The Keep (1983) Michael Mann
Production Budget: $6 million
Gross: $3-4 million
The Keep is about a group of Nazi soldiers headed by Capt. Woermann (Jurgen Prochnow) who are ordered to secure an old keep. The keep is an odd building with strange crosses and a groundskeeper who insists no one stay for the night. Of course the Nazis stay and some even try looking the place of its ornate crosses. Something is picking off Woermann’s soldiers and SS Major Kaempffer (Gabriel Byrne) is sent in to take charge. Woermann, who is concerned for his troops, asks for the only person who is knowledgeable of the keep to be brought there. That man, Dr. Cuza (Ian McKellen), finds out a demon is responsible and considers allying himself with the demon to kill the Nazis.
Let’s get my positives for this movie out of the way. This is a movie that I should absolutely love given all the individual pieces. Michael Mann is as stylish as ever. The keep is giant and ominous. Mann plays around with light and darkness and the effects are very cool. Tangerine Dream seems like an odd choice for the soundtrack, but the odd synth score actually works to great effect. The visuals and the music combine to make a very dream like experience and I liked it. The acting in this movie is very entertaining. You have Jurgen Prochnow, Gabriel Byrne, Scott Glenn and Ian McKellen giving it their all in a movie about a golem killing Nazis. They were all just fun to watch. It should all just come together into one big bowl of awesome.
And yet something is missing. I watched this movie and came away feeling that huge chunks were missing as we switched from plot thread to plot thread without a consistent tone. In the first act it is pretty much a straight up horror film with something picking off the troops. In the second act it is more about this Jewish scholar making a deal with a demonic golem because he sees the Nazis as the greater evil. Then in the third act Scott Glenn’s character shows up with almost no explanation to fight the golem. Then in reading up for the film I find that the original cut of the film was 3 hours and 30 minutes. Keep in mind the only cut currently available is 96 minutes. Holy fucking shit. That is insane. Look, I know producers were probably shitting their pants at the idea of releasing a 3 hr 30 minute horror film about a golem killing Nazis, but couldn’t there have been some middle ground between 3 hr and 30 minutes and freaking 96 minutes! How in the world do you cut over half the film and think that you would have a coherent story?
I was going to complain about story elements not being fully developed. There is an interesting idea with Cuzo debating which is truly the greater evil; man or this golem? There was an attempt at an character arc with Woermann. Scott Glenn’s character again, practically shows up out of nowhere to being the monster hunter. I was going to complain, but how in the world can I do it now? This movie was absolutely butchered and I almost have to give Mann credit that there is still a movie to watch even after over half the movie was cut. This is studio meddling at its worst. It is like what I brought up in saying I couldn’t honestly review Jonah Hex. I realize Jonah Hex would probably never be a good film, but when you cut it to barely 70 minutes, it is no longer even a movie. You have to sink or swim with the movie that was made, but cutting it that much doesn’t do it any favors. Same thing generally applies here. The Keep may not have been a masterpiece and I doubt at 3 hrs and 30 minutes people would have flocked to it, but at 96 minutes it is a mess. It is a beautiful mess, but a mess all the same.
The Keep has not been released on DVD and can only currently be seen on Netflix streaming. The lack of DVD release is partly blamed on rights over the Tangerine Dream soundtrack and partly on Michael Mann pleading with the studio not to release it. I think it would be a real shame if this didn’t get a DVD release with an extended director’s cut. There is so much to enjoy from what I have seen, that it is terrible I can’t see the movie as it was meant to. I would still recommend you check it out if you have Netflix streaming. Despite the plot being all over and the tone being inconsistent as a result, I think it is interesting enough to check it out at least once. Despite the studio interference it is a pretty decent film, but I really wish I could see it prior to the lawnmower being brought into the editing room.