'Strange' doings in Holland as horror returns


AMSTERDAM -- For more than a decade, Dutch directors have been avoiding horror films like the plague. However, a new generation of filmmakers have lately embraced the genre, prompting the upcoming Dutch Film Festival in Utrecht, set for Sept. 27-Oct. 6, to program a special section called "Nederhorror and other strange phenomena," to include three world premieres of local horror pics.

Ever since 1992, when "The Johnsons," the tale of a monster-embryo directed by Rudolf van den Berg, flopped at the boxoffice, Dutch filmmakers, producers and financiers have been scared of the genre.

"The Dutch Film Fund and most producers thought the genre was not artistic enough. And Dutch broadcasters -- essential to get sufficient funding -- have never been eager to invest. So a lot of Dutch horror projects were killed before they were born," explains Jan Doense, known in the Netherlands as Mr. Horror because of his 20-year involvement with the Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival. "The Film Fund, with new people in charge, is now interested in supporting local horror. They see now the potential," Doense adds.

The stark fact is that the only Dutch director who scored horror hits in local cinemas is Dick Maas, attracting millions of viewers with "The Lift" (1983) and "Amsterdamned" (1988). Maas discovered the limits of the genre on an international level when his remake of "The Lift," the English-language co-production "Down" (2001) starring Naomi Watts, was an unqualified flop.

The new wave of Dutch horror directors comes from a different background. They were raised in a period when the local cinemas were drenched with such U.S. productions as "Halloween," "Hellraiser" and the "Scream" series. "We are more into horror than the previous generation of Dutch directors," says producer Nick Jongerius, 29, who together with his partner, director Erwin van den Eshof, also 29, made the teenage slasher movie "Doodeind" (Deadend), the first local horror to reach Dutch cinemas in 15 years.

At Utrecht, the second major Nederhorror premiere, "Sl8n8" (Slaughter Night), deals with the effects of ecstasy on students trapped in a mineshaft. The festival will also present "Horizonica," a low-budget production in which a deadly virus brings out the worst in humankind. Later this year, the Dutch horror flick "Exhibition," directed by Rudolf van den Berg, will begin shooting, and in 2007 the zombie pic "Woensdag, Gehaktdag" (Wednesday, Chopping Day) will go into production.

"If a few of these films are successful, it could result in many more Dutch horror productions," Doense says. "There is definitely an audience for this kind of entertainment in Holland. Let us hope we can build some kind of tradition."