, it’s not all that interesting for any other reason – it’s a completely by-the-numbers thriller, with people acting like dumbasses just to ensure the killer has plenty of cannon fodder.

Worth watching, just. And be sure to watch the Dutch version with subtitles above, and not the English language version. The main cast actually dubbed themselves in English, but their performances are all a little stilted, as would yours be if you were acting in a language not your own. But one final thing – “Amsterdamned” has an end-credits song that describes the movie that just happened! This is one of my favourite things, and I can’t hate any movie that does it.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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BLACK WOLF MEDIA TO DISTRIBUTE ‘CHAINSAW SALLY: THE MOVIE’

BLACK WOLF MEDIA TO DISTRIBUTE ‘CHAINSAW SALLY: THE MOVIE’ WHILE BLOODY BOMBSHELL ENTERTAINMENT/FATALITY FILMS MOVE INTO PRE-PRODUCTION ON ANIMATED SERIES

Bloody Bombshell Entertainment and Fatality Films have partnered with Some Folks Entertainment to secure a distribution deal with Black Wolf Media for a double-feature release of the films Chainsaw Sally- The Movie and The Good Sisters. Both films were written and directed by cult horror icon Jimmyo Burril.

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Chainsaw Sally- The Movie stars April Burril as Sally and was originally released in 2004. Traumatized after witnessing the murder of her parents as a young girl, the film follows an older Sally as she grows up to be a serial killer. The Good Sisters, also starring A. Burril alongside legendary scream queen Debbie Rochon, features the duo as practicing witches who hide their discretions from their neighbors- until a new neighbor threatens their practice with his own secret life.

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Release dates will be announced in 2015.

This news comes ahead of a second announcement- Bloody Bombshell Entertainment and Fatality Films will be moving into the second phase of pre-production on Chainsaw Sally: The Animated Series this winter. Based on the original Chainsaw Sally film and television series, J. Burril returns as the creative force, and A. Burril will be reprising her role of Sally. Rochon joins the cast as Blondie. The cast has already announced the voice talents of Christopher Judge (Stargate SG-1), Nicholas Brendon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Tristan Risk (American Mary). The series begins animation in early 2015 and will premiere later in the year.

Bloody Bombshell Entertainment- www.bloodybombshell.com
Black Wolf Media- www.blackwolfmediagroup.com

The Chaser (2008)

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Directed by: Na Hong-jin

‘The Chaser’ is partly inspired by the horrific spate of murders that shocked South Korea between 2003 and 2004, carried out by a serial killer named Yoo Young-Chul. Only, ‘The Chaser’ isn’t just about a Serial Killer, or even the Police pursuit of a Serial Killer. It is a story of redemption, as a former Police detective turned pimp reconnects to his conscience.

Eom Joong-ho is a pimp who is concerned about missing girls. Concerned not of their wellbeing, but because he thinks they have defected to work for another rival pimp. Running low on workers he sends his last remaining girl, an ailing Mi-jin, to see a client. Mi-jin is ill with the flue, but being a single Mother who needs money, she reluctantly throws on a dress and goes to work.

Mi-Jin unwittingly walks into the clutches of a notorious serial killer named Je Yeong-min. Yeong-min hog ties Mi-Jin and attempts to bludgeon her to death. Fate intervenes as a local couple call at Yeong-min’s house, enquiring about the whereabouts of the house’s owner. Yeong-min, murders the couple and then tries to get rid of their car. Whilst doing this he bumps into Eom Joong-ho on a narrow street. Joong-ho intuitively figures out that Yeong-min has something to do with his missing girls. He lays the smaketh down on Yeong-min, and in the ensuing scuffle both men are arrested. Whilst this occurs Mi-jin is left for dead on a cold blood stained dirty bathroom floor.

The Police in ‘The Chaser’ are bumbling fools; this is particularly evident during the Police station scene, Joong-ho is irate with Yeong-min and accuses him of taking his girls and then Yeong-min casually admits to killing several people. The Police panic realizing they have a serial killer’s confession but no evidence to hold Yeong-min for longer than twelve hours. This sets up a race against the clock as the Police mindlessly chase around for evidence. Joong-ho realizes Mi-jin could be alive and desperately tries to track her down.

Director Na Hong-jin wonderfully captures the chaos and confusion. The Police are clueless, and I’ve noticed this follows a trend in several South Korean movies which depicts local Police as being hard headed bumbling idiots. The Policemen bicker and squander opportunities to prosecute their man. This leads Joong-ho to make use of his detective skills and try and figure out where he can locate Mi-jin.

The whole movie is jam packed with edge of your seat moments, and twists that you never see coming. I won’t spoil the final quarter of the film, but it is horribly unsettling. ‘The Chaser’ is tense and troubling and another South Korean classic.

