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The Keep

December 3rd, 2010 by unkle lancifer · 19 Comments

I always think I’m going to enjoy 1983’s THE KEEP a little more than I actually do. I have such fond memories of reading F. PAUL WILSON’s novel that I forget just how little of it actually properly made it to the screen. At least a good half of MICHAEL MANN’s adaptation thoroughly convinces the viewer that they are witnessing something outstanding but where it fails, it fails hard. I’m not sure how much can be blamed on MANN’s artistic tunnel vision and how much can be blamed on clumsy studio interference, but THE KEEP is a sometimes extraordinary looking achievement with massive, cavernous, jaw-droppy flaws. I’m rather in awe of the singular mood it achieves marrying gothic, fantasy and borderline sci-fi elements, but the story is not so much lost as blindfolded and assassinated and the acting swings from woodchip bland to absurdly clownish. I even had a sacrilegious thought during my recent viewing of THE KEEP, its rubber-suited monster made me wonder if CGI was such a bad thing after all.

The story finds a bunch of Nazis crashing a castle in Romania and setting up shop. The castle’s volunteer custodian warns that staying the night is not advised. The Nazis, being bossy, pooh-pooh all cautions and end up all kinds of dead. We come to find that the massive stone structure is in actuality a prison housing a supernatural force whose nature is unclear. To some it is a vampiric like soul-sucker, to others it may be a protective, vengeful Golem. A mysterious purple-eyed stranger (SCOTT GLENN) shows up who is linked to the entity and a showdown between the two climaxes the tale.

WILSON’s book has an expansive, mythic feel and speaks of the danger and temptation of fighting evil with evil that the film, for the most part, ignores. As intimidating as the castle’s dark inhabitant may be, there’s a seductive quality as well. You understand why someone might be compelled to swallow its untruths in a way absent from the film. I guess what’s glaringly AWOL is the human element; the Nazis though well cast (JURGEN PROCHNOW & a young GABRIEL BYRNE) are flat caricatures, GLENN is a zombie and the father daughter team of IAN McKELLEN and ALBERTA WATSON are routinely unconvincing. The film is almost good looking enough to get away with its crater heart but not so gorgeous as to get away with a midstream switch from backstroke to doggie paddle. Multiple viewings help, but a hole is a hole.

THE KEEP has developed cult devotion over the years and I don’t blame anyone for being utterly fascinated by this beautiful malfunction/gorgeous mistake. It’s currently available on NETFLIX streaming and I recommend anybody who digs highly stylized eighties flicks to give it at least a look-see in its proper ratio as it has never been released on DVD. As a visual journey it succeeds in wowing the eyes and the counterintuitive soundtrack from TANGARINE DREAM is occasionally spellbinding.

I find myself with a bit of a love/hate attraction here. There’s something so frustrating about watching this incredibly unique mood develop and then just dissipate before your eyes like smoke. Even though it loses steam and falls apart at the seams (and the monster often looks silly), it’s distinctive enough (good luck finding another movie that mashes up German expressionist imagery with XANADU lasers) to be worthwhile. Gee, you know I’m getting frustrated just writing about this movie. Is it OK to appreciate something that fumbles regularly and not be ironic at all about it? I kind of like this movie and it kind of doesn’t deserve it and that’s the best I can explain it. What I can’t explain at all is how MANN was able to milk such a wretched performance from IAN McKELLEN. That is between MIKE and IAN.

NOTE: There is a graphic novel written by F.PAUL WILSON and illustrated by MATTHEW DOW SMITH that visually captures the book without betraying the story and it’s a must read if you ask me. It’s crisp, clean and ends up as another reminder of what the film could have been. Rumor has it that there is a three hour plus director’s cut of this movie in the universe too and I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but I do know that I would purchase and watch it the day it came out. I need help. You wanna talk films that deserve a remake? I’d put THE KEEP right on the top of my list.

