For all it's flaws, The Keep is far from a turkey but Wilson's contempt for the film might be better understood after reading the novel. Somewhere between Paramount's botched handling of the film and Michael Mann's own screenplay, many important aspects of Wilson's novel were left on the cutting room floor or eliminated completely to the detriment of the final film. The following post is based on my recent reading of the novel and may contain spoilers so caution is advised...
At over 400 pages (at least in the current paperback edition), Wilson allows his plot and characters considerable time and space to develop, in contrast to the film which unfolds at breakneck speed. Frequently referenced in the novel, but only hinted at in the film is the Holocaust. In the novel SS Commander Kaempffer (played in the film by Gabriel Byrne) arrives at the keep en route to oversee construction of a large Auschwitz-sized facility in Romania, built to exterminate Romanian Jews, gypsies and other so called undesirables. This may seem superfluous to the goings on within the keep, but the Final Solution plays an important role later on in the novel as we discover that Molasar, the keep's sole prisoner feeds on man's capacity for sadism and cruelty as well as the despair and suffering of peoples across war-torn Europe, making his escape from the keep at this particular juncture in time all the more desirable. Good dramatic stuff, but the film fails to capitalize on this plot detail, leaving Molasar simply a caged monster.
A high-angle shot of The Keep set, Glyn Rhonwy Quarry, North Wales
Another dramatic device which Michael Mann fails to exploit is the relationship between Kaempffer and Captain Woermann (played in the film by Jürgen Prochnow). In the novel, both know each other, having fought together in the First World War, but now are at odds since Woermann was decorated for bravery, and Kaempffer dismissed for cowardice. It's a smart backstory, both men forever locked in conflict with each other, mirroring the relationship between Molasar and Glaeken (Scott Glenn's character), but the film ignores this fact, despite Mann including a revised scene late in the film where Kaempffer shoots Woermann dead, which would have made more sense had the two men known each other. The character of Glaeken is also pared back considerably in the film, and with it the raison d'être for the existence of the keep construction. In the novel, Glaeken, an ancient ageless being is charged with destroying Molasar but fearing his life would come to an end upon completion of this task, Glaeken imprisons his nemesis within the cross encrusted walls of the keep. Interestingly, there is a brief moment in the film which alludes to Glaeken's supernatural origin when he embraces Eva and fails to cast a reflection in a mirror - a scene which sets up Mann's original unused ending for the film (based on the book) where Molasar is vanquished and Glaeken sees his reflection in a pool of water, having transformed into a normal man. (The film simply ends on a freeze frame of Eva, with the fate of Glaeken unknown)
Perhaps the most disastrous departure from the novel is the character of Molasar, in the film depicted as a 8ft creature with bulging rippling muscles and glowing crimson eyes. This is a complete contrast to his appearance in the novel where he is dressed like a 15th century nobleman. Wilson describes him during an encounter with the wheelchair-bound Dr. Theodore Cuza:
A giant of a man stood before him, at least six and a half feet tall, broad shouldered, standing proudly, defiantly, legs spread, hands on hips. A floor-length cloak, as black as his hair and eyes, was fastened about his neck with a clasp of jeweled gold. Beneath that Cuza could see a loose red blouse, possibly silk, loose black breeches that looked like jodhpurs, and high boots of rough brown leather. It was all there - power, decadence, ruthlessness.The screenplay retains almost nothing of the fascinating backstory Wilson invented for his character. In his early scenes in the book, Molasar is initially believed to be a vampire, when the corpses of the German soldiers stationed inside the keep are found with their throats torn open and drained of blood (which prompts Kaempffer to recall seeing a pirated print of Nosferatu). Molasar claims to be a contemporary of Vlad the Impaler and helped defend Wallachia (a historical region of what is now Romania) and its people from invaders, but was forced to seek refuge in the keep when pursued by his enemies. But later it emerges that Molasar (an inversion of his actual name, Rasalom) is not the vampire of myths and legends but like Glaeken, is an ancient being who draws strength from human pain, misery, and madness, feeding on man's inhumanity to other men.
A production sketch from The Keep, depicting the annihilation of the German army
The final film jettisons a number of other interesting sequences from the novel. At one point Kaempffer is provoked to madness when he is visited by two undead soldiers, and there's one particularly memorable sequence in the book when Molasar re-animates the corpses of the slain soldiers (one of them headless) to dig for the talisman buried deep in the bowels of the keep. Later on these zombie soldiers (a nice metaphor for mindless fascist automatons) are hacked to pieces by Glaeken wielding a magical sword (in the film, the sword is swapped for a rather non-descript baton which fires beams of light). The final confrontation between Molasar and Glaeken in the novel, along the crumbling walls of the keep has been greatly simplified in the film. Apparently Mann had shot some 10mins of footage of Glaeken pursuing Molasar within the keep but this footage did not survive the final edit. Mann also filmed but discarded an epilogue of sorts to the film in which Glaeken, Eva and Cuza leave Romania by boat (a sequence not in the novel)
Despite the compromises made bringing the novel to the screen, the film of The Keep is undeserving of the contempt of author F. Paul Wilson and the indifference of Michael Mann. Wilson's novel is a finely crafted and compelling piece of horror fiction and in the absence of a director's cut of The Keep, serves as an excellent guide to what Michael Mann's film might have become had the film been given the support of the studio.
1. This F. Paul Wilson quote is taken from an interview found at The Accidental Author blog