Monday, January 26, 2009

Movie Review - The Keep (1983)

Film buffs usually know of director Michael Mann for two reasons. The first as being the creator of the classic television series Miami Vice and the second because he excelled at giving us some of the grittiest and just flat out awesome crime stories ever committed to film like 1995's Heat. But, if you take an earlier look at his career before all the cops and robbers hoop-lah, you'll come across a caper of a different sort. One that involves demons, spooky contact lenses, and lots of dead Nazis. Believe it or not....Michael Mann made a horror film. Though not as well done as some of his later work, 1983's The Keep is still an interesting attempt at supernatural storytelling.

Set during WWII, the plot has Captain Klaus(Jurgen Prochnow) and the German Wermacht dispatched to a remote village in Romania. The objective is to block the nearby mountain pass from allied forces and keep it under German control. They decide to make camp in an old citadel that overlooks the village despite warnings from the caretaker that no one must stay there. The caretaker gives no explanation as to why, nor does he explain the meaning of the hundreds of silver crosses that adorn the walls of the keep. It's Nazi business as usual until a couple of guards on the night watch decide to steal one of the silver crosses and then all hell breaks loose....

The greedy soldiers are found dead and mutiliated the next day with no evidence left at the scene except for a message carved into the wall in an ancient language that they cannot translate. Klaus's superior officer (Gabriel Byrne) believes it to be resistance from the villagers and has several of them executed. When more people in the camp turn up dead and the German command orders them to hold the fort....they enlist the help of a Jewish historian named Dr. Cuza (Ian Mckellen) and his daughter Eva. Both are awaiting their fates in a concentration camp so they are eager to get out and help solve the riddle of the keep. What they discover could destroy the world with an evil far greater than even Adolf Hitler could imagine. It seems that the keep was not built to ward off attackers....rather it was constructed to imprison a demon named Molasar and keep him from laying waste to mankind. There's also a mysterious stranger (Scott Glenn) who is compelled to travel many miles to reach the keep and confront Molasar. Is he going to join him........or send him back to hell?

Scott Glenn as the stranger...spooky contacts make him mysterious

As far as horror stories go....the set up for this one is excellent. The scenario of the Nazis asking the Jewish characters for help is an ironic twist. Unfortunately you can tell that there was a much bigger story here. I've heard that the original cut clocks in at four hours, but the theatrical run was only about ninety six minutes. It definately shows as there seems to be no build up in the action and things seem to rush to a speedy conclusion. Molasar was a pretty cool villain and the FX were unique at the time. A lot of Nazis were harmed during the making of the keep and you will delight in seeing every one of their heads explode and their bodies being torn asunder. I remember Molasar gracing the cover of Fangoria magazine back in the day and every kid I knew that loved horror films was chomping at the bit to see this one.

Molasar was banned from Heaven for illegal steroid use...

the wrath of Molasar...just another Nazi brick in the wall....

One of the strongest things this film has going for it is the appearance of a younger Ian Mckellen. We all know him now as Magneto....or this was interesting to see him before he was famous. It's not his best acting job, but due to studio interference, we probably only see part of the whole performance. Another highlight is the music from Tangerine Dream. It gives the film an other-worldly feel that you normally would not get for a story set in WWII.

Ian Mckellen confronting evil with a flashlight and trusting Duracell

For those that are curious enough to investigate... The Keep is worth checking out. The hard part will be finding a copy to own or watch. There is no DVD and a decent VHS copy may cost you a hundred bucks. Who the hell watches VHS anymore???? Lucky for me a good samaritan had the whole film posted on youtube. It's definitely not the preferred method of getting my flick on, but sometimes you have to soldier on and hold the fort.

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