Friday, September 26, 2014

The Keep (1983)

The Keep distinguishes itself right out the gate with a cast that includes Ian McKellen, and a score by Tangerine Dream. The cinematography is very artistic, and the setting most foreboding. As the movie begins, a Nazi regiment tasked with guarding a mountain pass in Romania sets up camp inside an ancient keep, whose caretaker warns them of terrible nightmares that have driven out anyone who has previously attempted to spend the night. Just fifteen minutes into the movie, and I'm actually shivering with anticipation of what's to come.

And what follows is far from predictable. Rather than a conventional monster movie, this film evolves into more of an epic battle between good and evil. And while it appears at one point to be shaping up into a Nazi deathwish fulfillment fantasy, the movie has some secrets yet in store. The special effects are admittedly primitive, but the monster, such as it is, has an effectively unique (and imposing) appearance. The music, meanwhile, contributes to an almost Lynchian atmosphere. I consider The Keep to be an unexpected gem, and an example of the positive effect that creativity can have when it is not unduly restrained by adherence to formula, as seems to be a frequent problem with modern cinema.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Salem's Lot (1979)

September is winding down, and October is fast approaching. The days are beginning to grow shorter and cooler, and the leaves have just begun to change. You know what that means: Halloween season is upon us again!

Following my viewing of that other Stephen King adaptation over the summer, The Stand, I resolved to watch Salem's Lot, as I had heard that it was one of the better quality Stephen King adaptations in existence (directed by Tobe Hooper, whom you might remember as the director of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre). The first thing that should be said about this movie is that it is not about the witches of Salem, as I had thought (and, actually, kinda hoped...). It's actually about vampires, in a small town in Maine called 'Salem's Lot (short for Jerusalem's Lot). And this is classic Bram Stoker's Dracula mythology we're dealing with here, with a head vampire, and ghouls floating outside people's windows at night, and stakes and holy water and everything.

The story begins with a published author returning to his home town to write his next book about a local house with a torrid past and a reputation around town for being haunted. A very suspicious antiques dealer from Europe has just moved into the house, and, as it eventually becomes clear, his conspicuously absent partner is actually a creature of the night. As his victim list grows, the townspeople become more and more panicked, until the aforementioned author takes it upon himself to stop the problem at its source.

If this film has a flaw, it's that it's very dated. And, watching it from a 21st century perspective, the plot develops pretty predictably for anyone with any familiarity with the Dracula mythos. However, it's very well put together, with clever dialogue and fleshed out characters - though at the expense of having a three hour runtime (as it was designed to be a television miniseries, though without convenient chapter breaks like The Stand had); it does tend to drag in parts.

But it constructs a pretty creepy atmosphere, and the makeup effects are excellent. The design of the head vampire obviously takes a page from Nosferatu - but to good effect; it's genuinely one of the creepiest movie vampires I've ever seen. Salem's Lot may not fare too well against modern tastes in this post-Twilight, post-Thirty Days of Night world, but if you don't mind the vintage atmosphere, and you're not bored of old-school vampire mythology yet, then you'd do well to give this movie a screening.