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The Keep

Novel by F Paul Wilson (USA) 1981.

"Request immediate relocation. Something is murdering my men." This wonderfully crafted hook leads into one of the pivotal horror novels of the 1980s, a novel which instantaneously put the name of F Paul Wilson right up there with the Kings and the Koontzes. Previously a writer of science fiction, Wilson preceded this with three sf novels, though its notable that his sf work often contains horror.

The above message was sent by Captain Klaus Woermann of the German Army, from the Dinu Pass high in the Romanian mountains. Stationed at a remote keep-like building covered in strange cross-like figures, Woermann's men are being savaged by an unseen force, one soldier savaged every night. Relocation is refused but the powers that be send a squad of SS Einsatzkommandos with their sadistic leader Erich Kaempffer to sort out the problem. However the SS just wasn't equipped to deal with the cosmic evil that is doing the killing. Also drawn into the action are Theodor Cuza, a professor of Romanian folklore, and his daughter Magda, a couple who know more about the keep than anyone else alive; and a enigmatic red-haired man who is mysteriously summoned from afar.

In the fanzine Pieces of Mary, Wilson called The Keep his "kitchen-sink horror novel, it included everything I like in horror except monsters." And indeed it does have everything: forbidden ancient knowledge, sadistic Nazis, the eternal struggle between good and evil, a huge all-encompassing cosmic scale, a Lovecraftian bookshelf, animated corpses, weird diseases, vampire mythology... and plenty of honour, courage and other intense emotions too. Somehow Wilson doesn't lose control of this mass of devices and proves that he can handle plenty of sub-plots effectively, juggling them with astute skill. And the result is a stunning horror debut, which still holds its power today. Essential.

The Keep was later turned into a powerful and stylish film by Michael Mann (1983), who coaxes some intense acting out of J�rgen Prochnow and Ian McKellen, and a decent score from Tangerine Dream. However in keeping within ninety minutes, the style and intensity don't make up for what is essentially an immensely incoherent and insubstantial movie, which only makes sense to someone who has read the book, next to which it pales in comparison. Wilson wasn't impressed either. Luckily his further ventures into media other than the printed word have been more successful: he has worked on TV material and with CD-ROM technology, often with fellow genre author Matthew J Costello.

Wilson planned a simple three part sequel to The Keep, with Reborn (1990), Reprisal (1991) and Nightworld (1992), but the latter tied in two of his other previously unconnected novels as well, The Tomb (1984) and The Touch (1986) to become a complete six novel sequence.


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