 

– RJW

8/10

 

The Chaser on IMDB

I Saw The Devil (2010)

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Directed by: Kim Jee-woon

 

There are two films I never want to see. Spike Lee’s remake of ‘Oldboy’ and Tim Burton’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. I simply love the originals too much. I wonder if other film fans have taken similar action in response to remakes. If you have avoided a remake purely because you love the original film so much then please do get in touch @iscfc.

Anyway, last month I heard that plans are afoot to remake ‘I Saw The Devil’. I suppose this review is a call to those who haven’t yet seen the original to watch it, and I guess if you like it, then maybe you will boycott the remake whenever it is released. But be warned ‘I Saw The Devil’ is an unsettling, tough to stomach revenge film. It’s not nice. In fact it is downright nasty and vicious.

‘I Saw The Devil’ is a classic South Korean revenge thriller. A special agent’s fiancé is slain by a serial killer named Kyung-chul (played by Choi Min-sik) who preys on vulnerable young women. The special agent, who is called Soo-hyun, tracks down his fiance’s killer and toys with him, like a cat playing with a mouse. As the film goes on the line between who is good and who is evil blurs significantly as Soo-hyun becomes more and more deranged himself.

The clever thing about this movie is that it contains all the hallmarks of a good South Korean film, the melodrama, the Shakespearean tragedy, and perhaps more controversially, I would also commend the film’s innovative display of violence. The fight scenes between the killer and agent are choreographed presenting this almost balletic beauty of bloodlust.

Kyung-chul is a snivelling pathetic serial killer. He drives a school bus, and lures his victims by playing the Good Samaritan. Offering to assist women waiting by the bus stop in the rain, or in the case of Soo-hyun’s fiancé whose car had broken down. He’s an opportunist killer, who strikes whenever the victim presents themselves to him as he tours around. Kyung-chul just happened one day to murder the daughter of a Police chief and the fiancé of a special agent and that leads to his downfall.

Soo-hyun goes about tracking his fiance’s killer by basically going down a list of the most prevalent deviant sex offenders in Seoul. He goes beyond traditional Police methods, and assaults each person on the list until he comes across the man who murdered his fiancé. It leads to a showdown in a greenhouse situated on a field in the outskirts of the city, as Soo-hyun comes face to face with Kyung-chul.

The film could have ended there. Soo-hyun could’ve killed Kyung-chul. Instead Soo-hyun perversely decides to prolong the suffering. He inserts a tracking device orally into Kyung-chul, and leaves him in a shallow grave. Kyung-chul is left confused, but despite being battered, a little broken and bruised, he attempts to continue his reign of terror. Only this time, before he can harm his next victim, Kyung-chul is interrupted by Soo-hyun who continues physically and psychologically breaking him down.

In what otherwise might be a horrible piece of torture porn, director Kim Jee-woon is able to add some very dark humour to proceedings. At various points along the film there is some awkward laugh out moments, for example Kyung-chul’s clumsiness in locating his murder weapon in the taxi, and later in the movie his interactions with a trashy cannibalistic serial killer couple. ‘I Saw The Devil’ has depth, it could be because of Choi Min-sik’s magnetic performance, it might also be because of masterful cinematography. Above all else it is a film that illustrates the complexity of evil.

 

– RJW

8/10

 

I Saw The Devil on IMDB

 

A Walk Among The Tombstones (2014)

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Directed by: Scott Frank

A few months ago I got rather excited about the trailer for ‘A Walk Among The Tombstones’ starring everyone’s favourite world weary middle aged arse kicker Liam Neeson. Adapted from one of the many of Lawrence Block’s novels about a New York based private detective named Matthew Scudder, ‘A Walk Amongst The Tombstones’ is a gripping movie that manages to overcome and niftily sidestep its flaws.

There was something about ‘A Walk Among The Tombstones’ which reminded me of Paul Auster’s ‘City of Glass’. It’s the way Scudder works in an old school detective fashion, sticking to what has always worked in order to track down the bad guys whilst simultaneously battling his own demons and dealing with this almost supernatural form of evil. There are moments of the film when Scudder appears lost, until a divine force guides him to the next piece in the jigsaw.

The film begins with a flashback, Neeson is taking a break in a café stoke bar. In an attempt to make him look younger, the make-up department have given him a goatee and a shaggy mane. He sits at the bar reading a paper, knocking back a cup of black coffee and two shots of whiskey – The breakfast of champions. This is important because it tells us that Matthew Scudder had an alcohol problem in those days, and he frequently drank on the job. A couple of crooks storm into the bar; they shoot the bartender with a shotgun and run out in the street. Scudder gives chase and successfully shoots the crooks. But something is amiss, and to avoid spoilers, what really happened on that fateful day is revealed later.

