I’ve been immersing myself in the higher end of the film world for a while, thanks to Sight and Sound magazine’s list of the ten greatest films of all time, and all the other films voted for by critics and directors, so it’s nice to look through my shelves and go “ah yes, that film about Nazis being attacked by something supernatural, you shall soothe my fevered brow”.
There’s a bunch of Nazis, led by Jurgen Prochnow, who have been told to guard a village way up in the Carpathian Mountains. They potter about for a bit and set up their base inside the spooky-looking keep, but are told by the keep’s caretaker to not mess with the tons of metal crosses that are embedded into the walls everywhere. Even though they look like silver, the Nazis are assured they’re made of pewter and are worthless, and are probably given some “hey, you might let out the ancient evil spirit if you do that” speech. I was too busy listening to maybe the least appropriate soundtrack of all time, a jaunty bit of synth from Tangerine Dream (who I saw many moons ago in Liverpool, cheers to my old mate Matt). I think deliberately anachronistic music can work in film, but this just doesn’t, and it becomes so bad that you keep expecting them to reveal they’re people from the 80s who’ve gone to a World War 2 theme park. Anyway, I’m wandering away from the plot here, such as it is.
An untrustworthy Nazi (if you could ever imagine such a thing) decides, one night while on watch (the first night? The thousandth? It’s a bit difficult to tell) to check the metal the crosses are made out of, and thinks it’s silver, so gets his mate to pull one out. This reveals a passageway further into the keep…one of them crawls down it, and we get one of the film’s few truly arresting images – what looks like an underground cave, miles and miles wide and high, with more crosses and unusual-looking gravestones.
Then…whoops!! the thing they warned would be released, is released, accompanied by the light show from a Tangerine Dream show of the period, aka some hilariously naff-looking special effects. The guy who was doing the exploring gets turned into a pile of goo, and the force sets about killing off the Nazis (yay!)
I shall try not to spoil too much of it for you. Oh okay, I’ll spoil some more. When the light is released, Scott Glenn is activated. We’ve not seen him up to this point, but we fans of cinema like this know that when someone’s eyes glow a weird colour and they suddenly start moving, they’re linked to the bad thing which just happened, usually in some supervisory capacity. He then heads off for the Keep, as do NAZI REINFORCEMENTS, led by Gabriel Byrne in his earlier, hungrier days. They’re the black-shirted fellows – the SS? And are way more evil than Prochnow and his lot. It’s revealed later that Prochnow would have fought on the side of the anti-fascists in the Spanish Civil War, although why he then signed up to fight for the Nazis a few years later is a conundrum which was left on the cutting room floor.
So, we’ve got two lots of Nazis, a mysterious supernatural killing machine, some villagers, Scott Glenn’s on his way, and we then get the last two pieces of the puzzle. Some writing appears on the wall, so Byrne finds out the only person who can translate it is a professor who’s been taken to a ghetto somewhere, being Jewish and all. He gets the professor and his daughter out, and it turns out to be a cut-price Sean Young and…Ian McKellen! He’d perhaps had a bash on the head before filming this, as he’d completely forgotten how to act. Turns out he’s not really a professor, just that one of the villagers wanted to save a few of his friends from being killed for their religion. Good work that fella!
The film, never particularly good, interesting or coherent, now just stops making any sense whatsoever. The supernatural force is revealed to be…well, my guess was the Golem, the creature of Jewish myth, and the word is uttered during the film, but it seems much more powerful and less discriminatory in its murdering ways. Anyway, it has a power totem which it needs taking out of the Keep so it can get on with the business of killing Nazis, and it asks McKellen for some help, not before doing some magic which makes him a younger man again (the only comment he gets for being obviously 30 years younger is “this place seems to agree with you”). Glenn shacks up with McKellen’s daughter for no reason, after knowing her for about 30 seconds, and I could have lived my whole life without seeing a Scott Glenn love scene. The monster turns up the power dial on its killing, and we’re set for a showdown, of sorts, where Glenn tries to stop McKellen from removing the talisman.
So, is it any good? No, of course not. The clever money (well, other reviewers) is on the last half of the film being heavily cut by the studio, which makes none of what happens in that climax make any sense. I don’t think there’s much which could have made this film better, though – the acting is pretty bad, the special effects are poor, the music is terrible, and there’s the sense through the entire film that any attempts to make it historically authentic were to be avoided at all costs.
For a director like Michael Mann (who has done many good films) and a cast like that to make a film this rotten, though, something must have gone wrong, somewhere. I think more of a sense of the passing of time and its effect on the Nazis would have helped, as would less dry ice and laser-style special effects…keeping the main monster shrouded in smoke til the last possible second would have helped too, I reckon. Oh, you know what else would have helped? If the Nazis had just gone “well, looks like this Keep is a pretty bad place. I know, let’s set up a camp in the village which is right next door, and not just let ourselves get picked off”. But such logic is not for the residents of films such as this.
Rating: 1 golem out of 5
PS: I don’t know if modern Nazis have a google alert on uses of the word. If they do, and it brings them here, please, the lot of you, kiss my spotty multicultural ass.