Thursday, May 24, 2007

Vamp or Not? The Keep


This film, directed by Michael Mann and released in 1983, often finds itself linked into the vampire genre - though ostensibly much of that is due to the novel by F Paul Wilson, on which it is based. Having not read the novel I look at this without such pre-conceptions and, to be honest, come out of the experience still a little unsure.

Part of the problem is that the film is set at the Dinu Pass, in the Carpathian Alps and, thanks to Stoker, the Carpathians have become synonymous with vampires. I have read it suggested that this is an exploration of the ‘truth’ behind the vampire myth - though the film does not say as much. The year is 1941 and a group of German soldiers are sent to a village beneath a giant keep in order to hold the pass.

The leader of the Germans is Captain Klaus Woermann (Jürgen Prochnow) and he notices an oddness about the keep straight away. Inside the keep, embedded in the walls, are 108 nickel crosses - actually Tau crosses. He questions the caretaker Alexandru (William Morgan Sheppard) who does not know the owners of the keep, he and his forefathers have simply always been the caretakers. Woermann has noticed that the keep seems to be built backwards, with large stones used on the inner construction and smaller stones on the outer construction – Tau Crossas though it were built to keep something in rather than something out. Alexandru is also vague about who built the keep, perhaps Turks or perhaps Walachian warlords.

The caretaker does get somewhat upset when a soldier tries to remove a cross, saying that they must never be touched. The soldier believed it was silver and hid other treasures. Having earned guard duty for his misdemeanour the soldier notices that one of the crosses seems to glow in the night and calls in one of his mates. They try to prise out the cross and the block it is embedded into shifts, revealing a passage. Glaeken's eyes glowThe soldier climbs in and sees another cross ahead. Suddenly the block with the second cross, and he, are sucked forward. Beyond the second cross is a chasm with strange architecture at the bottom, essentially a huge cave. Cue flashing lights and strange wind and lo, we have a dead soldier. As this happens a man, Glaeken Trismegestus (Scott Glann), awakes in Greece and his eyes shine, he heads to Romania.

With the keep's protection broken five soldiers are dead and Woermann has requested relocation. This is denied and a SS troop are sent as relief headed by Major Kaempffer (Gabriel Byrne). The difference between the German troops and the Nazis are immediately apparent. Kaempffer blames partisans for the deaths, rounds up the villagers and has three men executed at random. He then takes five hostages and informs the villagers that if another German dies they will be executed. The body of the latest dead soldier is found and writing is on the wall by the body. Unable to read it, the village priest Fathe Fonescu (Robert Prosky) suggests that Dr Theodore Cuza (Ian McKellan) might be able to translate. He and his daughter Eva (Alberta Watson) are Jews, and are in a resettlement depot. They are brought to the keep and Cuza translates the words as “I will be free”, written in a 500 year dead language.

energy cloudBut is it vampire? The creature - for want of a better word - is credited with the name Molasar (Michael Carter) and starts off as an energy cloud, rushing along the corridors like a wind and, I guess, acting like a highly motivated vampiric mist – at a push. That said it could just be an energy cloud.

There is an attempted rape of Eva by a pair of German soldiers and Molasar rescues her, Molasar reformingkilling the soldiers and then carrying her back to her father. At this point he seems like an indistinct red glowy thing, vaguely humanoid, within the cloud. It seems the more he kills, by stealing their lives, the more reformed he becomes. He manages to make a deal with Cuza, which basically says if the old, wheelchair bound man takes an amulet away from the keep he will kill the soldiers in black (the SS) and their leaders. the finished productTo achieve this he cures Cuza of his debilitating illness by laying on a neon energy type hand. Now vampires are not known for curing illness.

Later we see Molasar and he is essentially built up to muscle and actually looks quite like a folklore golem, though he clearly isn’t one. This effect is even more clear when we see him whole.

