The Keep (1983)

The Keep (1983), directed by Michael Mann.

During WW2, German soldiers arrive at a remote Romanian village in the Carpathians. They want to occupy an old fortress, although the locals try to persuade them not to, without explaining why. The soldiers disturb an ancient evil force and begin dying in horrible ways. The SS arrives to clean things up, which doesn't help. A mysterious guardian of the Keep awakes and is on his way to deal with the demon.

This has never been on DVD, although Netflix has it for streaming. My thumbnails are from the laserdisc. You read a lot of speculation as to why it hasn't been on disc since then: some say Mann hates it, others say that's not so and he doesn't have the power to keep it out of print anyway. Music rights are often blamed: could that be the case here?

It has the building blocks of a horror mythology, but doesn't do much with them. We like to see nazis call up something they cannot put down again, but it's executed erratically, with adolescent action and magic combat. Some of the special effects are intriguing (the demon as a walking cloud of smoke) but most are rudimentary. Most disappointing is the final revelation of the demon as a man in a rubber suit.

It has good features: a very dark, ominous old-world tone and a strong cast. Jurgen Prochnow (good German officer), Gabriel Byrne (evil SS officer), Ian McKellen (Jewish scholar), Scott Glenn (magical guardian, a bit too American for the role). That the demon is powered by the evil component of human nature is a good notion, as is the charge that the nazis themselves are living a fairy tale they force others to believe.

The Tangerine Dream score is both good and bad: good because it doesn't match the era and suggests encounters with the inexplicable. It is powerful at times, but 1980s synthesizer tracks sometimes seem light and frivolous in retrospect.

Brief passion and nudity. Filmed in Wales.