Dick Maas Interview

Dick Maas is a controversial Dutch filmmaker who has spent over 30 years in the feature-film business, creating films such as bonkers Dutch-language flick Amsterdammed and William Hurt starrer Do Not Disturb (also set in Amsterdam).

Recently he’s grabbed the headlines all over his native Netherlands, with his twisted Christmas horror film Saint, a demented take on the legend of jolly Saint Nicholas. In Maas’s comedic horror, jolly old Santa is a burns-victim horseriding ghost of a psychotic, child-murdering rouge Bishop, returning to modern-day Amsterdam to wreak havoc on families and steal all their children.

Sound insane? It is.

Gorepress’s Boston Haverhill had a chance to ask him a few questions, and Maas comes across as a smart, serious and amiable gentleman, happy to share his thoughts on filmmaking and the creation of Saint.  See below as Maas talks about making myths, broken horses and really pissing off St. Nicholas lovers…

GOREPRESS: First up, I caught a screening of Saint at Frightfest this year and it’s a truly original piece of work – congratulations! Where did the idea for Saint come from?

DICK MAAS: I always wanted to do something with this cult figure.  In Holland the St. Nicholas celebration, every year on December 5th, is the biggest yearly celebration.  St. Nicholas is more popular than our queen. He is always portrayed as a nice, children-loving guy, and I wanted to show his dark side. I started to work on the script about ten years ago and it went through several drafts before it hit its final form.

GP: The history of St Niklas is a murky one – why did you choose this particular imagining?

DM: I invented my own legend.  There are a lot of stories about St. Nicholas and no one knows which one is true. The Catholic Church also used the guy for public relation purposes.  Especially nowadays, a child loving bishop like St. Nicholas can be very helpful, given the flak they’re taking on child molesting issues. For my story I turned him into a rogue bishop that was burned alive by villagers in the 15th Century.  Every time it’s a full moon on the 5th of December he will return to take revenge. And that happens on an average of once in every 32 years.

GP: Have you had any trouble from the Church regarding your depiction of this psychotic, rogue bishop?

DM: Not from the Catholic Church itself.  There was some commotion in Bari, Italy, where his relics are buried.  And St. Nicholas societies in Holland and Belgium were opposing the movie. And they really protested the poster we made for the movie.  They wanted to ban the poster from the street and cinema’s in Holland. They went to court but the court ruled in our favor and judged there was nothing wrong with the poster and we didn’t cross the boundaries of good behavior. Because of the uproar, the awareness of the movie was very good, and it helped the box office.

GP: Niklas’s horse takes an absolute battering in the film – were any animals harmed in the making of Saint?!

DM: We had a favorite stunt horse from Germany and I am sorry to say he sprained his ankle by the first test run in front of the elevated greenscreen we had. So we had to use another stunt horse.  For several shots we use different horses because they all have different skills.  We used four horses in the shoot.  The only horse that got hurt was the horse that fell from four stories high on the police car.  But that was a dummy horse.

GP: What was the hardest part of the production process?

DM: The horse chase across the Amsterdam rooftops was the most difficult to shoot.  We shot mid-time winter and it was very cold.  For several nights we had to go up the roofs and shoot the plates for the chase. Then we had to figure out how to shoot a galloping horse and put the elements together.  For a few shots we used a 3D digital horse, but for the most part we used a real horse, shot against greenscreen.  We also put a horse on a treadmill to achieve shots of him running.

GP: The festivities and traditions shown in Saint are different to that of other cultures, including those in the UK and America. Are you concerned some of the film’s impact will be lost in translation?

DM: I’m afraid that is the case. There are so many aspects and details to the celebration that foreign audiences don’t grasp. And some of it gets lost in the translation. For instance there are the St. Nicholas songs that the children sing in front of the fireplace every year.  In the movie I explain what the lyrics really mean and that gives the songs a different, more horrible meaning.  On the other hand, at the screening I attended at Tribeca and recently at Frightfest, the audience reaction wasn’t much different from that in Holland.  People were laughing and jumping out of their seats at the same moments.

GP: What is your favourite Christmas film? And what’s your favourite Christmas horror?!

DM: I really can’t think of one.  It’s a Wonderful Life springs to mind.

GP: What’s next for Dick Maas? Any chance of a Saint sequel?

DM: At the moment I’m editing my next movie QUIZ.  It’s a thriller about a famous game show host who has a dinner appointment with his wife and daughter in a restaurant. They don’t show up. After some time a strange man presents himself at his table and he claims to have kidnapped the wife and daughter.  He shows a photo on which we see his wife and daughter tied up. The game show host has to answer ten questions correctly within one hour if he wants to see his family back alive. So the man turns the tables around and plays the part of the game show host and the game show host is becoming the contestant. That is the start of an evening full of surprises, twists and turns. There has been some talk about a Saint sequel and we even have some story lines worked out, but it all depends on the success of the movie in foreign countries.

GP: And finally, have you been naughty or nice this year?

DM: I’d like to see myself as a nice guy, but I’m not sure St. Nicholas will agree with me!

GP: Thanks for chatting to Gorepress, Dick.

DM: You’re welcome.

SAINT is released on DVD on the 31st October.

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