Sunday, December 03, 2017

The Keep

The second film directed by Michael Mann is also his most obscure, sandwiched between the very good THIEF (1981) and MANHUNTER (1986). THE KEEP is Mann’s lone horror film, and is based on a best seller by F. Paul Wilson, who disliked Mann’s film as much as most audiences and critics did. A troubled production plagued by reshoots, cost overruns, and Mann’s indecision, THE KEEP was a flop for Paramount. Everyone seems to like the Tangerine Dream score though.

Nazis commanded by Jurgen Prochnow (DAS BOOT) occupy a keep located in the Carpathians in 1941. The caretaker (W. Morgan Sheppard) warns Prochnow that nobody spends the night inside the keep, which is protected by 108 nickel crosses embedded in its stone walls. Prochnow ignores the caretaker’s warnings, but notes the walls appear to be constructed to keep something in, not prevent someone from entering. Several Germans are killed, and cruel SS man Gabriel Byrne (MILLER’S CROSSING) arrives to take command and murder some villagers in retaliation.

Byrne brings in Jewish professor Ian McKellen (X-MEN) and McKellen’s daughter Alberta Watson (THE SOLDIER) from a concentration camp to investigate. Periodically, screenwriter/director Mann cuts to top-billed Scott Glenn (THE RIGHT STUFF) riding a motorcycle. More Germans are killed, including two who are attempting to rape Watson. She’s rescued by what appears to be a talking eight-foot skull-faced Golem with glowing eyes that is surrounded by smoke.

Perhaps Mann’s original three-hour version made sense, but Paramount’s mandated 96-minute cut is frankly incomprehensible. This is best illustrated in the scene in which Glenn arrives in the village, doesn’t identify himself or his reasons for coming, and one scene later is on the floor in an acrobatic both-sides-sitting-up sex scene with Watson. Surely, Mann shot some footage of Glenn and Watson actually, you know, interacting before making love, which otherwise makes no sense in context.

Though THE KEEP flails in its storytelling and acting (this may be McKellen’s only poor screen performance), it is nonetheless watchable. The Welsh locations and sets designed on London soundstages are striking, and who can resist Scott Glenn and a monster in a rubber suit shooting animated death rays at each other? As pretentious as it is choppy and packed with too many shots of people wandering around in slow motion, THE KEEP is an interesting failure and an unusual anomaly in Michael Mann’s filmography.


Grant said...

I'm surprised "Wehrmacht soldiers meet the Golem" hasn't become an entire category of war-oriented horror story. There must be others, but the only one I can name is a horror comics story in an early issue of "Weird War."

When it comes to movies about WWII soldiers (of either side) ending up in a castle, I'm sure nothing beats CASTLE KEEP from 1968.

Felicity Walker said...

I like this movie. I saw the first five minutes of it on TV when I was a child and was fascinated but then my father changed the channel and I never got to see the rest of it. I looked for it for years and years, but looking for “that movie where the Germans are in the haunted castle and I think it had ‘Keep’ in the title” only ever led me to Castle Keep (1968), which Grant mentioned above. Finally I found it on VHS at a thrift store about ten years ago and it was very satisfying. It had aged very well. The soundtrack is definitely one of the best aspects. How can you not be immediately intrigued by the sight of World War II tanks rumbling through a village while new wave music plays?