I’m sure many of you have had a wonderful dream (or terrifying nightmare) filled with fantastic, unforgettable, wholly unique sights and sounds… then awoken to only half remember bits and pieces of said sensory perceptions, if even that much. Why bring this up you ask? Because, in essence, that is Michael Mann’s 1983 film The Keep (or at the very least, what has caused people to so fondly remember it after such a long and relatively obscured time.)
The film is based (loosely) on the novel of the same name by F. Paul Wilson. The novel was a lot more straight forward than the film, being about a group of Nazi’s sent to watch over a fortress that housed a vampire (well, not just A vampire, THE original, root of all evil vampire) that then systematically slaughtered them all* (*that is of course highly condensed.) The novel is much more of a slasher film, set in the vein of a Hammer style Dracula movie. Michael Mann’s screen version… is for lack of a better word… not.
Mann’s film is a disorienting affair, with dazzling visuals and a pulsing, otherworldly soundtrack by Tangerine Dream. The Keep is truly like something unseen before, and it comes across mostly as if it is a feverish nightmare captured on screen. The editing is disjointed, as is the pace. The plot is practically non-existent. Some Nazi’s show up at a giant fortress in the mountains, they unleash a mysterious force that starts to kill them all, a guy with glowing purple eyes is randomly called to The Keep, more Nazi’s show up (these more evil than the last set), more Nazi’s die, Ian McKellen is brought in to help figure out what’s going on, the Great Evil of The Keep shows itself, there is a sex scene, Ian McKellen steals a talisman to let the evil out into the world and the purple eyed guy puts a flashlight on a stick and seals the evil back into The Keep, the end.
It sounds as if I’m hating on the film, but I’m not. Supposedly Mann originally delivered a 3 and a Half Hour Masterpiece of a film to the Studio and they then trimmed it down to 96 minutes, effectively excising what one might call an entire film’s length from the movie. This explains the off kilter editing and staccato plot. And, while I would love to see the original cut of the film, the frenetic nature of the released film actually adds to it’s mystique in my opinion.
The Keep as it is, in it’s released form, is like a big budget, studio backed, arthouse horror film. All atmosphere and massive sets; fluid camera work, misty, hazy, fog drenched arias backlit by flashes of color; a hero that bleeds neon blood, ghostly apparitions and exploding heads; all set to possibly the best score Tangerine Dream has ever done. The film is certainly not for everyone and there are a few dodgy special effects, the acting is a mixed bag as well and the ending will leave you pining for something more… But, the film is still unforgettable…
Whether you end up loving, or hating it, you will remember that moment when the Nazi’s remove the cross from the wall that unleashes the ultimate evil. You will remember when that same evil first shows itself in physical form (all glowing red eyes, through a wall of floating, endless dry ice fog.) And you will remember the mist soaked, laser light drenched, purple glowing ending (for better or worse.) The Keep is a film to be experienced, not necessarily to be watched or understood. And that is why I love it. As a medium of pure audio-visual stimulus few films can match the overload that is The Keep. I just wish Paramount would pony up the dough to let Mann present his original cut, or at least release the version that’s out there on DVD.
Someone get on that please. Thanks in advance.
7 and a Half out of Ten Glowey Eyed, Muscular, Deep Voiced Ancient Evil Creatures
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