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6. The Keep (1983), dir. Michael Mann

Alas and alack for me, I watched two terrible films in a row, and this was the second one. At least I didn't subject [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 to this one - I'm not sure our friendship would have survived it... ;-)

I wanted to watch it because the plot summaries said it was about an unknown, terrible and implicitly quasi-vampiric Thing which had been trapped inside a keep in Romania for centuries, and was unleashed upon modernity by occupying Nazi troops during the Second World War, which sounded like a good premise. I also read that the Thing's name was Radu Molasar, and as Radu is the name of the historical Vlad III Dracula's brother, this spoke to my theory that the 'Dracula' played by John Forbes-Robertson whom we see at the beginning of Hammer's Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, who is similarly imprisoned inside a castle, is the Christopher Lee-Dracula's brother, imprisoned by him for some kind of betrayal or misdemeanour centuries earlier. However, none of the vampiric promise of the film was realised.

In fairness, some aspects of the visual design were worthwhile. Somebody had obviously got out some books on Romania and made a fair effort to reflect its appearance in the architecture of the village outside the Keep and the villagers' clothing. Although the film was actually shot in Wales, they had hidden this fact quite well via tight camera angles. They had also built quite an impressive set for the interior of the Keep, and used it to good effect sometimes in shots involving interesting angles, lighting and smoke. But even in the visual department, much of it was shot and soundtracked like an '80s rock video. Apparently, Tangerine Dream did a soundtrack album for it, but as far as I understand it this isn't what's actually on the prints of it now available. Instead, it's just dreary synths wandering in and out of tune. The Thing is initially shown as merely two glowing eyes obscured behind a huge cloud of smoke, which is quite good, but then later on the smoke clears and we see him, and this turns out to have been an error.

Otherwise, there is not much good I can say. The script was considerably worse than that for The Secret of Dorian Gray. I think those involved in the production thought it was atmospheric and profound - certainly, there were a lot of shots designed to convey this. But the greatest actual complexities it achieved involved the Thing declaring that it wished to scourge the Nazis from its land, but then turning out to be just as bad as or maybe worse than the Nazis. Quite the conundrum.

The rest of plot is neither very good nor effectively conveyed. After the scenario with the Nazis and the Keep has been established, we suddenly switch to Piraeus (the port of Athens), where we begin following the journey of a mysterious figure called Glaeken. (I'm not sure whether his name is ever actually used in the film - I got it from the Wikipedia page). Over time, we learn that he has purple eyes and green blood, cannot be seen in a mirror, is not killed by bullets, and carries a mystical staff which he eventually combines with a mcguffin from inside the Keep to create a weapon which defeats the Thing using the very latest '80s laser effects. (These scenes in particular very much reflect the recent popularity of the original Star Wars trilogy.) But it's never made at all clear who he is, how he got the staff, how he knows the Thing has been unleashed from the Keep, or why he wants to defeat it. Also, the film contains exactly one (1) woman, Eva, who is there primarily to be an object of desire or concern for the male characters - especially Glaeken, with whom she unconvincingly falls in love, and her father, a medieval historian roped in by the Nazis to try to understand the Thing. She is the subject of an attempted rape by the Nazi soldiers, and after that her role is for her father to struggle to protect her and for her to express trauma when Glaeken appears to have been killed.

The Wikipedia page relates a troubled production history, including how the director had envisaged a much longer running time allowing for a more dramatic final confrontation followed by a happy ending for Eva, Glaeken and her father and all sorts of extra details. But space could have been made to clarify the plot and develop the characters better within the running time allowed by halving the length of the many lingering atmospheric shots, which the film as it stands does not really earn. And I am here to tell you that nothing I have read about the additional material the director wanted to include would have improved the film - only lengthened it.

Don't go there; don't even think about it. I have watched this film so that you will never need to.

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  • 24 Nov 2020, 09:10
    Ciao caro.
    Ho ascoltato la canzone Domine Salvum Fac su youtube. Ripete la parola Domine due volte dopo che segue Salvum Fac e non capisco oltre. Ma mi sembra che il testo non corrisponda del tutto…
  • 8 Nov 2020, 13:25
    I think just 'not being Trump' proved to be enough!
  • 8 Nov 2020, 12:29
    Yes, that's it. Just having someone in charge who isn't actively making things worse for the world is a big relief.
  • 8 Nov 2020, 11:34
    There are many, many doubts and worries. But still, there is an enormous rock of anguish that has been weighting on my soul since the first days after that monster's election which has now lifted.
  • 8 Nov 2020, 11:32
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