The Keep is one of those movies famously known for being more than the sum of its parts, a film that ended up not being the final vision of its director, but one that was released anyway and soon became a cult classic nonetheless. Directed by Michael Mann and released in 1983, he dreamt of a much longer version than the ninety-six minutes which was ultimately given to theatres that year, but due to that which governs the everyday – the almighty dollar, that dream would never see fruition. Be that as it may, Mann’s film which would underperform at the box office would go on to become a much-loved picture despite any faults or inconsistencies within its body.
Based on the novel by F. Paul Wilson, the basic structure so to speak, was present, yet there were enough changes that what ultimately appeared on screen was enough to make Wilson disavow it – the end result wandering too far from the book. The tale of an alien being residing in a mysterious structure in a small Romanian town was present, but Mann decided to essentially do what he wanted, to give the audience his version and vision and so changes were made, for better or worse. Into this town come German soldiers looking to shore up a strategic area for their side of the war. Into the Keep they go, discovering a sombreness within along with 108 nickel crosses. Unknowingly, they free a strange and demonic entity who over the course of many nights, starts to kill them off. As such, even more German soldiers and officers come to town including their leader as played by Gabriel Byrne who enlists a Jewish professor name Cuza, portrayed by Ian McKellen and his daughter Eva, who a young Alberta Watson would play. Also joining the party is another strange being named Glaeken played by Scott Glenn who by the end of the picture, would face off against the demon Molasar with only one of them remaining.
For the most part, Mann makes the entire film seem almost as if it were taking place in a dream, the air about it being almost surreal at times. Aiding in this is the soundtrack by Tangerine Dream, music that definitely does not belong to the time, but which suits the picture immensely and adds to that strange quality about it, being part horror and part science-fiction, but also a bit of a thriller with a lot of drama to tie it all up. Altogether Mann creates a visually stunning and intriguing movie when combining the cinematography from Alex Thomson, who delivers some truly beautiful shots, to the makeup and special effects – even when it comes to Molasar, the monster of the film. Even though the story might be all over the place, some of the characters not having enough to do like Glaeken and there being a few problems with the script, one cannot help but be compelled by what is happening before them.
This movie is by all accounts, a film that most will either come to love or simply be indifferent to. While some of it could be attributed to being Mann’s fault, one has to remember that it was originally thirty to forty or so minutes longer and that the studio cut it down. Will an uncut version ever see the light of day? It is hard to say, but Nightbreed eventually did after twenty-five years, so nothing is impossible. So as imperfect as some might consider The Keep to be, it still ended up being quite good and hopefully a little time will unlock that which is missing.
3.5 out of 5