Netflix Instant released Michael Mann’s The Keep into the wild today, so naturally, I watched it. I had never had a chance to view it (No DVD release!), but have always respected Mann’s work – he is responsible for Collateral, Heat, and Last of the Mohicans after all. Plus it’s always fun to check out a director’s early work, especially when it happens to be a horror film.
A group of Nazi soldiers, during World War II, are given marching orders to secure a fortress in a small Romanian village. Unbeknownst to the Nazi scum, the fortress was built with the goal of keeping a mysterious evil locked within its walls. Predictably, the Nazis, looking for treasure unleash the malicious spirit. Queue scary weird techno-ish music.
The first 20 minutes or so are very intriguing and moody. Well, the whole movie is moody, but early on Mann sets up the film to play out as a ghost story, complete with a couple really gruesome deaths involving a two nosey soldiers. At this point, you may be thinking that this movie is going to be awesome. There is some unknown evil entity killing Nazis and tossing their bodies around like rag-dolls. That is a setup I can get down with. The film gets away from the eerie chiller setup (unfortunately) and gets a bit wordy and whole lot less scary.
The entity eventually reveals itself to be a dude in a rubber suit with glowing red eyes and a tendency to be covered in smoke. I think the thing was supposed to be frightening, but it came up a little too hokey to be viewed in a serious tone. That didn’t stop me from enjoying the fact that the villain was a very interesting character. He’s trapped in the castle by an ancient rune and can only escape by luring people to do his dirty work. It’s a tried and true formula – it’s just the execution wasn’t all the way there.
The film is a bit hard to follow, the dialogue is muddled and often hard to hear and the plot is rather convoluted to begin with. Why the random love story? The Keep is based on Paul Wilson’s book of the same name, but loosely is the best word to describe it. Wilson has essentially disowned the movie. And you can’t really blame him as the film flopped originally and has essentially never seen the light of day – that is until today.
Ian McKellen has a good sized role as a Jewish professor familiar with the secrets of the keep. It was fun to see him early on, but it began to feel weird when I realized that almost all his lined were dubbed. Not sure what was going on there.
I think most horror fans would get a kick out of watching this if only for the nostalgia, Nazis, and Michael Mann factors. It’s not particularly good, but one of those films is certainly interesting enough to spend 96 minutes of your time with.
Snore Factor: ZZZZ (It’s a sleepy film)