In one of the weirdest Second World War movies ever made, a bunch of German soldiers bivouac in a remote old Romanian castle in 1941 and get gruesomely decimated by some unseen, supernatural force.
Two of the soldiers are sucked into the void by a blinding white light, and the mysterious doings begin in earnest.
A Jewish professor (Ian McKellen) is rescued from a nearby concentration camp to figure out what is happening. He arrives sick but is made well by a strange force with laser eyes. His daughter (Alberta Watson) is later saved from Nazi rapists by the same force, who makes the stormtroopers’ heads explode.
Even the village priest (Robert Prosky) is soon corrupted by the very proximity of all this supernatural power.
Later, the force morphs into a crudely costumed monster reminiscent of the Creature from the Black Lagoon – still with the red eyes but now given to bellowing platitudes and dire oaths.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Greece, a man named Glaeken Trismegistus (Scott Glenn) – his eyes glowing white, not red – has a vision and heads to Romania.
Turns out he’s the guy who built the fortress and he’s been hanging around Europe for 500 years doing odd jobs and keeping half an eye on the place.
Soon, they will meet. Soon, they will clash. Soon, the film will end.
By turns chilling, stylish, portentous and just plain silly, Michael Mann’s second feature was a box-office bomb that temporarily wrecked his cinema career (he also wrote the screenplay, adapted from a novel by F Paul Wilson). He went back to television and created Miami Vice
The images in The Keep are muddy and unfocused and the oppressive score by Tangerine Dream sounds like Moog music for a Black Mass. After a while, when the plot frays under the tension of its own murkiness, the music seems to take over, turning the silly mess into a hyper-tense music video without plot or purpose.
Gabriel Byrne as an SS officer with a serious haircut, is worth the price of admission alone, however.
Author F Paul Wilson hated it, and Mann’s three-hour director’s cut was chopped in half by Paramount.