The Keep [1983]

At some point I heard mention of a film called ‘The Keep’. It was described as a supernatural Lovecraftian horror movie set in a remote castle in the Carpathian mountains…with Nazis.

This of course ticks all the boxes.

If it had just said horror movie with Nazis — I would have been sold. Nazis more often than not (aside from irritating teenagers and hipsters) make the best villains in movies. Attach something to that like say Nazi werewolves, Nazi vampires, Nazi zombies and it is even better.

A little bit of research showed that the film had been directed by Michael Mann (Manhunter / The last of the Mohicans / Heat). This was his second film, arriving in 1983, three years before Manhunter.

Michael Mann? Nazis? Supernatural Lovecraftian Horror? In a Castle? In The Carpathian Mounta-Nazis?

Based on a bestselling book by F. Paul Wilson with a soundtrack by Tangerine Dream and an impressive cast; Scott Glenn, Gabriel Byrne, Jürgen Prochnow, Alberta Watson and Ian McKellen. I had to track this film down.

I’m not quite sure what I found.

Visually, the film is at times close to the beautiful. Mixing rich Gothic elements with World War 2 — and a wonderfully designed castle that looks perfectly out of time. It is pretty enough as to be worth tracking down just to see. It also serves as an impressive class in smoke and fog effects and their cinematic manipulation. The soundtrack — while not up to Tangerine Dream’s ‘Sorcerer’ levels (William Friedkin’s 1977 amazing remake of ‘The Wages of Fear’) is also great. There is a lot to be said for an option to turn off dialogue and just watch a film with its soundtrack.

The acting is serviceable. Prochnow being the best of the lot. Mckellen’s choice of voice and accent grates at times, at others it’s laughable — like we’re watching a Comic Strip Presents… parody. Perhaps the acting would be better judged if the film was not gibberish.

It starts with some semblance of story and structure then quickly dissolves into incomprehensible nonsense. It often feels as if we’re watching something salvaged from the vaults — a studio destroyed edit of a film that is missing an hour of its original length, maybe even an hour and a half. Part of you remains watching because it’s pretty, part of you remains watching just to see where they’re going with this mess. Confused, it trips over itself and jumps about the place. It is such a mess it’s hard to believe it was released and I found myself laughing at particularly lost bits quoting Rick James “Cocaine’s a helluva’ drug” to the co-victim I had inflicted the film on. Left as we were, wondering has anyone ever asked any of the actors just how much drugs were present during filming.

At times this train wreck feels like a weird cross between an Outer Limits episode and the edgier side of 70s/80s Doctor Who and no amount of hazy head explosions can save it.

It is scatty –as if someone has edited a film to show you the effects of Alzheimer’s — constantly forgetting just where it was what it was doing and why — anyway moving along to the next scene — have you seen these pictures of my children? Everything is partially disconnected — at one point — abruptly — two of our protagonists have sex — after which they are suddenly entwined as if they had been star crossed earnest lovers for an age. There is the monster and then it ends.

Curious we fled to the Internet — only to find out there is an extended cut with the full ending. You’d never know though. But just looking it up and finding that bit of information sort of cleared a bit of the what the hell fog it leaves you in.

At the same time — it is a hard movie to dislike. There is something about its lumbering celluloid disaster that leaves an air of affection — possibly the same you’d feel for a simpleton who is just trying to be helpful but keeps breaking things in their wake.

I could say more about the film, but instead I’ll leave you with this Add N to (X) song that makes far more sense.

Originally published at 22/03/2012