Film review: The Keep (1983), directed by Michael Mann
It’s 1941 and a company of Nazis are in a Romanian mountain pass. They take up residence in the Keep, a big, fortified stone building, which the family of Alexandru (William Morgan Sheppard) has been looking after for generations. Alexandru strongly urges the Nazis not to stay overnight. Not that anyone’s died there or anything, but you know, it’s much better to stay in the village.
Oh, and don’t touch the 108 nickel crosses set in the walls. They’re not made of silver and they’re not hiding hoards of treasure. Don’t touch them! So naturally, somebody touches them. Or rather, when one starts glowing, he thinks it’s silver after all, and pries it off the wall, awakening an evil that has been incarcerated in the Keep for centuries. Well done.
This event sparks a mysterious fighter (Scott Glenn) to travel from Greece to Romania to put the demon thingy back in its place before he gets free of the Keep and destroys the world.
Meanwhile, the Nazis have had to call on the Jewish scholar Dr Cuza (Ian McKellen) and his daughter/caretaker Eva (Alberta Watson) to try deciphering some mysterious symbols on the wall, but the good doctor might have other plans.
Also starring Jürgen Prochnow as Captain Klaus Woermann, Gabriel Byrne as Major Kaempffer and Robert Prosky as Father Mihail Fonescu.
The description sounded good: Nazis vs unseen forces in an old fortress, two evils fighting each other. Splendid. I wasn’t expecting this cheesefest.
Fair enough, we’re talking 1983 special effects, so it would be unfair to expect anything remotely like what we’re used to today, but dear gods. Okay, the smoke and the lights and everything, no worries, they’ve done what they could. But the rest of the film? The incomprehensible script? The overbearingly dramatic synth music? Think Maurice Jarre on acid. Or, actually, if you remember the epic 1980s animated series The Mysterious Cities of Gold, that’s exactly the kind of background music we’re talking about here. The music isn’t a problem in itself, I should point out. I’d listen to it quite happily if it was separate from the movie. I just think that as background music, if it’s a food ingredient, it’s the one flavour that dominates the whole dish.
I don’t normally wish for films to get re-made, because it’s generally a bad idea, but please – someone, anyone – do a re-make of The Keep! You can’t make it any worse than it already is. You can make the script more engaging, you can make the CGI a heck of a lot more up to date, and you can make a less overpowering and out-of-place soundtrack. You might not be able to improve on performances – I mean, we’re talking Ian McKellen here, c’mon – but pretty much every other aspect of this film can be improved upon.
The building blocks are solid. Nazis occupy an old fortress-like structure in a Romanian mountain pass, which is in fact a prison designed to keep a demon from getting out as opposed to a fortress to keep people from getting in. Unwittingly, a couple of idiots release said demon from said prison, and the Nazis have to call on a wheelchair-bound Jewish scholar and his daughter in order to help them understand what the hell happened. See? There’s plenty of intriguing things to work with here. It’s just that this old film makes it all feel as if it was put together in the wrong order or something.
Maybe I should read the book instead, I bet it makes more sense, and it doesn’t come with a soundtrack.
1 out of 5 tanks.