The films of cult Dutch director Dick Maas are as notorious for their difficulty to see as for their often graphic depictions of murder and mayhem. Released today on DVD, his latest effort Saint (2010) – starring Huub Stapel, Bert Luppes and Egbert Jan Weeber – gives a new and murderous twist to the seasonal legend of St Nicholas. CineVue caught up with the director, and discovered that some of his personal views can be as controversial as his films.
Cleaver Patterson: Saint was shown at Film4 FrightFest in August. How did it go down with the fans?
Dick Maas: Mainly good reactions. There are people who hate the movie and people who love it. When you go into the cinema expecting an all-out gore movie, you can be disappointed. There’s action, some gore, some jokes. There are also fantasy elements.
CP: In Saint you poke fun at traditions like St. Nicholas. Do you think there’s a place to do that with things like Christmas or religion as a whole, which is important to so many people?
DM: Why not poke fun at religion? The Catholic church can use a big spanking. They’ve used St. Nicholas, the bishop of Myra, for ages as a promotional tool for their own cause. I think the Pope is one of the greatest villains of our time. Needs his own movie too. THE POPE is coming! Hide your children!
CP: There’s a sense the mayor and officials are trying to cover up the children’s deaths and are paying for Frank’s silence at the end of the film. Were you trying to make a political statement or did it just fit the storyline?
DM: Government officials are constantly covering things up. That’s common knowledge. So it’s an obvious statement to make. Of course it suited the storyline, but what else could they tell? Saying that a big part of the Amsterdam population has been slaughtered by a Catholic Bishop does not win you much votes in the polls.
CP: A lot of ‘violence’ is aimed at children in Saint, e.g. with Timmie and later the children in the hospital, which can be quite disturbing. Was this intentional?
SM: St. Nicolas is always depicted as a good-hearted man, who loves children. With all the scandals that saw the light of day in the past years – grown-up men, dressed in red robes, putting children on their laps – should be met with the greatest suspicion. So, I show the real face of St. Nicholas, a disturbed killer. And age doesn’t count.
CP: Huub Stapel, who plays St. Nicholas, and Bert Luppes who plays Goert, have been in several of your films. You obviously work well together?
DM: I worked with Huub in five films. He’s a friend and when I have a part for him and he likes it, we work together. Bert had a very small part in Amsterdamned (1988). He’s now a famous stage actor in the Netherlands. I immediately thought of him for the part of the detective.
CP: When Sophie is attacked whilst babysitting her brother Timmie, there are echoes of Halloween (1978). There’s also touches of The Fog (1980) with the harbour police being attacked on their fogbound boat. What influence has the slasher genre had on you?
DM: Halloween was a movie that influenced me very much in the seventies. But I didn’t deliberately start out to pay homage to those Carpenter movies. Of course I was aware of the similarities, but it was also hard to avoid them. And a steadicam shot of three girls walking home after school through the snow will always be compared to Halloween, but I don’t mind.
CP: As with Amsterdamned, the city plays a major part in Saint. What is it about Amsterdam that you love and how does it lend itself particularly to film making?
DM: Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s very cinematic. It is a character in the movie. In Amsterdamned I explored the canals, and the lower underground of the city. In Do Not Disturb I did the same on street level. In Saint I went up on the rooftops and looked down on the city.
CP: Many of your films like Amsterdamned and now Saint have gained cult status, yet have not had wide distribution and are often notoriously hard to see. How difficult is it for filmmakers like yourself to get films made and seen by an international audience?
DM: Luckily, Saint will be distributed all over the world. The problem with most of my other movies is, that I don’t own the rights any more, so I don’t have a say in the distribution. I can only hope that someday that will change and that my movies will be distributed, uncut and in good quality, all over the world. I put my movie Flodder on my website (www.dickmaas.com). It’s a dubbed/subtitled version, free for everyone to see.
CP: What’s your next project?
DM: My next movie is Quiz, the story of a famous game-show host who has an appointment with his wife and daughter in an Italian restaurant. They fail to show up on time. Then a weird guy comes up to his table and claims to have kidnapped his wife and daughter. The game-show host now has to answer ten questions within one hour if he wants to see his wife and child back alive. We finished shooting last week and are in the middle of editing. The film will be completed early next year.