|Star:||Scott Glenn, Jurgen Prochnow, Gabriel Byrne, Ian McKellen|
|Cert / Year:||18 - R / 1983|
A small Romanian village nestles in the Donu pass of the Carpathian Alps, in front of a giant foreboding stone keep (actually its Wales in real life). It is 1941 and the Germans have practically won the war, a small garrison of troops are sent to occupy the Keep to guard the pass. They are headed by Captain Klaus Woermann (Jurgen Prochnow) who is warned by caretaker not to stay in the Keep and not to touch the crosses that are embedded in the walls. His soldiers however try to steal one of the crosses, and in doing so unleash a Demon that has been imprisoned in the Keep. His men start to die so the Captain calls for help, and this arrives in the form of an SS Komando lead by Major Kaempffer (Gabriel Byrne). He wrongly assumes the deaths are the work of partisans and starts to execute the villagers. To find out who is killing the troops the villagers insist that they need the help of a Jewish Doctor, Theodore Cuza (Ian McKellen), who is retrieved from a death camp. In the mean time a mysterious stranger (Scott Glenn) is on his way to the Keep for the final showdown of good verses evil.
You'd be correct in thinking all of this is a little confusing. The plot is quite complicated and it is not helped by some muddled editing. Certain scenes especially in the middle of the movie appear out of nowhere and are gone just as quickly (I would love to have seen the original script to see if it made more sense). This process can be quite alienating as certain parts of the story do not seem to follow each other, but it is worth persevering as things do come together at the end.
Michael Mann (Heat, Manhunter) is a talented director, and this shows. He uses the fantastic sets to full effect, and especially clever is the integration of the smoke effects to provide a supernatural setting. Another nice touch is the way rays of light have been used to illuminate the interior of the Keep. There is no doubt that the direction here is full of style, unfortunately in this case it is sometimes at the expense of content. Maybe things would have improved if a little less time was spent in slow motion, and more time on the story.
Time has not been kind to this film, as many of the special effects have dated badly. The demon for example starts off Ok as he wrapped in a billowing blankets of smoke, but things take a turn for the worse when he becomes a bloke in a rubber suit. Another not-so-special effect is the talisman, which is revealed to be, wait for it, a torch. The deaths of the soldiers are much better, in an Indiana Jones Nazi head blowing up sort of way, and go a long way to saving things.
The actors are of a high class and deliver the dialogue with great conviction, which is fine, but for the most part they are playing second fiddle to the cinematography. There are no outstanding performances but Jurgen Prochnow, Ian McKellen, Scott Glenn and Gabriel Byrne all do well. There is a problem that some of the dialogue is very quiet and tends to get lost, but I am not sure that is the actors fault or more of a technical issue.
The greatest strength of this film, apart from the direction, is the originality of the script. It is more than a standard good verse evil story as it is working on two levels. The age old conflict of the supernatural good verses evil, and the good verses the evil of man exemplified by the Nazis. This combination of horror and war is used very effectively throughout the film.
Never a major movie The Keep remains interesting rather than influential. It is good to see some of Michael Mann's earlier work, and although the pace lags in the middle is not a bad movie. For once I would recommend that Hollywood consider remaking it, as it could (if the effects are bought up to date) be a real winner.