Paul Verhoeven’s 1980 dirt-bike drama Spetters is a vile piece of work. It's the sort of film that finds sexual assault hilarious and believes a closeted gay man only needs a brutal gang raping to figure out who he is. Yet for all its disgusting brutishness, it has moments of surprising tenderness and has the feeling of truth in terms of Dutch youth culture in the 1980s.
It's about three young men, Rien (Hans van Tongeren) and Hans (Maarten Spanjer,) both dirt-biker racers, and their mechanic Eef (Toon Agterberg), who dreams of fame, fortune, and beautiful women. Their lives are all changed, and not for the better, when they meet Fientje (Renee Soutendijk), a pretty blonde working a mobile fry stand with her brother. The boys literally measure their penises in order to decide which one gets the girl, never once thinking to wonder whether she’ll want any of them or not. For her part, Fientje doesn’t seem to mind who she gets, and she winds up going through all three before the film ends, as long as they can provide her with a way out of the fry stand and a little financial security.
Rien is the most promising as he’s quite the good racer and earns the respect of Gerrit Witkamp (Rutger Hauer), the local professional dirt-bike champion. But a serious accident renders him paralyzed from the legs down. He becomes despondent not so much because he’ll never walk or ride again, but because he can no longer get an erection, and in this testosterone-filled world sex is everything. Eef spends his days watching gay prostitutes in action just before he beats them and robs them. Later, Fientje’s brother sends in his boys to brutally gang rape him, which only makes Eef realize he likes it and is then openly gay. When the brother confesses to Fientje, her only response is “why me?”
At a disco, one of the boys approaches a young lady and puts his hands between her legs Donald Trump style. Everyone finds it hilarious when he pulls his fingers back to reveal the girl has cleverly put a jar of mustard under her dress. It's a good gag but it begs certain questions. Like, how did she get the mustard there without anyone noticing? Has she been assaulted in that way so often that her only defense it to put mustard between her thighs? If she hadn't been assaulted, what would she do with the mustard?
What Verhoven is doing might be satirical. Maybe he’s spoofing modern society. Maybe he’s against sexism, homophobia, and violence. Maybe his film isn’t vile, but enlightened. It's still pretty horrible to watch.
It does have the feeling of truth in it. As a person who once was a young boy in the '80s (though in rural Oklahoma, not the big city of Rotterdam), I recognize that we talked a lot about sexing up the ladies without much thought to their feelings. Boys in my class talked disparagingly about homosexuals, mostly by calling each other gay. Spetters shows life as it is. Or was. Or might have been. But certainly not how it should be. It does not comment on this ugly behavior so much as show it, which makes the film really hard to watch.
Audio/Video for this new Kino Lorber 4K transfer looks and sounds quite good. Extras include an audio commentary from Paul Verhoeven and the theatrical trailer. If you are a Verhoeven fan, then Spetters gves a good glimpse into what he was doing before coming to America. If you like dirt bikes, then there are some good racing scenes. If you are offended by sexism, homophobia, and gang rapes, then I wouldn't recommend this film at all.