The Keep (1983)
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…..
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