THE KEEP (1983) Michael Mann
Directed by Michael Mann…
After reading robotGEEKs take on it, i made myself watch it, after an exhausting day, with a few kicks in the gut. But you didnt come here to read about how my day went, did you? Since one wants to watch so many movies, so many movies waiting to be reviewed, the final decision today was this. I may watch another one after this, but not with a review in mind…yet. This is a movie, of which I knew only the cover , and little more. Had no idea it was directed by Michael Mann, and it certainly seems an odd choice for him, with all these crime-stories under his belt. But by 1982, 1983 he wasn`t yet established as the „Mann“ we know now.
After „The Thief“, he wanted to avoid another „street“movie, and went with this-THE KEEP.
During WW2, a group of Nazis is ordered to take control of a sort of Fortess-The Keep in the romanian mountainside, next to a small village.
The caretaker warns them about this place, without getting too specific. Naturally, they don`t give much weight to the talk of an old man, and soon the evil in the keep begins to affect the intruders………
I read a few great reviews, before I began writing this, to have at least a little background info.
There is a novel on which this film is based on, and from what I read-I didn`t read the novel-
the movie contains only the bare bones of that story, leaving us without explanations for many things that happen in the film.
When the novel is as good as people say it is, then why leave out so many elements that could have made us understand it better, could have brought flesh to the skeleton of the screenplay? Only Michael Mann knows that, i`m afraid…or the studio execs…whoever had their hands in it.
The film may have suffered severe cuts, not sure ..but Mann has a history of making longer movies…there are deleted scenes and an alternative ending that I know of….
The circumstances of making a film are often very telling and make making ofs so interesting.(If there only was one for this…could shed some light).
I mean real making ofs, not the 5 minute treatments they show you on tv…
Back to the film experience…I liked the visuals very much, inside the keep, …thats where the good visuals take place, mostly. With a few exceptions. Visually, ist 50/50..its not like you get 90 minutes of stunning visuals.
The first scene with the evil thing that „rescues“ the daughter of Dr. Cuza looks really cool.
And later, when it shows itself without all the smoke to Dr. Cuza, it looks rather impressive. I would have added a bit more slime or blood or oil to the muscle make-up, but thats just me.
The killings of certain nazi soldiers worked well, even without blood n guts. Reminded me a bit of Raiders of the lost Ark or something.
But there is no denying, that it is an uneven film, the acting is atrocious at times, gets better as the timecode moves along…It wouldn`t have hurt to hear them speak actual german and romanian, instead we get all kinds of accents. Prochnow is a decent actor, but speaking english isnt exactly his strength. He can act better , when he is allowed to speak in his native tongue, which is german. But in the more dramatic scenes, he did rather well.
Ian McKellen as Dr. Cuza , I felt he had his good moments when he transformed into his younger version, after meeting with the evil thing lurking in the keep. I believe, the acting of all the big names in here was hampered by the lines they were given. Sometimes I thought it felt and sounded like pretentious theatre or something. Very weird and akward. Nothing you would expect in a „normal film, but I guess it wasn`t meant to be a normal film.
I think the idea behind it was more than just that. A lot of the film has dream-like qualities, and that isn`t something I would set up for a normal movie . I am sure there was more to it, in the mind of Mann (but I don`t know).
What kind of film is this , anyway? Ist not horror per-se, ist not sci-fi…ist something weird, a bit of everything.
Sadly, it seems like Mann isn`t to fond of his own work, and may not be willing to assist in understanding his film better, bringing it to DVD and Blue-Ray,which I think would be well-deserved-whatever you think of the film-there `s tons of garbage on DVD and BlueRay, and this didn`t get a decent release(save for the Laserdisc) , almost 30 years after the fact?
I just finished watching it, and I can say, despite all the little things that work against it, it is worth seeing, and it left some kind of impression on me. I am sure, would I have seen it at a younger age, it probably would`ve found its way into my dreams because of the visuals and the overall good VS evil story, something that works way better for kids than adults.
Should we touch a bit more on the negatives I found?
I thought the rape scene was totally unnecessary, as was the sex scene between Scott Glenn and Alberta Watson.What makes you have sex in the middle of a potential Armageddon? Weird. I liked Alberta Watson in this, big eyes, great face, but just as all the others , punished with bad , weird dialogue. Scott Glenn I thought, looked like Schwarzenegger in certain scenes of THE TERMINATOR…I´m sure you know what I mean. I prefer my Scott Glenn a bit older.
The score by Tangerine Dream felt often out of place, though sometimes it worked. But certainly a weird choice , one of many. Most of all, a bit more background for all of the main characters would`ve helped.
I guess, reading the novel could either make you like this film more, or dismiss it for all its lacking , compared to it. Depends, I guess.
An experiment for the viewer, as much as for Mann, who after this stuck with „street“ films, films about men in a men`s world. But thank you for trying, anyway….it wasn`t wasted time…flawed, yes, but worth seeing still.
One more proof to my theory, that a director and the script make the movie, and the actors, as good as they might be, can only do so much. They are the chessmen, but to win, you need the player to guide them.
I was lucky to have watched this in Widescreen, fullframe cannot do this any justice.
The fact that there is no DVD or Blue-Ray of this ..shakes head…..
UPDATE: something I found on Wiki about the extended cut/ending….
In the extended version of the film, the otherworldly stranger falls for a long time through the abyss of the keep’s lower caves, waking up later on the lowest level of the keep. He notices he can see his reflection in a puddle of water, showing that – presumably due to the death of the demon with whom he was mystically linked – he has become an ordinary mortal man, instead of dying as he had predicted. He is identified by Eva Cuza as Glaeken “Trismegistus” (Greek for “Thrice Greatest”, or possibly ‘three-fold King’ or ‘three-crowned King’ [Hermes Trismegistus]) in an easily-overlooked line (the demon too is named in the scene). After his fall, Eva comes to him, and he is now free to live out the rest of his natural span with the woman who rescued him.
Seems like there are even more than just one different ending, the versions shown on tv have extra footage…
one I have found on youtube..there may be even more.. but there was lots of stuff left out or uncompleted.
Update 2: I just read somewhere that Mann had a 200 minutes or so version..that explains the mess, I guess. Too much story for a film that got castrated to 90 minutes running time. Too bad, as a tv mini series, who knows…it could have become a much bigger thing. But I guess for that , it would also have been the wrong era.
The Bootleg sold on ebay or other places is a widescreen transfer from Laserdisc, there is no official DVD release of this title yet.