The Keep is one of those special films that is seemingly secreted away by the film world. It’s virtually unknown in both nerd B-movie aficionado circles and mainstream audiences. It’s in that nebulas gray area. It’s a film that isn’t crappy enough to be loved with irony and it isn’t quality enough to be heralded as a revolutionary step forward. Thus, it’s nearly lost to the sands of time.
The Keep centers on a group of Nazis during WWII that occupy a small town in the Carpathian mountains and set up show in…. wait for it….. A Keep. As the film progresses strange occurrences begin to transpire. Soldiers go missing, people start dying, and no one can explain it.
The film’s first bold move was setting up the Nazis as the pov characters. Sure, we follow a repentant, antifascist German who has been pressured into joining the Reich but how did a movie with Nazis as the main characters get financed? How? That’s crazy?
So the Nazis take over this small town, the unleash SOMETHING and it starts killing people. You’d think the rest of the film would play out as the SOMETHING killing the Nazis, right? Wrong. A character that goes unnamed for most of his screen time is introduced. This character rides a motorcycle, is obviously American, and shoots bright white light out of his eyes. Yep. Awesome, right?
Then things take another turn: Gabriel Byrne is introduced as an insidious and vindictive Nazi storm trooper who usurps command of the Keep away from our Friendly-Neighborhood-Spider-Nazi-Protagonist.
As the film continues we’re introduced to even more characters. Namely Sir Ian Mckellan who plays a Jewish scholar who the Nazis believe will be able to help them uncover what is killing their men.
The film is an atmospheric, sprawling pseudo-epic. The soundtrack, composed by Tangerine Dream, adds to the surreal 1980’s take on WW2. There’s nothing quite like seeing a Nazi foot soldier fleeing for his life in slow-motion while 80’s synth-pop rifts drift out of a TV at you. It’s a magical, quasi-religious experience.
The Keep is a monster movie, as psychological thriller, a period piece, and a new wave music video all crammed into one. It’s utterly delightful and often times perplexing. The combination of practical effects, a constructed set, and the sometimes obstinate use of slow motion creates a beautiful tapestry that is as textured as it is muddled.
The Keep is almost an allegory. I’m not sure what of, but it’s definitely attempting to say something profound with it’s ending. And, similar to the Prisoner, I’ll probably spend the next ten years of my life attempting to understand it. The Keep is an astonishing accomplishment in tone and balls out brashness and an utter failure in pacing and consistency. The Keep is either the best B-movie I’ve ever seen or the worst Epic ever created. Either way, I love it.