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Film / The Keep

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The Keep is a 1983 horror film, based on the first novel in The Adversary Cycle by F. Paul Wilson. Starring Jürgen Prochnow and Scott Glenn, with early appearances by Ian McKellen and Gabriel Byrne, it was directed by Michael Mann.

In 1941, a group of German soldiers are sent to guard a village near a mountain pass in Romania. Their leader, Captain Klaus Woermann (Prochnow) set up their headquarters in a citadel, the Keep. After accidentally unleashing an evil being, named Radu Molasar, reinforcements are sent with an SS Einsatzkommando led by Major Kaempffer (Byrne) but ultimately, the Germans are forced to seek the help of a Jewish history professor, Theodore Cuza (McKellen), who secretely to them ends up allying himself with the evil entity because he sees it as a means of ridding the world of Nazism. Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger (Glenn), with some connection to the Keep, shows up to interfere with Molasar's escape plan, and to save both the professor and his daughter, Eva (Alberta Watson) along with the few villagers that are left.

The Keep is a very strange and confusing - but not entirely bad - film. It is typical of Mann's directorial style. Though it featured an impressive cast and some good special effects, studio-enforced editing gutted the film and the untimely death of special effects supervisor Wally Veevers necessitated a completely different ending. The Keep bombed, and bombed hard. Nevertheless, it has gained a cult following in the ensuing years, thanks mostly to its soundtrack by Tangerine Dream, but also due to its interpretation of Molasar, as well as the rare mix of Gothic Horror with World War II.

This film contains examples of:

