The Keep (Paramount, 1983)


 


An unforgivably poor horror flick, The Keep, directed by Michael Man, later director of the successful Last of the Mohicans, is a film that would never have been missed had it not been made. It's best feature is some special effects achieved by the use of strobe lights and wind machines. Set in war-torn Europe, the story includes a haunted castle in a Romanian mountain pass and the village that sits at its feet, a couple of Nazi officers playing `good cop/bad cop', a Jewish scientist played by Ian McKellen (??), of course... a beautiful girl, a benevolent alien being, and a monster, all coming together in a bit of a mishmash.

Opening credits run with painful sluggishness past a grey/blue background that, within several long seconds, proves to be the sky over a rainy and misty European setting. North Wales, UK, is the site of filming, and the musical theme "Gloria" from Mass for Four Voices by Thomas Tallis, as arranged by Tangerine Dream, sets the mood.

It is 1942, and villagers stop one by one to stare as trucks full of German soldiers roar into their streets. A lone officer carrying an automatic weapon walks with purpose up the ramp and into the Keep. The Keep is a fortress dark and mysterious. No one knows who built it or for what reason, but despite grave warnings from Alexandru, the white haired caretaker, Captain Klaus Woermann(a role convincingly played by Jurgen Prochnow) leads his troops inside the great rock. When the Captain catches two of his men trying to pry off one of the 108 silver crosses that are embedded in the walls, he is again warned by the old man. "You must never touch the crosses! You can't stay here!" The two greedy soldiers, however, try again and in their prying they open the wall, finding a tunnel and also finding their deaths.

Meanwhile, in Greece, a young man(played by Scott Glenn), apparently not of this world, awakens suddenly, rises, collecting a strange oblong crate and his personal belongings, and boards a ship bound for the Romanian coast. He takes a room in the village.

At the Keep, more soldiers have been disappearing, and the Captain's request for a transfer is ignored by his superiors, who instead proceed to send in an SS officer,the `bad cop', played by Gabriel Byrne, who's portrayal of the Nazi is chilling. We suffer a canned scene of Nazis mowing down innocent townspeople while their priest, Father Fonescu, a role filed by Robert Prosky, rails uselessly. The Nazi answer to the deaths of their soliders is a classic. Major Kaempffer leads a fruitless search for the killer, and one villager dies for every soldier who is lost. The Captain stands by, unable convince the Major of his mistake.

An old Jewish professor, played convincingly enough by Ian McKellen, is brought in from a detention camp with his beautiful daughter Eva (Alberta Watson) to translate some writing found on the rock. The oddly humane Nazi Captain promises to help them to safety if only Cuzo can solve the puzzle. However, it is the creature of the Keep who eventually saves the lovely Eva from the clutches of would be rapists, killing the soldiers in the process. When the creature meets Dr Cuzo, the touch of its hand produces a mysterious rejuvenation in the decrepit old man. Eva is ordered from the Keep for her own safety and meets up with the strange young Glaeken Trismegestus in the village, becoming his lover immediately.

Inside the Keep, Cuzo is trying to help the creature to free itself, believing that it will deal with the Nazis.

Little imagination is to be seen in the "creature" of the Keep. It is a humanoid being resembling a body stripped of skin. Tendons and muscles make up the bulk of it, the eyes being full of fire. Other than an very good performance by Jurgen Prochnow, who's natural accent lends authenticity to his part, The Keep is a rather dreary tale. McKellen manages to pull off a fairly decent Jewish accent through most of his lines, although his character is neither likable, nor actually accomplishes anything other than looking gruesome in his illness and sickly in his apparently healthy moments. All in all, The Keep is a classic sleeper, and a disappointing outing by Michael Mann. The video is available on DVD and VHS, but one's money would be better spent on something with a bit more life.

 

[Kate Brown]