Sunday, March 11, 2007

Keep Changing

After discussing the different styles of adapting novels for the screen, Lucy rounded up by asking people to name their favourite adaptations and say why it made the cut. I answered the first part but failed to give a reason amongst all my blather, so now seems a good time to readdress it.

It may seem like a perverse choice (and I’m not choosing it to be a contrary little bugger), but my favourite is Michael Mann’s adaptation of F. Paul Wilson’s novel The Keep. Saturday night, waiting for BBC2 to broadcast Siegfried from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, I sat down to watch it again.

Set in 1941, both the film and the source material begin with a detachment of the Wehrmacht arrive in the Carpathian Alps’ Dinu Pass to take command of a strategically placed keep. Their commander, Captain Woermann, observes that the structure has been put together with the smaller stones on the outside, the larger ones inside, as if its design was to keep something in.

Though warned by Alexandru, the keep’s caretaker, that anyone who stays the night is driven out by bad dreams, the soldiers take up residence. When a soldier on sentry duty removes one of the many crosses imbedded in the wall believing it hides treasure, he unwitting releases an unspeakable evil that sets about systematically murdering the men.

Requesting relocation, Woermann soon finds his superiors have sent an SS squad, led by the fanatical Major Kaempffer, to discover who has been murdering his men. It’s at this point the book and the film significantly diverge.

In the book the creature Molasar is revealed to be the sort of uber-vampire that would give Buffy a run for her money, but a vampire none the less. Framed again a war in which unspeakable atrocities were committed, having the evil be something as utterly trite as a vampire makes any right-minded individual scream, “Fuck right off and fuck right off now!”

Interviewed in Sight and Sound prior to the release of The Last of the Mohicans, Mann explained what had attracted him to The Keep:

I was interested in fascisms as a political manifestation of an ethical equation. To me, psychopathology and romance manifested on a political level equals fascism. It’s the disease of the twentieth century. Its sick appeal is best understood within a horrific, dark fairy tale.

Removing the Vamp vs Third Reich scenario and replacing it with a malignant evil, Mann turned it into a study of the evils inherent in the collective German psyches during World War II. Starting out in a gaseous form, Mann’s Molasar gradually gains corporeal form by sucking the life from its victims leaving a blackened, brittle corpse.

“All that we are is coming out in this keep,” Woermann spits at Kaempffer. “You have scooped the many diseased psyches out of the German gutter... You have infected millions with your twisted fantasies. What are you meeting in the granite corridors of this Keep? Yourself!”

Made on a relatively paltry budget of $6 million, Mann’s imagination may have exceeded his grasp. A flawed masterpiece to some, incomprehensible failure to others, The Keep was delayed during post-production by the death of veteran optical-effects wizard Wally Veevers, which left the end result substantially below par.

Fractured and occasionally disjointed, it’s sometimes difficult to decide whether this is due to Mann’s dreamlike German Expressionist-influenced stylings, which reference Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, or the result of a hasty re-edit following preview screenings.

Either way... it deservedly gives the finger to the daft vampire idea. Which is good enough for me.


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