Customer Review

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Film First For Fairness, 15 Dec 2007
This review is from: The Keep [1983] (VHS Tape)
The Keep was broadcast in two parts many years ago. I saw the first half and would have liked to see the second because I thought the first was distinctly good. I recently stumbled across some references to it, from which I learned that the film was based on a book, and that the book was by F Paul Wilson, of whom I had not even heard. Comment from sources I have come to find reliable was along the lines that the film was not up to the book. In that case, I thought, better to give the film a chance while the book is still in the post.

It can't have been the book, therefore, and I hope it wasn't just the comment, that makes me conclude that the film is far better earlier than later. I reacted to the early scenes this time round much as I did last time - I thought they were excellent, and I was at that stage prepared to award the film 5 stars. 4-star standard overtook the production around half way, but by the end I could not see my way, even on some smoothed-out average evaluation, beyond a third star.

The production in general, and the camera work in particular, are absolutely outstanding to begin with. The atmosphere is heavy with sinister menace, and the set by and large, particularly the brooding Keep of course, is anyone's idea of nameless lurking horror. The imprisoned fiend is released by the thieving nazis, but as he progressively takes shape he deflates the quality of the narrative and even of the production as a whole. In the course of attaining his resonant bass boom he passes through a disconcertingly polite-sounding English public school diction. His intermediate-stage costume is surprisingly amateurish looking. It does not seem to be clear in the director's mind whether the phantom is set on avenging the wrongs inflicted by the occupiers or on just being a general all-round baddy.

This last ambiguity seems to reflect the rather different story in the book. The deaths of the storm-troopers are linked in the book to Transylvanian vampires, and the vampirism is portrayed,in the view of some commentators, as an allegory of fascism. In the film the escaped entity likewise appears only to target the more unpleasant Germans, but this didn't seem to me to sit naturally with its general persona as just a Large Nasty. Similarly, when asked by the Jewish professor who or what it is, it replies 'I am of you', which seems to imply that it is a monster projected from the general human id. However that is not the sole possession and prerogative of nazis still less of a sick old Jewish professor, and I could not see why from either angle such an embodiment would target the particular victims it selects.

That is an anomaly in the plot. The production takes a turn for the worse in parallel, and I believe the mistake has been in trying to make the effects too literal, rather than keeping at least some aura of the unexplained about them, as at the start. The talisman that the professor is bidden to take out of the Keep by his sinister new associate just looks like a rather ordinary torch or flashlight. As the denouement approaches, the talisman is attached in self-assembly mode to what resembles either a bazooka or just an ordinary length of black plastic piping, and the monster gets its final comeuppance from Jedi-like beams aimed from the kit as finally joined up. The agent of this outcome is a mysterious stranger with paranormal powers played by Scott Glenn who has come from somewhere unstated for precisely this purpose, only taking a short break for an energetic if solemn-faced bout of passion with the heroine, to whom he has hardly been introduced. It may be symbolic in some way, but in view of the urgency of his overall mission one has to suspect that this is screen sex for its own sake. After all he shows up, ravishes the fair maiden in double-quick time, announces that in destroying the monster he will be putting an end to himself as well, gives no answer to the heroine's enquiries as to what he thought he was doing in that case, and is duly spirited away into some other state of being or nothingness after achieving his ostensible objective.

The acting by the principals is not bad, but the only distinguished performance is from (surprise) McKellen as the elderly professor. The storm-troopers are slightly cast as pantomime nazis of the Ve haff Vays school, and my feeling is that the real foulness of who and what they were would have been conveyed better without such mechanical caricaturing. The real mechanical caricature is, sadly, the very monster who promised so atmospherically to keep us thrilled when the film started. A pity really. That start was very good indeed, but the director loses his way between the kind of allegory that some think Wilson intended and a rather hammed-up general horror thriller with second hand effects from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 21 Jan 2012 17:53:39 GMT
Last edited by the author on 21 Jan 2012 17:59:07 GMT
arbiter says:
very astute commentary
I too found these discrepancies between book and film rendition annoyingly unnecessary.
What escaped the sets department is also to build a castle to keep things IN...
(which doesn't come across in the film at all)

What I DID enjoy, however, was to find a film differentiating between (ordinary) German army and (mean) Gestapo personnel, at last.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Jan 2012 19:20:45 GMT
DAVID BRYSON says:
Thankyou for your kind and thoughtful comments.
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