When you see a movie whose top-billed stars are Scott Glenn and Jurgen Prochnow, but which also stars a young Gabriel Byrne and Ian McKellan, I ask you, do you have any choice but to watch it? No, of course not! Especially not if it's available streaming from Netflix. So Mike and I watched The Keep a few weeks ago.
It started out great--in the way an '80s horror movie about Nazis that takes place in an abandoned castle is great. And then it kind of fell apart, with characters who appeared out of nowhere, did rather pointless things for no discernible reason, then wandered away. Also there was one key, pivotal prop--a major plot point--that was clearly made out of a flashlight, a ruler, and some duct tape.
But the seed was there of a good horror story, and even the movie was a) good for at least half of it, and b) fascinating in its awfulness when it fell apart. You could see Michael Mann didn't know how to give enough information about these non-chatty characters in the time he had; the screenwriter didn't know how to convey Magda's inner struggle, and nobody quite knew how to balance the mystery of The Evil Force between pedestrian TMI and so mysterious you can't figure it out.
The only solution, of course, was for me to read the book. I'm only halfway through, but I can tell you now that I'm not going to have much to say at the end to anyone who hasn't seen the movie. The book does very well by comparison--in fact, it was doing very well as a stand-alone horror novel, striking a very interesting balance between the Nazis and The Evil Force. Some of the Nazis are horrifying people while others are just folks who grew up in Germany and joined the army and did what they were told. The Evil Force is killing them--which is good, for the most part--but then, it's killing pretty indiscriminately. Both sides are a threat to Magda (why is a Jewish woman named Magda? I'm not wrong to think that's usually short for some version of Magdalena, which is not so much a Jewish name, right?) and her father. It's a pretty good setup with some tension.
It kind of falls apart, though, because (and this is sort of a spoiler, I'm sorry), the plot kind of hinges on her reserve and introversion and how the mysterious Glenn causes her to react with unprecedented longing and fascination. And you know how science fiction writers really shouldn't write sex? Ultra-libertarian horror novelists probably shouldn't write about burning passion from a woman's POV. We'll just say I'm left with doubts.
Also (major, MAJOR spoiler), the evil which is vague and unnamed in the movie is explicitly named a vampire in the book. I hope I don't seem narrow-minded when I say that I am so over vampires.
I'm still reading the book, though. Mostly because I'm picturing Jurgen Prochnow as the sympathetic Wehrmacht captain and Ian McKellan as the ailing old scholar. As awesome as I think Scott Glenn is, he's not quite suave enough for Glenn--I'm going with more of a young Roy Scheider kind of thing. Now we just need a role for Ray Wise and we're all set.