The Keep
Director: Rob Green

THE KEEP. 1983
Director: Michael Mann

Director: Michael J. Bassett

Director: Neil Marshall

Weird War Films Reviewed
by Paghat the Ratgirl

The BunkerIt is true that a bunch of actors talking in fake German accents while playing Nazis can be laughable.

But not half as laughable as a group of second-rate British actors (who you'd expect to be mere background players in the Pub Scene of a London or Dublin story) speaking with heavy British accents & even ejaculating "Bloody!"

They even call Americans "Yanks" is more a Britishism than German; German soldier-slang used the word "Amis" not "Yanks." On every detail large or small, this film knows nothing about WWII & so never provides an air of conviction.

It took me fifteen minutes to realize The Bunker (2001) wasn't set in some alternate-dimension where the British were the nazis. Although the script insists they're Germans, they never create even one second of character credibility. They're so British I half expected them to say, "Cheerio Gubinner."

The story is unremarkable & more of Z-film war-story than of the weird ghost story promised. The "reveal" at the end of the film is itself rather weak & certainly does not make the boring incidents that preceded the reveal less boring.

If bad war movies are your cup of tea, this might seem acceptable. If it hadn't been done so unconvincingly, The Bunker might've been a two-star film instead of a one.

The KeepWayyyy better "weird war" films would include The Keep (1983), Dog Soldiers (2002), & Deathwatch (2002).

The earliest of the lot is the atmospheric The Keep from a novel by F. Paul Wilson, & a director who has long been slipping humbly about without the praise he merits. My favorite of his films is probably Manhunter (1986), the first & in some ways best take on Thomas Harris's fiction character Hannibal Lecter.

For The Keep there are fine performances from Scott Glen as the mysterious soldier who can fight the devil, Jurgen Prochnow & Gabriel Byrne as nazis, & Ian McKellen as the Jewish scholar who has some understanding of what the Nazis have unleashed upon the world.

Nazis have discovered a strange citadel in Roumania evidently built over a portal to another realm or dimension, probably Hell.

They have breached the barrier & released an evil greater than their own, the demon Molasar (shown in the photo at top), against whom their forces are helpless.

So desparate are the nazis that they are even willing to make an allience with the Jewish scholar or exorcist brought from Auschwitz, if that is what it takes to find out how to destroy the demon & re-seal the portal.

Meanwhile halfway 'round the world, a psychic soldier awakens on his cot knowing a demon is unleashed, & begins his journey to Roumania to do it battle.

A good budget well-invested in gloomy sets to make the Keep complex & real, actors of high merit, & a script by director Michael Mann which treats the subject with severity, collude to provide a top-grade weird war movie.

DeathwatchIt isn't impossible to do good work without the budget. An important yet incomplete scene shown in the "deleted scenes" section of the Deathwatch DVD shows us a bit about a sequence partially excluded because the budget did not permit completing it correctly. From this clue it is clear that this excellent horror film could've been even better.

But it's more than good enough even on a shoestring. In spite of the restrictive budget, Deathwatch has a big-budget wide-screen look, perhaps made possible by the limited sets (limited but very richly textured, an elaborate maze of World War I trenches).

The film is understated throughout, taking advantage of the horror of the wartime environment, the muddy trench infested with rats & corpses, the incessant rain, the fear & violence of the men. On top of it all is revenge-ghost story of considerable eeriness.

Deathwatch is a very creepy thoughtfully done film with good acting throughout -- & how rarely this can be said of modern horror films. This is Michael J. Bassett's first film & I was instantly eager that he direct more.

Dog SoldiersThe meaningfully titled Dog Soldiers is a gory low-budget werewolf film about a group of soldiers on a military exercise in Scotland. They encounter more than they bargained for near a tiny village overrun by a werewolf pack, or clan.

The soldiers take shelter in the house of a woman who knows quite a great deal about this clan. But for so long as the moon is full, mere doors & windows may not be sufficient to keep the terror at bay.

In the Soldiers vs. Werewolves free-for-all, it is never clear until the final battle who will win. The Keep & Deathwatch are tasteful compared to the purely visceral Dog Soldiers, but for violent exploitation cinema, Dog Soldiers is an exciting werewolf film with convincing performances, more than adequate werewolf design & FX, believable dialogue, & a black sense of humor that does not interfer with the suspense.

The simplicity of the story is deceptive as there is much more imbedded in the script than is evident in a single viewing, so Dog Soldiers holds up to multiple viewings.

It is not impossible that this film will in the long run stand the test of time & end up on the rather small list of classic werewolf films from the original Lon Chaney Junior's Wolf Man to American Werewolf in London & Ginger Snaps. But we'll have to wait at least ten years to know for sure, as the aspect of the film that is mostly meathook-horror might not have the lasting appeal that I think is at least feasible.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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