THE KEEP - Friday, October 19
John Ary here with another installment of Ain’t It Scary Reviews. Today, a group of Nazis learn the catastrophic secrets of a mysterious stone structure during World War II.
Michael Mann has done some fantastic work over the years. Manhunter, Last of the Mohicans, Miami Vice, Heat... all projects that I’ve really enjoyed. That’s why I was eager to watch his second theatrical release The Keep. There is a very good reason why I’ve never heard much about this Nazi-era supernatural tale.
A platoon of Nazi soldiers is stationed in a small Romanian village during World War II. They take shelter in the keep, a large stone structure that is oddly built. None of the villagers knows much about it, but everyone who has tried to spend the night there has left due to nightmares. When a couple of the Nazi soldiers go treasure hunting inside the strange building, they inadvertently unleash a supernatural force that begins killing everyone. Scott Glenn shows up as a mysterious stranger with his own supernatural powers. What is his connection to the force living inside the building?
There are some really iconic moments in The Keep featuring strong performances from its company of actors. Sir Ian McKellen plays an elderly jew who begins to do the bidding of the keep’s creature after his daughter is saved from a Nazi attack and he’s given his health back. Gabriel Byrne shows up as an evil Nazi major that becomes fascinated with the secret hiding in the walls of the structure. Also Jurgen Prochnow anchors the events with a nice performance as a Nazi captain with a conscience.
Then there is the monster. The effects work looks good for a film from the early 80’s. After each kill the monster takes a more tangible shape. It’s interesting to see how it changes throughout the picture, starting off as a ball of energy, then shifting into a cloud of smoke, then a body with veins and muscles and later an almost complete humanoid. The special effects work brightens up what is otherwise a dull movie.
The cinematography is good. There are a few wide shots that look amazing.
The pacing is slow... very slow. I think Mann is trying to play up the dramatic tension and create anticipation, but there isn’t a payoff when the true terror strikes. The creature creates a couple of Nazi head explosions, but that’s about as exciting as the kills get. Otherwise, most of the creature attacks happen off screen. We hear a scream and when the characters walk into the room, they see charred dead bodies. That’s it. It’s kind of a let down.
The final battle between the two magical characters is fairly anticlimactic. Scott Glenn points his magic staff at the monster and we have 5 minutes of wind and cool lighting effects. It would have helped if we knew more about their relationship, but it feels like Mann was trying to be more cryptic and open-ended with the plot.
One of the reasons this movie never made it to DVD had to do with copyright problems with the soundtrack. Mann employed a German electronic music group named Tangerine Dream for the score. In my humble opinion, it ruins several of the films dramatic scenes. I’ve never like electronic music in period pieces. It always feels anachronistic to me. This is no exception. Another reason you’ve never seen this on DVD is Mann’s desire to distance himself from the movie. Wise choice Mr. Mann... Wise choice.
The Keep is currently streaming on Netflix. It’s also available on VHS here.
Check back in tomorrow for another Ain’t It Scary Review as the residents of a boarding house wonder if the new tenant is actually a serial killer.
Here’s a look back at the Ain’t It Scary Review installments that you might have missed:
The Ground Rules to the Project
#1 Son of Frankenstein
#2 Scream, Blacula, Scream!
#3 Black Sabbath
#5 Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
#6 Invisible Invaders
#7 The Mummy’s Curse
#8 Lord of Illusions
#9 Night of the Demons
#10 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
#11 The House of the Devil
#12 Dr. Phibes Rises Again!
#14 The Catman of Paris
#17 Werewolf of London
#18 Tales from the Hood
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