Thursday, October 21, 2010

THE KEEP (1983)

Diminished expectations can be a great blessing. Once upon a time, I heard about THE KEEP, namely that it was far inferior to the F. Paul Wilson book that spawned it, that it had a very inappropriate bleeping and blooping Tangerine Dream soundtrack, and its monster looked too dumb to live. Then I promptly forgot about it, since I had Shannon Tweed business to attend to! Thankfully, a post on io9 and the friend who read it and emailed me reminded me. And I also remembered that I had a copy, presumably sourced from the Japanese laserdisc. This is like the NOTEBOOK of Nilbog Milk posts!
Directed by Michael Mann way before MIAMI VICE, but it bears all his best scars. Stylish like that GLEE GQ, THE KEEP is replete with beautiful Romanian landscapes, gorgeous lighting, stellar photography, and solid acting (courtesy of name talent like Jurgen Prochnow, Gabriel Byrne, and a barely-recognizable Ian McKellen). But is it a good movie? Um, sort of.
A bunch of Nazis invade and occupy a keep (castle-esque ancient structure) in Romania. Unfortunately, they start getting picked off almost immediately and must enlist the aid of a Jewish Romanian history scholar. Oh, happenstance! Lest you think this is a wacky buddy comedy, it soon unfolds that there is something ancient and supernatural in the keep. And that's most of the comprehensible plot. The last half or so of this thing is a master's thesis in disorientation. Another supernatural guy shows up, ostensibly to cockblock the monster in the keep. He also beds the scholar's daughter. Then neon lasers are exchanged. This is an eighties movie about the forties and also about a vampire, sort of.
I don't know how to proceed. Oh, let's address the complaints. A) The monster looks dumb. Well, perhaps. He obviously could have been better-designed, but it wasn't RAWHEAD REX-level distracting. He sort of looked like Darkseid in leather armor and coal dust. Plus the movie showed him sparingly, but I've screenshot him in his full glory below should you wish to judge. B) The music is inappropriate. It's Tangerine Dream and it's all electronic ambient stuff, but it sometimes works. In a movie about fantastic things like ancient evil creatures, it amps up the surrealistic atmosphere to see WWII costumes and hear keyboard squonks. But it does kind of work to the movie's detriment by the end, when the two rivals are panging pink and NEON GREEN lasers at one another. Then the mood evades the viewer and this starts to feel like an SCA version of TRON or something. C) This is far worse than the book. It's been a while since I read The Keep, but I do remember being disappointed by the end, although I think the film disappointed me in other ways. For one thing, it feels REALLY rushed. The first half builds slowly and with a great creeping sense of menace, but the second half feels like they threw everything into it at a slapdash pace and got the F outta Romania. Worth seeing and very surprising that it hasn't been released domestically, since there are far, FAR worse things out on DVD here. It's probably a failure, all told, but an interesting one.
#21 of 31.

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