Glaeken has no reflectionWe also need to look at the character Glaeken, who is not human. It becomes apparent that he was the one who trapped Molasar and it also becomes apparent that for one to die they both must, cancelling each other out. As well as the glowing eyes I mentioned, Glaeken also bleeds glowing green and more interestingly, in a quite understated scene, we see he has no reflection.

life being drainedMolasar kills by feeding. It seems that he sucks the life out of his victims and we see this as energy sucked from the eyes. This feeding seems to be reconstituting him. The victims appeared charred and one’s head explodes. We have seen energy sucking vampires before and yet it is not necessarily exclusively a vampire trait. Part of the problem is that the film does not deign to tell us what these two creatures are.

cowering behind the crossSunlight does not appear to be an issue, though Molasar attacks at night. We do have the use of the Tau crosses. The crosses seem tied into the amulet or pendent that keeps the creature trapped and they do not seem to be that effective on their own, though the removal of one allowed him into the keep proper. We see Kaempffer use a standard cross as a ward and it fails, though this is perhaps because he is as evil as the creature himself. Interestingly the tau cross often represents a gateway, though in this case it seems more of a locking of a gateway.

The film itself is dreamy and quite atmospheric, though the special effects (particularly Molasar) are a bit rubbery. I was unconvinced by McKellan, who sounded less like a Romanian Jew and more like a nativea victim New Yorker. I should also mention the Tangerine Dream soundtrack. I do quite like Tangerine Dream but the electronic stylings were intrusive and didn’t really fit the mood/period of the film.

Vampire wise I am unconvinced, but the film does have a lot of genre interest from the derivatives it uses. A flawed film that could do with a remake, which perhaps tells us exactly what the thing is meant to be.

The imdb page is here.


Anthony Hogg said...

The answers to "Vamp or Not?" may be alluded to in The Complete Vampire Companion by Rosemary Ellen Guiley with J. B. Macabre (New York: Macmillan, 1994).

F. Paul Wilson was one of the authors interviewed in it, and he has this to say about the novel this film was based on:

"In my novel The Keep I used all the trappings of the classic vampire story, like the Gothic elements. However, I employed these traditional elements such as a red herring to set the reader up for something that I hoped was much worse." (p. 98)

Indeed, on F. Paul Wilson's website, Repairman Jack, he incorporates The Keep (1981) novel into his "Adversary Cycle".

In his introduction to his novelised version of Midnight Mass (2004), Wilson explicitly calls The Keep a "pseudo vampire" novel.

It's commonly known that Wilson was not too fond of the movie adaptation of the The Keep. He even refers to its main villain as "a cross between Darth Vader and The Hulk" (See: "Author Interview: F. Paul Wilson" by J.G. Faherty).

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Anthony. I've not read the novel but it looks like my direction was sound in this - though I ended up second guessing myself.

Love Wilson's description of the enemy.

Must keep an eye out for the Guiley book you quoted.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Actually, I just realised that I had heard of Guiley. She appears in Requiem for the Vampire, along with some blatant product placement!

Anthony Hogg said...

Ah, cheers for that, Taliesin.

Yeah, Guiley has written three books on vampires (including the one I mentioned to you).

The other, is of course, Vampires Among Us (1991) and The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters (2004).

I particularly enjoy Complete.

You should be able to get a decently priced copy on eBay.

I'd hazard to guess that the product placement was probably an act of gratitude for her appearance in the movie, as I'm sure she wouldn't've been paid much for her appearance in it.

lucasdigital said...

The novel makes it clear that Molasar and Glaekan are not vampires but preternatural entities who may have been the source of vampire mythology.

Molasar manipulates visitors to the Keep using the expectations they have from vampire legend, he feigns fear of the cross because it provides those he wants to control with a (false) sense of security.

I've never actually seen the film, but I'd love to see a good remake.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

lucasdigital, to be fair I've not read the book - but research agrees that the author did not see it as vampiric.

There are vampire staples used, however, in the film and it is listed on many a filmography - hence it being investigated.

Thank you ever so much for the comment, it is always good to have some input from someone who has read the source material

cyborgelf said...

lucasdigital was on the right track. No, Rasalom is not vampiric. However, he is a proto-evil that the vampire mythology is partially based upon. As the novel explains, Rasalom feeds on fear, suffering, misery and man's inhumanity to man. Early people translated this feeding into the drinking of blood, which is much more tangible and easier to understand. In the novel, which is part of a larger series, Rasalom plays upon the professor's knowledge of Romanian history and vampire mythology in order to control him. Also, the cross is a mutation of the hilt of the sword that can destroy Rasalom.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers for thst cyborgelf - I really am going to have to read the novel/series at some point.