I bet when Michael Mann was making his second feature a lot of people thought it would be his equivalent to Ridley Scott’s Alien. Unfortunately what we ended up with was the equivalent to Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.
Like Alien, it is the sophomore effort from an obviously talented director. Also like Alien it is a beautiful, atmospheric horror epic. However, like Prometheus it also makes little to no sense and is also a load of old bobbins. It’s also bloody brilliant.Here, let me explain, before you dismiss what I have to say as the ravings of a mad man.
The Keep concerns a garrison of Nazis sent to occupy an ancient fort in the middle-of-nowhere Romania where the local villagers are your standard-issue horror village types, though no pitch forks in sight as the Nazis would shoot you dead if you raised one to them. Anyway, things really should be apparent that all is not well with the building of the title when the Nazis, led by Das Boot’s Captain, Jurgen Prochnow, realise that the keep is built inside out, as if to keep something in, rather than anyone out… Soon German soldiers are being decapitated, burnt and exploding all over the place, often in slow motion, usually in thick mist, and once in a while with a disco laser in the background if we’re very, very lucky.
But this is only the start of the story, soon the SS show up, and these guys are real bastards. Led by Gabriel Byrne with one of the severest haircuts in cinema history, they torture, shoot and rape their way about like it was The Third Riech Christmas party. Then Ian Mckellen is wheeled in, literally, as an Old Jewish expert on the Keep. And we haven’t even met the Hero of the peice. Scott Gleen plays an enegmatic mystery man charged with fighting the creature in the keep because, er… because, okay, I have no idea why, he just does.
See the problem is that while the first half of the film sets up the grim atmosphere really well, the second half just seems to start jumping through the story as if big chunks of it hadn’t been filmed. Rumour has it that this really is the case. The production went well over schedule and well over budget and various compromises had to be made, a lot of them to do with narrative it seems.
But for all that The Keep remains a unique bit of film making. The atmosphere is incredible, helped no end by Tangerine Dreams weird and haunting score. And the villain, Molasar, while looking a bit rubbery here and there, is an imposing presence, especially when he’s in his giant smoke monster mode. He’s the kind of guy you want on your side, even if he does threaten the entire Earth. Well nobody’s perfect are they.
Basically, it really is like Prometheus: striking to look at and hugely entertaining if you are prepared to accept certain (okay loads) of problems with the story telling. And on top of that, it has one big thing over Ridley Scott’s epic folly, it (spoilers) ends with an electronic rendition of Walking Through The Air – The theme from The Snowman. Why? Why? Who cares. It’s genius.