Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Movie Appraisal: The Keep (1983)

I'm going to dig into The Keep directed by Michael Mann and largely forgotten by everybody else. This movie has the distinction of having Nazi zombies in it, which I have to say makes this movie pretty damn awesome.

Now, this movie has a bit of a soft place in my heart. I'm not really certain why. It's a bad movie. I just want to get that out of the way. The pacing is bad. The plot is confusing and hard to follow, and the characters are muddled and poorly written, but I still like this film for some reason.

I think part of the reason I like this film is because of a young Ian McKellan (or at lest younger than very old) as Dr. Theodore Cuza, a professor of Jewish history, to come to a particular keep in Romania so that he can decipher some strange symbols inside the keep. Dr. Cuza, as you might guess, also happens to be Jewish... and the main characters of this movie are Nazis... during World War II. So, this movie already has a message of one sort or another before too long in. Watching the Nazis one by one be taken down by some unseen force is nice in a way, but it also invokes a certain sympathy even for those darn Nazis. They're terrified to stay in the keep, but they're under orders to stay there anyway.

One of the reasons I really do like this movie is because of the story showing that not all Nazis agree with the death camps and the extermination of all lesser races. The primary protagonist for much of the film, Captain Klaus Woermann (Jürgen Prochnow), is actually against a lot of the Nazi policies and is actually not a Nazi himself. He fights for Germany to be stronger and recover, not for philosophical and terrible goals. And I like that. I like seeing that even though this man fights alongside Nazis, he finds the way they think and do things abhorrent. Of particular interest throughout the film are the fights between Woermann and Sicherheitsdienst Officer Sturmbannführer Eric Kaempffer (Gabriel Byrne), who is a member of the SS. They frequently argue about everything from leadership to what to do next to combat the force killing off the Nazis.

The movie is interesting in that the primary protagonist, Glaeken Trismegestus (Scott Glenn), is not really introduced until fairly late in the film, and the same is true for the primary antagonist, who is seen in a cloudy form, and reminds me very strongly of Sauron in the prologue to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

So, getting into the story a little more, the professor, helping the Nazis decipher the strange symbols and lettering, brings along his daughter Eva (Alberta Watson) with him. Dr. Cuza has a terribly debilitating case of scleroderma, and he feels that his daughter can help him with simpler tasks. Soon after they come, Eva finds herself in the midst of two Einsatzkommandos and is sexually assaulted by them before being helped by Molasar, who is very clearly not a good guy. What Molasar wants is for Dr. Cuza to help him escape the keep, and Molasar is willing to do anything for that help, including healing the professor of his debilitating disease.

Glaeken soon comes to the small Romanian village which is at the edge of the keep, since he somehow knew that there was going to be trouble because of some kind of psychic link between himself and Molasar. He meets and starts having a relationship with Eva while Dr. Cuza really just wants him gone so he can repay Molasar by setting him free.

The end of this film is trippy and weird, involving a fight sequence between Molasar and Glaeken, with Nazi zombies, Dr. Cuza going a little insane, Eva trying to help,but failing miserably and everything looking like it could be lost. Glaeken does eventually prevail and defeat the evil Molasar, who is likened in the film to Dracula, but at what cost? Glaeken falls for a long time, and eventually awakens seeing his reflection in a puddle. Throughout the film, he has been certain that he will die when he confronts Molasar, which is strange for him because he is very old. He is technically an immortal linked to Molasar, and he figured since there is that link he would die if Molasar did. Well, he survived and Eva comes to him in the end and they very obviously live happily ever after.

Now, what can I say other than that? I actually read the book by F. Paul Wilson of this a while after I originally saw the movie, and I have to say that maybe the book adds a little more sense to this movie, but that's not saying much. I liked the movie more, possibly because of the visuals. So, in fact, I've done two reviews back-to-back, praising the movies of certain stories and saying that the stories themselves aren't as good. And I'll stick by that.

Also, I know that a lot is mentioned of the soundtrack of this film being by Tangerine Dream and therefore excellent, and I have to agree. The music is fitting for the movie and works really well.

Now, for any of you out there who would like to watch this movie, good luck with that. This movie is hard to find. There is no DVD and the VHS is hard to find from what I've seen, but if you do happen to find it and watch it I guarantee it will be worth it despite Michael Mann and F. Paul Wilson taking an extreme dislike to this movie. I liked it, and maybe you will too.

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