Tags: General Horror




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Taylor
9 years ago

I’m glad you mentioned that Ian McKellan is terrible in the movie, because when I got here and saw a write-up on The Keep my first thought was, “Oh, I can’t wait to leave a comment saying ‘You forgot to mention that Ian McKellan is terrible in this movie.'” I like him as much as anyone in more more recent stuff, but he’s Bumwad County Community Theater in The Keep. I wonder what happened there.

I like the movie as a Tangerine Dream music video (see also: 1977’s Sorcerer), but that’s about it. I was wicked jazzed when I saw that the Netflix Instant version is widescreen…As rough-going as the story is, the photography makes me miss the 80s something fierce.

Taylor
9 years ago

I saw Razorback for the first time about a year ago, and I had the hardest time explaining to my girlfriend that it a) is a Jaws rip-off about a giant killer pig, and b) is also really fricking cool.

Sorcerer and The Keep have always been linked to each other in my mind both because of the Tangerine Dream connection and the fact that they both have only been available on DVD fullscreen, thus short-changing us on Dick Bush’s photography (he shot both). Netflix, if you’re reading this: Sorcerer next please?

Taylor
9 years ago

Sorry, I didn’t mean to say that The Keep has even been released on DVD…Obviously no widescreen VHS either. I’ve put off buying the cheapo Sorcerer DVD until they give us the rest of the picture.

jimdandytothefescue
jimdandytothefescue
9 years ago

I haven’t seen The Keep since it was new on home video, but I clearly remember how good the novel was…and how disappointing the movie by comparison. I have been tempted periodically to watch it again with the hope of finding that it’s actually much better than I remember. Fortunately I have you to save me the trouble. Thanks.

Taylor
9 years ago

Ah hell Unk, you’re right…I’m not sure where I got that Dick Bush had shot The Keep. Maybe because there are some bushes in it(?).

Will E.
9 years ago

Yup, just watched this on Netflix Instant the other night, and aside from a tiny few moments, THE KEEP is a major bomb. I did like the shock of the one young Nazi pulling his poor buddy’s remains out of the hole in the wall, as well as the long shot of the enormous space inside the keep. And it reminded me of SORCERER as well… but that movie I liked plenty.

Father Merrin
Father Merrin
9 years ago

“The Keep” also has the feel of a movie that had a lot cut out of it for the final print.

jamisings
9 years ago

I didn’t even know there was a movie. I read the book and a couple of the sequels. I think the 3rd book had the part that freaked me out the most – where the ex-priest goes to check on his recently married friend – a fat blonde woman – only to find the man she married is the embodiment of evil and he had stolen her soul while having sex with her.

stevil1981
stevil1981
9 years ago

I had the same disappointed feeling after watching The Keep. I kept expecting it to pick up the pace and no matter how many cool monsters and visually stunning set pieces there were, it just didn’t happen. Spot on with the music though, that piece from Sorcerer plays at on point in The Warriors video game and always gets me pumped up for action.

knobgobbler
knobgobbler
9 years ago

I just watched ‘The Keep’ again for the first time since I was a kid… back then I was mostly disappointed that the monster wasn’t more… monstery.
This time I liked the monster OK but hated the soundtrack and the disco lighting. Ian McKellen didn’t bug me near as much as Scott Glenn and the girl.
Remaking this with CGI seems like it would just lead to unnecessary excess of a different sort. Really, I think the story needs less, not more… do it like an old Val Lewton movie… all shadows and innuendo… keep the monster off screen… just whispers and the horror on the face of its victims.

Chuckles72
Chuckles72
9 years ago

Ah… The Keep.

For me, the essence of the mystique of this film appears in the scene where our nazi interlopers first dislodge not one, but two silver “Thor’s Hammer” style crosses from the inner walls, and then we get that awesome pan down into the core of the mountain where there is some weirdo ancient monument from which our bad guy emerges. Made a HUGE impression on me as a kid – just gigantic. Honestly I can’t remeber too much else other than some nazis running in slo-mo.