17 May 2010 | Aylmer
To call this film an oddity or a curiosity piece is a bit of an understatement. Actually if you look at this, there's already a lot of reviews here, so strangely enough this film is not as forgotten as its ashamed director would like it to be.
THE KEEP starts out extremely well with a spellbindingly dreamlike and somewhat pretentious sequence with the Germans rolling into a small Romanian hamlet during WW2. Things remain interesting as long as the film keeps up the bizarreness and borderline out-of-place Tangerine Dream synthesizer music. However, things get silly when it turns out that the Germans have unwittingly raised a demon from a thousand year slumber who goes on a slow killing spree while fallen angel Scott Glenn works his way back there to save the earth. Things rapidly unravel as the promising setup settles into a plot which manages the amazing task of becoming nonsensical and routine simultaneously!
A few things guarantee though that this imperfect film will forever have my attention. For one, it actually does a decent job of melding the horror and war genres and gives a brief glimpse of the completely ignored Romanian complicity in World War 2. It actually interestingly manages to give the German soldiers some characterization as well. Another thing this film has going for it is Michael Mann's completely OCD touch to the whole thing which oddly suits the subject matter.
Not to mention the inspired casting; Jurgen Prochnow shines in his first major English-language role as a conflicted Wehrmacht captain matched by a cold and calculating Gabriel Byrne as his closed-minded S.S. superior. Scott Glenn and Alberta Watson do about as much as they can with their very underwritten protagonal characters and Ian McKellen hams things up considerably as a Jewish professor who tries to maneuver the demon into destroying the Germans for him.
Actually, come to think of it, this film would have done just fine without Glenn or Watson - they seem only to exist to sidetrack the film into romantic drama territory which adds nothing. Much more interesting is McKellen's inner conflict and the exchanges between Prochnow and Byrne. Things seem awfully rushed at the film's last act considering the slow pace through most of the film, but that may be more the work of studio meddling than anything.
Definitely worth picking up if you're into cinematic curiosities. Fits right in with THE SOLDIER and THIEF if you're looking for early 80's murky drama accompanied by Tangerine Dream, Alberta Watson, and Robert Prosky.