Whatever happened caused Scudder to leave the Police force. Fast forward to 1999, Scudder is a Private Detective; he takes on whatever work he can. When he’s not working he diligently attends alcoholics anonymous meetings. Scudder is contacted by the junkie brother of a former drug dealer. The drug dealer’s wife had been kidnapped and then murdered in a brutal fashion. The drug dealer wants to catch the men who killed his wife. At first Scudder is reluctant to get involved in what seems to be a turf war between rival dealers, but when more facts emerge Scudder is drawn in.

I don’t know if personal tragedy has influenced Neeson’s decision to play lonely men who wonder about their place on earth, but he does it well. He paces the grey streets, and his face fits, among the dark shadows and overcast skies. The supporting cast bring their own forms of bleakness – Boyd Holbrook’s unreliable dishevelled junkie, Olafur Darri Olafsson as the lonely perverted cemetery worker and David Harbour who is terrifying as Ray, the sadistic serial killer.

In adapting the novel the makers of this film decide to leave out a few key characters. The choice is deliberate, making Scudder a loner. But Scudder seeks help from a homeless teen called TJ, who he bumps into at the library. TJ’s ability to use modern technology helps Scudder in his hunt for the killers. TJ then gets in the way, literally, to Scudder’s annoyance, but for me TJ’s introduction hampers the flow of the film, causing Scudder to become this surrogate Father figure.

There’s always a danger that when you adapt from a novel you end up missing key parts of the story. The frantic finale of the film suggests that either the director or studio was afraid of sticking with what happens in ending of the novel, it means that we get a clusterfuck of death and gore which loses impact through poor execution.

– RJW

6/10

 

A Walk Among The Tombstones on IMDB

Memories of Murder (2003)

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Directed by: Bong Joon-ho

With its influence undeniable on suspense filled murder mysteries like ‘Zodiac’ and ‘The Texas Killing Fields’, ‘Memories of Murder’ is a jewel of South Korean cinema containing some unbelievable acting performances. It’s a tale of police incompetence, as Detective Seo Tae-yoon arrives from Seoul to work with a bumbling local police department who are perplexed by a number of grisly murders.

Detective Seo comes up against Detective Park, a man whose methods aren’t exactly by the book. Park intimidates and tortures suspects alongside his high kicking, military boot stomping partner; he looks suspects in the eye because he believes he can tell whether or not they are telling the truth. Events take place in 1986, the body of a young woman is found in a ditch near a rice field, a few days later another body is found, again in a field. Park gets to the scene too late, and the crime scene has been spoiled by bumbling policeman and curious reporters. There’s a humorous background joke, when the camera follows Park irately wandering, he is bemused by panicked policeman who keep slipping down a grass verge.

Seo works out that the murders occurred on a rainy night, and that both victims were wearing red. He looks at a missing persons report and speculates that there may well be a third body lying somewhere, as another young woman disappeared on a rainy night. She was last seen wearing red and sure enough she is found dead. An ambitious female police officer, held back by her male superiors, works out that whenever a murder is committed there a request is made to play a rarely played love song called ‘Sad Letter’ on the local radio station.

There is a real sense of helplessness as the police struggle to get any leads. Any kind of forensic evidence is hard to come by, mainly thanks to the rain washing everything away, and when they do get a semen sample it has to be sent across to an American crime lab, further delaying their investigations. As time goes on it almost appears that the killer is sadistically taunting the officers, as they begin leaving behind objects within his victims. This also could be interpreted as a possibility that there was a copycat killer also on the loose. Certainly director Joon-ho presents the police as flawed, morally duplicitous characters; the unsettling brutal treatment of a mentally handicapped suspect is an especially cruel illustration of this. It seems that if this is the way that things were done back then, it is no wonder that innocent people died, and the guilty didn’t get caught. Inevitably the police get so deep into this case they become obsessed, this clouds their judgement and causes them to overlook key details. Even the rational Seo becomes consumed by frustration.

Given that all the murders occur on a rainy night, the mere fall of raindrops creates so much suspense. The murders don’t seem to make much of a dent with the local populace because there is so much focus on local uprisings, and besides there is an inherent distrust of the police. You really get a sense of rural, small town South Korea; and the political climate of the time. The battle is intimate, between the murderer(s) and the investigation team.

I was on the edge of my seat throughout, and really I haven’t been impressed with a serial killer film since the already mentioned ‘Zodiac’.

– RJW
8/10

Memories of Murder on IMDB

The Iceman (2012)

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Directed by: Ariel Vromen

I was disappointed with ‘The Iceman’. Quite a while back the trailer really did wet my appetite, and I got the impression (perhaps my hopes were raised too high?) that it might possibly be a good no holds barred true crime thriller, especially considered the film’s deliciously stellar cast. Many wiser film fans often ignore trailers. I don’t, for me the film trailer is an art form in itself, and the trailer for ‘The Iceman’ led me to believe I was about to witness something truly shocking.

