Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Keep (1983)

The Keep (1983)
The Keep (1983)

Genre: Horror • Action
Director: Michael Mann
Starring: Scott Glenn, Alberta Watson, Jurgen Prochnow, Gabriel Byrne, Ian McKellen
Duration: 96 min.
Rating: 6.3  

Nazis guard a fortress containing a dangerous force that starts wreaking havoc and death upon them, forcing them into an uneasy alliance with a Jewish professor who has knowledge of it.

The Keep is a supernatural horror film directed by Michael Mann, based on a novel by F. Paul Wilson.  It is Mann's second film as a director and is a bit of an anomaly in his career known mostly for action crime thrillers.

The scenario is a fascinating one.  A squad of Nazis led by Captain Woermann (Jurgen Prochnow) are sent to guard a strategic mountain pass in the Carpathian region of Romania.  There they make camp in an ancient and mysterious keep, and on the first night, soldiers inadvertently unleash an evil force while looking for hidden treasure.  Soon the men start getting killed off by an unknown entity and the Germans send for Dr. Cuza (Ian McKellen) an old Jewish professor who has studied the keep.

The Keep (1983)

Visually it is an amazing film with the beautiful cinematography that Mann films are famous for, featuring some great set pieces namely inside the keep itself where most of the film takes place and also the surrounding village.  In addition, the moody synthesizer soundtrack composed by Tangerine Dream is also fantastic, despite not quite fitting the era of the story, it really helps to build the eerie atmosphere in a way that a traditional orchestral score might not.

The cast is a talented one, led by Jurgen Prochnow and Ian McKellen and also featuring Scott Glenn as a man with a mysterious past, Alberta Watson as the professor's daughter, and Gabriel Byrne as an SS officer who arrives to take over when the troubles start.  However the performances are hindered badly by uneven post production dubbing.

The Keep (1983)

Unfortunately, Mann fails to convert the promising source material into a coherent film.  First of all no background into the mythology of the place is given at all.  So when Scott Glenn's character is introduced, we don't know who he is or what he has to do with anything.  Only that he must be somehow important to the film, as it keeps showing him making his way to the keep, sailing on a boat and riding a motorcycle through the woods.  In fact we never really find out even after the end what his deal was.

Also, none of the characters in this jumbled mess are developed so we don't really care who lives or dies, or even if the evil demon escapes to take over the world.  Then there's a completely unnecessary romantic interlude thrown in, and by the time the final act comes around it's hard to maintain any interest because it is painfully obvious how the final confrontation will play out, and the last 20 minutes are just a waiting game for the end credits.

It's too bad because the setting and setup held so much promise.  With all the pointless remakes being done today, if ever any story warranted a retelling, it would be this one.

Bonjour Tristesse

The Keep (1983)

The Keep (1983)

The Keep (1983)

The Keep (1983)

The Keep (1983)

The Keep (1983)

The Keep (1983)

The Keep (1983)

This post was written for the LAMBs in the Director's Chair #20 starring Michael Mann.


Hermann Rorschach said...

I remember seeing this when I was a youngin' and at first I thought "castle, cool!" but then I guess the scenario and dwarfing presence of the Keep itself got to me.

Also, lesson learned: Don't try any sexual assaults in a haunted keep!  

d_4 said...

Yeah, this one would be a good remake. Beats remaking The Thing.
Also, I think they figured they didn't need a background on Nazis and that people would automatically feel bitter/sweet about their deaths. I haven't seen the movie, I don't plan on it, but when you lay it out and see when the film was shot, it's not far fetched.

The Angry Lurker said...

I loved this movie when I watched it many years ago but I think I would have a different view now.

Jason said...

Good review. I had a similar reaction to you when I saw this movie - loved the atmosphere but the story didn't grip me. 

The Reel Foto said...

nazis and jews cooperating sounds like an interesting premise.

Jack Deth said...

Hi, Bonjour and company:

I've been a Michael Mann fan since his made for TV 'The Jericho Mile', his big screen 'Thief' and 'Manhunter'.

Always thought 'The Keep' got a bad rap. Not because the story was particularly bad (it wasn't), but because the proper technology in special effects wasn't around to enhance and move the story along.

Somewhat similar to the adaptation of Thomas Wolfe's 'The Right Stuff' and director, Philip Kaufman's reliance on excellent, quickly cut model work. Due to the exorbitant cost of fledgling CGI effects.

Totheescapehatchrobert said...

Great review! I was really confused by Scott Glenn's character as well. I really want to see  the extended version of the film now...

Bonjour Tristesse said...

But I suppose that is just too risky a proposition for the producers to make.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Yeah this one is hard to find.  So far it has never been released on DVD. 

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I would also say, don't walk around alone in a keep full of Nazis if you are a young pretty Jewish girl.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Well that is true about the nazis but from what I read about the source books, there is a fascinating story about ancient immortal sorcerers of good and evil that is neglected in the film.

Hoi-Ming Ng said...

I can agree with you here. Remake a film that went BAD, don't remake a perfectly good film.

Moviemonstrosityblog said...

haven't seen it but looks amazing

A Hero never dies said...

I've always wanted to see this but never managed to track it down. Great review.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Thanks!  I've read rumours of an extended cut, and would love to see it, but it doesn't seem likely because Mann has all but disowned this film.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I didn't really have a problem with the special effects here, sure they could have made some cooler death scenes with modern effects but I didn't feel that the primitive effects were what was holding the film back.

Unknown said...

A large part of the storyline was cut from the film. There are scenes missing throughout. Existing scenes have been truncated. In some scenes dialogue has been cut, while in others, alternate dialogue has been dubbed over the original(to make the plot fit more with the truncated version of it). The entire fifth act was also cut, and all of the backs tory to Scott Glenns character went too. Glenn and Watson were never jump straight into bed. It appears this way in the truncated version of the film because a cut was made between the point in the film where they meet, and the scene where they make love. This cut removed almost an entire act, which depicted the development of the romantic relationship between the two characters, It would have been in this act that Glenns character was developed. We would have found out more about him, who he is, his back story etc. Glenn`s character was never meant to remain as mysterious as he appears in the theatrical version of the film. We would have learned more about Molosar too. We would even have found out why the two characters look so alien.

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