What happens when you bring together Scott Glenn, Gabriel Byrne, Jürgen Prochnow, Alberta Watson, and Ian McKellen, wrap them up in music by Tangerine Dream, and spend months in a Welsh quarry — The Keep is what happens.

A gothic horror that is candidly more atmosphere than plot and was a commercial flop when released, but is today a cult classic amongst the few who have ever seen it.

And next month the Prince Charles Cinema has dug out a copy to put on the big screen.

I first saw the film when I used to rent VHS tapes from an indie store when it first came out, and in 1986 it was shown on BBC2 as part of their “Lost and Found” season that was shown ahead of Alex Cox’s Moviedrome. I videoed it only to find a double-echo on the screen throughout my recording. Argh!

Since then it has very occasionally graced the TV screens and has never been released on DVD in the UK.

A summary of the plot is that German soldiers are sent to occupy a Romanian town in a valley with a mysterious fortification at the end, which they soon realize is a prison to hold something in, and that’s when people start dying. Although there is a little bit of gore, it’s more a beautifully filmed thriller, and fortunately, most of the special effects are lavished on the evil presence, and how it’s revealed the first time is one of the best special effects ideas ever put on screen.

Throughout all this are the mists of the Romanian town, moody lighting, a slow-moving plot, and the wonderful music by Tangerine Dream tying it all together.

The film has in more recent years been the topic of much speculation about attempts to issue a director’s cut as the studio butchered the length of the film to save money. As it stands it’s a bit disjointed and there are some plot holes if you want to be picky, but candidly, this film is more of “an experience” as the visuals and music elevate it to an art form.

The Keep will be at the Prince Charles Cinema next month – details here, as part of an October horror season.

If you’re a fan and don’t know this bit of trivia – prepare for a surprise, the final scene music is a very moody version of “Walking in the Air” from The Snowman. Aled Jones it certainly ain’t.

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3 comments
  1. Chris Rogers says:

    Any reason you don’t say who the director is?? It’s Michael Mann of course, best known at the time for exec producing Miami Vice and since for directing a range of films including Last of the Mohicans, The Insider, Ali, Heat etc.

    • ianVisits says:

      Any reason you don’t say who the director is?? <-- randomly not included along with many other things not randomly included.

  2. Spencer Richards says:

    I had read the book before watching the film. The book I remember was very good, a game between the Jewish professor and the evil spirit. This side of the book the film didn’t use at all from what I can remember. Maybe that is in the directors cut!

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