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The Keep (1983) Review

The Keep is a 1983 British horror film directed by Michael Mann and starring Scott Glenn, Ian McKellen, and Alberta Watson. The film is based on the novel of the same name by F. Paul Wilson.

The Keep tells the story of a group of Nazi soldiers who are stationed at a remote castle in the Romanian countryside. The soldiers are ordered to guard a mysterious artifact that is being kept in the castle. Soon, the soldiers begin to experience strange and supernatural occurrences. The soldiers are picked off one by one by an invisible force.

Why oh why hasn’t this 80s treat had a decent, remastered DVD release? Nazis occupying a castle in the Carpathian mountains unleash an ancient, imprisoned evil that has been sealed for all time within the walls of the fortress and it isn’t long before they are getting killed in mysterious ways. Enter psychopathic SS Einsatzgruppen leader Major Kaempffer (Gabriel Byrne), who blames partisans and starts slaughtering the locals.

It’s not long before even the psychopathic SS has to accept it is not the work of mere partisans and enlist the help of a crippled Jewish professor Theodore Cuza, who, until then, had been en route to one of the Nazi death camps. Our SS fanatic wastes no time in cementing friendly relations with the Jew by informing him that “There is a door into the concentration camp, and the only way out is through the chimney”.

I guess it is no surprise that when the evil proposes an alliance with Doctor Cuza (Ian McKellen), and cures his degenerative disease, that he jumps at the chance. The good doctor is prepared to see the Nazis destroyed at any cost.

Just look at the cast list. Jurgen Prochnow, Ian McKellen, Scott Glenn, Gabriel Byrne. What a cast they gathered, and yet it has not had a decent release since VHS. That’s an injustice. Many films that are trash have had the benefit of decent releases, and yet this little gem has not. Editors Note: this movie was released on laserdisc

Despite my cravings for a DVD release though, there are a number of points that hold this back from being a true classic. The plotting is muddled in places, and Scott Glenn’s mysterious character Glaeken Trismegestus is not adequately explained. His role is central to the plot, integrally linked to the forces which initially imprisoned the evil, and yet none of this is more than touched upon. He’s left as a totally pivotal enigma. Again, the same goes for the evil force itself – its true nature, who it is and how it was imprisoned (and by whom) is never really developed.

The ending again is a let down after a point. The redemption theme, with Dr Cuza realizing how he has betrayed his own principals is solid, as is the climax involving reluctant Nazi Jurgen Prochnow and his psychopathic superior Kaempffer (Byrne). Kaempfers reaction to the finale is just perfect, it suited his nature to a tee and was very satisfying.

However, the show of lights which make up the final conflict itself was poorly done. I just did not like it one bit. It felt weak, and a disappointing end to a very solid film. Again, the lack of development of the enigmatic Glaeken Trismegestus contributes heavily to this. His mystery, the root of his powers, are never explored – they are just there, which removes much of the coherency and impact from the finale.

Still, it is a solid and ghostly film, generally very eery, which explores a lot of different themes and fails perhaps mostly on account of its failing to develop enough of these themes far enough. The excellent cast work hard and raise it far above the average, though it remains to me a little gem that could have been so much more had the storytelling been tighter and the numerous plot intricacies developed further.

The film is atmospheric and creepy. The castle is a great setting for the film. The film’s standout performance is by Scott Glenn as the Nazi captain. The film is also notable for its use of special effects. The Keep is a well-made horror film that is worth watching.


In 1941, a company of Nazi soldiers arrives at a castle in Romania to use it as a base of operations. The commanding officer, Colonel Weitz, is warned by a local man, Glaeken Trismegestus, that the castle is cursed and that it would be unwise to stay there. The Colonel dismisses the warning and has his men begin to set up camp.

That night, one of the soldiers, Klaus Woerner, has a nightmares about a monstrous creature. He wakes up to find the creature, a gargoyle-like being, in his room. The creature kills Woerner and then vanishes.

The next day, the Colonel is informed of Woerner’s death and is again warned by Trismegestus about the curse. The Colonel again dismisses the warning and orders his men to search the castle for the creature. They find nothing and the Colonel decides to have the castle dynamited.

Before the dynamite can be set off, however, the creature attacks again, killing several soldiers. The Colonel finally believes Trismegestus and agrees to leave the castle. As they are leaving, the Colonel orders his men to destroy the castle.

The creature, however, is not finished with them. It follows them back to their base and begins killing them one by one. The only ones who seem to be able to stop it are Trismegestus and a young woman named Eva.

Trismegestus explains that the creature is a guardian of an ancient evil that is imprisoned in the castle. The only way to stop the creature is to destroy the evil. To do this, Trismegestus and Eva must enter the castle and find the evil’s prison.

The two of them enter the castle and begin their search. The creature, however, is not far behind them. It begins to pick them off one by one as they search the castle.

Trismegestus and Eva finally find the evil’s prison and destroy it. The creature is destroyed along with it. With the evil gone, the curse is lifted and the soldiers are able to return to their base.

Movie Details

Director: Michael Mann
Writer: Michael Mann
Actors: Scott Glenn, Ian McKellen, Gabriel Byrne
Release Year: 1983