Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Keep (1983)

Synopsis:

During World War 2, a Wehrmacht unit take position in a medieval keep deep in the Romanian mountains. Against the express wishes of the populace the Nazis make it a makeshift home. All too soon the men begin to die in horrific ways. In an effort to solve the mystery, a local Jewish historian is called-in to translate the archaic writings which plague the keep’s walls. At the same time, the SS arrive, convinced that the deaths are the result of partisan fighters in the village…..

Review:

A flipping beautiful mess of a movie.

Jurgen Prochnow’s Wehrmacht unit is not only pitted against the evil of an ancient demon but more importantly against the moral emptiness of Gabriel Byrne’s SS officer. Yet, at 96 mins, and over 100 mins shorter than Michael Mann’s original pre-release version, the botched nature of this cut means that the plot cannot evolve. It’s confusing and exasperating. Scott Glenn’s ‘fallen angel’ character is one of the most nonsensical characters I have ever come across. More than that, McKellen’s over-theatrical turn as Prof Cuza is sometimes a bit too much to take. But, this film has so much more to offer beyond hammy performances and a bewildering plot.

The tracking shots of the Wehrmacht unit rolling into a Romanian mountain village at the beginning of the movie are stylishly executed whilst the infamous scene where two Nazi officers steal a ‘silver’ cross and unwittingly unleash the demon is choreographed and scored sublimely. It may just be one of the best scenes in cinema history. Mann’s skill with the camera is further evidenced by a great sequence in which we pan away from the officer who stumbles upon the entrance to the cavernous belly of the keep; as the glow of his torch becomes a mere dot on the screen we realise just how large this medieval prison really is.

The smoke machines on set must have been in action pretty much 24/7 because a thick fog transcends almost every scene – or all of them where Scott Glenn’s character is concerned.

The romantic gestures in Mann’s picture are half-hearted; although I expect that much of the material here just ended up on the cutting room floor. What it does mean is that the film’s nihilistic ending doesn’t seem half as bad, we don’t really care that Cuza’s daughter has lost her knight in shining armour.

On the demon itself, the special effects have aged well and his scripted lines have a deeper meaning that most movie-monsters.

A review wouldn’t be complete without a specific mention of Tangerine Dream’s timeless soundtrack. From beginning to end, the sonic synthesisers are like a bloody surfboard which the cast skilfully ride on. It’s really nothing short of marvellous.

For all its incomprehensibility, The Keep (1983) is an enchanting fairy-tale thriller. The problems in production only endear the movie to a fan-base unfortunately destined to be deprived of Mann’s original vision. Quite simply, a very-flawed masterpiece.

Hotdog rating: 6.5/10

Hitchcock (2012)

Synopsis:

The story of Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), set against the backdrop of the making of his most infamous picture “Psycho”.

Review:

A movie supposedly about the ‘making of’ another movie.  In truth this is a biographical blend of Hitchcock’s motivations, demons and desires. Much like its source material “Psycho”, this movie contains more than a drop of black comedy.

In the title role, Hopkins is lavish and melodramatic, wallowing in the literal fat-suit of the ‘Master of Suspense’. However, he is also remarkable; looking into Hopkins’s eyes one can almost see the little boy who lived behind Hitchcock’s own eccentric charade. Mirren gives an extraordinary turn as Hitchcock’s semi-tortured wife, Alma.  Frankly, other cast members seem to be present for purely aesthetic reasons. I’d particularly highlight both James D’Arcy’s doppleganger-like appearance as a nervous Anthony Perkins and Scarlett Johanssen’s angelic Janet Leigh.

There are moments of snug and appealing indulgence including some amusingly sarcastic scenes between the great director and the US censors as well as the furious crescendo of a spitting Hitchcock showing exactly how he wants Janet Leigh to be butchered behind the shower-curtain.

I appreciated the nods to Hitchcock’s other work with the mentions of such classics as “Strangers on a Train”, “The Lady Vanishes” and “Rope”. Although, “Vertigo” – and its apparent failing – is the butt of most references to Hitch’s other movies.  There is a scene which many fans of the great man will find especially poignant. Here, Hitchcock breaks-down when nostalgically recounting the fun he had in his earlier career and details his yearning for that feeling once again with the making of his controversial horror movie.

One of the highlights for me was Hopkins’s playful dance as he stands alone outside the doors to the theatre premiering “Psycho”. Inside, the audience are screaming along to Bernard Hermann’s orchestral slice-and-dice shower scene soundtrack; outside, Hopkins is conducting his own orchestra of self-congratulation like the maestro he is.

The movie doesn’t succeed on all levels. Hitchcock’s bizarre hallucinations of Ed Gein are profoundly mis-matched to the feel of the picture and you can’t help think that the talented supporting cast is under-utilised.  The script is somewhat hit-and-miss with some lines bordering on the saccharine; this triteness is most evident in one of the final pieces of dialogue:

Alfred Hitchcock: I will never find a Hitchcock blonde as beautiful as you.

Alma Reville: Oh, Hitch. I’ve waited thirty years to hear you say that.

Alfred Hitchcock: That, my dear, is why they call me the Master of Suspense.

But overall, this is an enjoyable romp driven by the fact that our two leads are clearly having the time of their lives in roles that seem tailor made for them.

Hotdog rating: 7/10