For once Michael Shannon, an actor who has become rather adept at playing unhinged characters, falters. It’s as if he can’t quite get in touch with the role. Playing a real life murderous psychopath that is so far disconnected from the act of murder is of course not an easy task, but it’s as if a personality as sinister and damaged as Richard Kuklinski could not be translated on screen. Shannon really had a thankless task.

The other fault is the film’s timeline which covers several decades. The film begins in the sixties where Kuklinski awkwardly romances Deborah (Winona Ryder) and together the couple have a couple of kids and struggle by in suburbia. Kuklinski keeps secrets from his wife; the biggest perhaps is his turbulent past. Kuklinski endured an abusive childhood, as a teenager he was savagely beaten and like most disturbed young men, in retaliation he tortured animals, and then turned his anger out on people. He did not value human life.

Kuklinski is hired by Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta), an edgy mob boss, who is impressed by Kuklinski’s icy exterior. Liotta, dating back to ‘Goodfellas’ has usually been a dependable mob figure, but for whatever reason like with most aspects of ‘The Iceman’ he doesn’t quite click. His cokehead jitter is tired, and I can’t be the only one who was alarmed by Liotta’s prominent eyeliner. If looking for plus points, and we’re not talking about the sleazy James Franco cameo, then Chris Evans as Robert Pronge is the film’s standout performer. Arguably more psychotic, the wiry Pronge represents an almost cartoonish form of evil.

But aside from the acting, let’s get back to the timeline. We jump a decade pretty quickly, entering the decadent seventies. Kuklinski grows a terrible moustache, and continues to bump off people for DeMeo until he makes an error, ending up on hitman’s gardening leave. This leads him to take work from Pronge. It’s tricky to capture twenty years, and I suppose we’re given the impression that all violence dished out by Kuklinski goes by in a blur. The victims are deliberately faceless. It’s just hit after hit after hit.

‘The Iceman’ tries to humanize Richard Kuklinski, and seems to ignore key real life events. Kuklinski was a serial killer before he became a hitman, one might argue there’s not too much difference, but he killed for pleasure of the hunt long before he killed for pay. This is glossed over. We see Kuklinski killing a guy in a pool hall car park after a disagreement, but we don’t see the stalking, how he mercilessly preyed upon his victims.

To base a film upon a serial murderer it would be assumed that you would need to present the true nature of evil, and the complexities of an upbringing which drove Kuklinski to commit so many violent acts. Those interested in learning about Richard Kuklinski would probably be better off watching the HBO documentary ‘The Iceman Confesses: Secrets of a Mafia Hitman’.

– RJW
4/10

The Iceman on IMDB

Someone’s Knocking At The Door (2009)

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A group of medical students, in varying stages of drug addiction, start rapidly falling apart when one of their number is found brutally raped and murdered by a serial killer thought to be long dead. Or do they?

I was tempted to leave the review at that, but we don’t get the big bucks (current ISCFC wages: £0) for writing two sentences. This film is billed as a throwback to the days of grindhouse, where blood was chucked about liberally, political correctness was an unknown concept and blah blah blah violence and sex. Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, this lineage of cinematic rubbish (seriously, try and watch some “real” grindhouse films and see how long you last before your brain just gives up) is now influencing a new generation of filmmakers, including the makers of this.

The one thing this film absolutely nails is the tedium of drug talk. Now, my friend (definitely not me) told me many stories of getting stoned as a University student, and the endless boring conversations that would break out in the room. People congregated because they liked drugs, not because they liked each other, and there was always that passive-aggressive asshole who everyone wanted to beat the crap out of. “Someone’s Knocking…” ramps it up a bit, but otherwise it’s distressingly well-observed and made me, er, my friend, flash back to those bad old days.

The students are experimenting with a drug called Taldon, and for reasons unknown this causes a long-dead psychopathic rapist-murdering married couple to come back to life and start killing people again. Or does it? There are arrests, strangeness and a pivotal moment where the cast decide to visit the disused records wing of an old psychiatric hospital to find the information about the killer and what they can do to stop him.

I’m still not quite sure what to make of this film. As with all films featuring mental breakdown and heavy drug use, you can be fairly sure there’s going to be a “whoops it was a dream” fakeout at some point; and the slightly unreal nature of even the most tedious of scenes leaves you with a sense of never being able to get a handle on things. The sound is absolutely magnificent and whoever did all that should be working on much bigger films immediately – auditory hallucinations abound, and it’s the most effective part of the characters descent into their own hells.

But as far as the film itself goes, I don’t think I can recommend it. It’s like a teenager trying to do handbrake turns during his first driving lesson, and although you can get a sense of what the filmmakers are trying to do, they’ve a love of gore over plot combined with a really trite ending to cope with. But I think they could really do something good. Director Chad Ferrin is used to working at the no-budget end of things, but give him a better script and a few $$$ and I think he could become a director worth watching.

 

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