Saturday, 8 April 2017

The Keep

Year of Release:  1983
Director:  Michael Mann
Screenplay:  Michael Mann, based on the novel The Keep by F. Paul Wilson
Starring:  Scott Glenn, Alberta Watson, Jurgen Prochnow, Robert Prosky, Gabriel Byrne, Ian McKellen
Running Time:  96 minutes
Genre:  Horror, war, fantasy

The Carpathian Mountains, Romania, 1941, a German Army detachment led by Captain Klaus Woerrmann (Prochnow) take over a remote citadel (or "keep").  Two looting soldiers accidentally unleash a powerful demonic force which starts picking off the soldiers one by one.  A group of SS soldiers, under the command of the sadistic Eric Kaempffer (Byrne) arrive at the keep as reinforcements.  When strange messages appear written on the walls, the Germans force a Jewish historian Professor Theodore Cuza (McKellen) to decipher the messages and find out what is killing them off.

This odd curio from a director best known for glossy crime thrillers (such as Manhunter (1986) and Heat (1995))  is a good movie hidden inside a bad one.  The original director's cut ran three and a half hours, but director Michael Mann was contracted to deliver a movie no longer than two hours.  However the studio, Paramount, were unhappy with Mann's two hour cut and took the film out of his hands, cutting it still further to 96 minutes.  This accounts for the many continuity errors and plot holes.  For a film set in 1941, this is a very '80s movie filled with billowing dry ice and a synth-heavy score from Tangerine Dream.  The production design is impressive and there are visually striking moments, however some of the visuals just don't work.  The film's creature is never particularly convincing or impressive.  It never particularly works as a horror film, because it isn't very scary and too confused, but it does have an eerie, dream-like atmosphere in places.  It does have some interesting ideas, and the central story is novel and interesting, and the central theme equating the real-life horror of Nazism with fantasy horror, is interesting if in kind of bad taste.  It's frustrating that so much of the film is never really explained, and the climax is practically incomprehensible.
On it's original release the film was very badly received (including by F. Paul Wilson, the author of the original novel who strongly disliked the film), and flopped commercially, but it has since become something of a cult film.  It's worth seeing because the good bits are good and it deserves points for originality.

         Ian McKellan explores The Keep

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