  • Actually Not a Vampire: So an evil being that leaves behind dried-out bodies and is locked in a Romanian fortress-like structure must obviously be a vampire, right? Wrong. What makes it worse is that Molasar is perfectly aware of this perception and deliberately feigns various vampiric traits, either to just mess with people or gain an edge over them. But the moment he no longer needs to pretend, he instantly proves to his victims how wrong they were.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Erich Kaempffer. In the book, he's blonde, but here he's black-haired.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Dr. Cuza's daughter Magda has become Eva.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Subverted in a big way with Klaus Woermann, who initially appears to be a stereotypical Nazi in his first scene. However, he aims to have good relations with the Romanian civilians, and looks down his nose at the SS.
    Woermann: [after being accused of incompetence] My competence was proven in combat, against soldiers who shoot back!
  • Artistic License – History: Mann deliberately put the Einsatzkommando in the famous all-black uniform to visually set them apart from the "good" German soldiers. Interestingly, everything else about their uniforms is accurate, including the lack of the SS lightning bolts anywhere but on their helmets (Einsatzkommando were SD and SD, although they were in the SS, didn't have the lightning bolts on their collars like regular SS).
  • Anti-Villain: Woermann. A German captain who doesn't belong to the Nazi Party, doesn't mistreat the villagers, cares about the men under his command and makes no attempt to hide his disdain for the reprehensible SS officer Kaempffer.
  • Asshole Victim: Kaempffer, to the point where it's easy to actively root for Molasar in the scene where Kaempffer dies a brutal but fitting death.
  • Batman Gambit: Cuza and Woermann want Eva out of the Keep, but she doesn't. Then Kaempffer enters, so Cuza pretends he wants her to stay inside, prompting Kaempffer to have her brought outside.
  • Big Bad: Molasar is the embodiment of everything evil. Need to scale him? He's facing against overzealous Nazi Einsatzkommando that kills indiscriminately and imposes terror tactics, and still easily comes off as as the worse of two evils.
  • Body Horror: Molasar's victims are either disintegrated entirely or left burned and charred after encountering him.
  • Canon Foreigner: Father Fonescu.
  • Cover Version: The end credits theme is an ambient cover of "Walking in the Air" from The Snowman.
  • Cult Soundtrack: Tangerine Dream's score for the film is one of the primary reasons it has become so beloved by its fans over the years, the pounding opening titles theme in particular.
  • Deadly Euphemism: "Teach him the art of translation" is Kaempffer-speak for "Beat this guy up."
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • Glaeken, at least in the theatrical cut with the truncated Downer Ending.
    • Simultaneously averted in that the scene where Alexandru (who otherwise just sort of disappears from the story) is murdered by his own sons was cut.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Woermann can’t hide his contempt for the SS at all, and he is consistently snarky about them and their methods.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The first 20 minutes of the movie is Prochnow’s show. And despite the fact that he’s a Nazi, he’s clearly not at all a villain. Then Glenn and, to a lesser extent, Byrne show up, and Prochnow’s Woermann is relegated to the background for the remainder of the film.
  • Dirty Coward: Woermann accuses Kaempffer of being this, because while Woermann risked his life fighting enemy armed forces, Kaempffer murdered unarmed civilians. Woermann's perceptions of Kaempffer's character are proven right when Kaempffer shoots Woermann in the back rather than confronting him directly and later when Kaempffer abjectly pleads and begs Molasar for his life.
  • Drone of Dread: Used frequently in the score to marvelous and eerie effect.
  • Elite Mooks: The Einsatzkommando, further contrasted by presence of regular Wehrmacht soldiers.
  • Enemy of My Enemy: Molasar convinces Cuza they have a common enemy. That, or Cuza just assumes it and Molasar plays along to gain his trust. In either case he's lying outright and is worse than the Nazis.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Literally everything we need to know about Erich Kaempffer, we learn in his first scene where he calmly orders some villagers executed.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Molasar.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Sadistic Einsatzkommando vs. ancient embodiment of evil. All of which has in the background "regular" Wehrmacht and Iron Guards.
  • A Father to His Men: Woermann does care both for his men and their well-being. And don't you dare questioning his commanding competence or skill of his men - both were proven in combat already.
  • Flat "What":
    Glaeken: When he goes, I go.
    Eva: What ?!
  • Good All Along: Glaeken is introduced as a rather sinister character, his glowing eyes and supernatural powers, together with his interest in the Keep, suggest that he might be in league with Molasar, or at the very least some other demonic being from the same source. It's later revealed that Glaeken was there to make sure Molasar never escapes the Keep.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: Played with. Cuza is convinced that nobody and nothing could be more evil than the Nazis, and hopes to set Molasar loose on them. It's only when Molasar demands that Cuza murder his own daughter that he recognizes that Molasar is probably the greater evil.
  • Literal Ass-Kicking: When the SS are rounding the villagers up, one of them gives a villager who isn't moving quickly enough for his liking a swift kick in the rear.
  • Macguffin Delivery Service: Cuza is convinced by Molasar to find and carry the talisman out of the Keep. He refuses at the end, with Eva's help.
  • Missing Reflection: As part of his obviously otherworldly nature, Glaeken casts no reflection. In the extended ending seeing his reflection in the water indicates that the curse is broken and that he has become mortal again.
  • Mook Horror Show: First the German soldiers experience this, and it's possible to feel sorry for them as Molasar devours his way through their ranks, seeing as there is effort put into making them seem human. Then the SS Einsatzkommando are brought in, and it's difficult not to cheer for the monster.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Alberta Watson, within minutes of meeting Glenn’s character, has a lengthy, fully-nude sex scene with him.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Woermann seems to be this, since he tells his men exactly what they want to hearnote , but he doesn't really believe in the party rhetoric, is anti-Fascist, and hates the SS. He still does his job anyway.
  • Neck Lift: Done to Kaempffer by Molasar when he kills him.
  • The Neidermeyer: Even by the standards of your stereotypical abusive SS officer with more viciousness than brains, Kaempffer is a real doozy.
  • "Pan from the Sky" Beginning: The movie opens with a shot of the stormy sky and then slowly pans down through the clouds and forested mountains before showing the German convoy on the road.
  • Papa Wolf: Molasar manages to convince Cuza that he is this to the Romanian Jews. He makes a big show of acting outraged when told that "his people" are being murdered, and vows to take vengeance against "the soldiers in black." It's all just a lie to get the Jewish Cuza to cooperate with him, and the desperate scientist swallows it hook, line and sinker.
  • Perpetual-Motion Monster: Being sealed up in the keep for 500 years doesn't seem to have slowed Molasar down much.
  • Railing Kill: Done to one of the Einsatzkommando by Glaeken, in gloriously silly slo-mo.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • Woermann delivers a drunken tirade against Kaempffer and accuses him of simply murdering people to feel powerful. Unusually, Kaempffer fires back with one of his own, accusing Woermann of being too afraid to stand up for what he believes in.
    • Later, when he realizes Molasar has lied to him, Cuza goes on a rant about how Molasar has exploited and used him.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Molasar not only has those, as opposed to Glaeken, but they glow.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Radu Molasar is locked in the titular keep. Various characters note early on that the building can't serve the role of a defensive structure, since it appears to be build to contain something inside, not outside.
  • Shoot the Dog: Father Fonescu's dog comes to a very bad end while the priest is (apparently) under Molasar's influence.
  • Spanish Civil War: Cuza lost his son during this war.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: It's heavily implied Cuza dies in the novel, but the movie lets him survive, albeit returned to his aged, decrepit state. Similarly, in the novel Glaeken kills the two Romanian border guards but in the movie he just intimidates them into getting out of his way.
  • Strawman Has a Point: Invoked in-universe. When a drunken Woermann criticizes the SS' ruthless practice of murdering civilians, Kaempffer asks quite pointedly when Woermann has done more than talk, and actually risked himself to try and stop it, accusing him of talking big but never acting. Woermann admits Kaempffer is right.
  • Technicolor Eyes: Glaeken's eyes are colored purple and glow brightly when he's pissed.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Lutz. After being expressly forbidden by Captain Woermann from futzing with the crosses in the keep, he and another soldier attempt to pry one loose from the wall the minute they're alone, with predictable results.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Kaempffer and his SS bully boys.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Where did Oster go? He isn't seen in the main room prior to Molasar's attack, so what happened to him?
  • "You!" Exclamation: Done by Molasar in reaction to Glaeken's return.
  • Your Head A-Splode: The two Einsatzkommando who try to rape Eva have this done to them by Molasar.