Ever sat down to review a film, only to realise you have no real idea what to write or, for that matter, what you have just seen?

OK, so that may not exactly be a commonplace affliction (unless you have your own blog of course), but it is about the only way I can sum up my immediate feelings for Michael Mann’s The Keep.

In parts fascinating, thrilling, baffling, cheesy and downright weird, this sort-of horror certainly has a lot going for it, but equally there is an awful lot wrong with it.

Hardly surprising perhaps, when you learn that Mann’s original cut ran for three hours-plus, whereas the edit I sat through clocked in at comfortably under two hours.

Mann subsequently disowned the film after the butchering and this oddity has been a bit of an enigma since, with a lack of DVD release firmly wedging the film in the shadows.259-keep

It was always one of those films that I wanted to see and had read/heard about, so thankfully a movie channel decided to dust it off and give it a screening.

The action takes place in the Romanian hills in 1941, with the occupying Nazi forces eager to use a medieval stronghold as a base of operations.

Naturally there is talk of demons (or golems) residing in said stronghold, but those pesky Nazis decide to ignore that and set up camp anyway.

Wouldn’t you know, before long some of the lesser soldiers begin to meet an unfortunate fate at the hands of what, at first, appears to be a cloud of mist with red eyes.

Jurgen Prochnow plays Captain Klaus Woermann, a fairly reasonable German officer by all standards, but, just in case they start getting too sympathetic, Gabriel Byrne is brought in as the villainous Major Kaempffer to redress the balance.

As the bodies pile up the Nazis struggle for answers and even resort to bringing in a Jewish sage (naturally played by Ian McKellen) and his daughter to try and get to the bottom of the horrific situation.

To muddy the waters even further, Scott Glenn turns up as the mysterious Glaeken, who travels to Romania to do battle with the demon himself.

If it all seems confusing and overloaded, well that’s because it is.

This is undoubtedly one of those films where an extra 45mins to an hour could have made all the difference, as the way things stand The Keep is a jumbled mess, with far too many characters and motivations for its truncated running time.

There are plenty of good points here – the idea is an intriguing one (based on F Paul Wilson’s novel), the sets suitably ominous and an impressive cast has been put together.

In addition there is also a quirky soundtrack from electronic gurus Tangerine Dream which adds a suitably offbeat edge to proceedings.

But on the negative side the whole thing seems horribly condensed, some of the acting leaves a lot to be desired and the less said about the ‘special’ effects the better.

There is a really interesting film hacked to pieces here – a film digging deeply into the nature of good and evil in a pretty unique setting.

But in this version, The Keep proves a watchable oddity, rather than anything truly memorable.

 

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.