The October Diaries: The Keep

The Keep
Illustration by Max Brown
Blurbs by Jesse, Christof, and Sean

October 4th, 2014:
The Keep

Director: Michael Mann
Year: 1983
Vehicle: Amazon Rental
From IMDB: Nazis are forced to turn to a Jewish historian for help in battling the ancient demon they have inadvertently freed from its prison.

Jesse’s Take:

The most glaring thing for me about The Keep was the inability to create any sense of tension, which for a horror/thriller film is absolutely paramount. What makes it so stand-out-hit-you-in-the-face glaring is that through out his career Michael Mann has absolutely excelled at ratcheting up the tension, be it from a cliff-side brawl between two aged warriors, a downtown shoot out, or an evening long ride in a cab. Even in the much maligned Miami Vice, the tension was undeniably there, as it is what Mann thrives on, and how he works best.

So why didn’t it work here?

We haven’t seen Michael Mann’s true vision for the film. His initial cut was over three hours long, the video version clocking in at about 96 mins. In the late 80s, he began work on what would go on to be a failed pilot called LA Takedown, which ran about 97 minutes long. It was put out as a TV movie, and it just didn’t work. Six years later, he would retool and rework much of that story, and the result clocking in at close to three hours was Heat, arguably his masterwork.

It is understandable from a studio point of view as to why we never got to see the true vision for The Keep, he was an unproven director making his second film, which just so happened to be about crazy demons and Nazis. He, like Ridley Scott, is an auteur who needs room to work, and his work needs room to breath. While I was thoroughly unimpressed with the incarnation of what we saw, the film was beautifully shot, and had truckloads of atmospheric potential.

While there is very little chance I will watch this one again as it stands now, but if a three hour cut becomes available, I’ll certainly give it a go because THAT is the film that Michael Mann wanted us to see.

Christof’s Take:

“The Keep KEEPS It Real!” is the sort of headline I was hoping this movie would shout to my heart. “Extra! Extra!” the movie would call. “The Keep Will KEEP You On The Edge Of Your Seat! Read all about it!” And my heart would put a quarter in the movie’s hand and say, “KEEP the change, kid.” And the movie would reply, “Gee, mister! Thanks!” And then he’d continue barking his papes, but now with a little more sugar and spice in his step.

Normally, this would be where lord and savior, Zeus, would whisper under his echoing breath, “Be careful what you wish for…” before laughing with the rumble of storm clouds gathering. But no such luck.

What I got instead was an intriguing Michael Mann film, with intriguing music by Tangerine Dream, and intriguing cinematography by Alex Thomson (who, I just learned, also shot Raw Meat and Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet – the look of this film is somewhere in between). Intriguing elements abound! Yet I didn’t feel like I got an intriguing horror movie. Outside of the practical effects – special ones – of the Keep-Entity’s slow-growth and various stages of physicality, it didn’t really scratch that horror itch.

Most of it was the movie itself, but some of it was the rough film transfer and streaming quality, which left the blackness of many frames blocky and foggy with grays and soft blues. I was ultimately just bored, and also a little confused as to why this movie was made at all. I understand there’s a cut almost twice as long, weighing in at over 3 hours. Maybe that is The Keep that really shines, but I doubt I’ll ever find out. As is, the 96-minute version seemed to crawl by like a mortally wounded character in a horror movie, desperately dragging its near-corpse of a body forward one handful of dirt road at a time.

In my opinion, it’s not a KEEPER! But maybe if I don’t have anything nice to say, I should just KEEP it to myself!

So: if you’re in the mood for a slow and moody WW2-cavern-horror movie with Nazis and a buried demon-spirit sort-of-a-vibe, this is the perfect movie for you and yours!

Happy Holidays!


Sean’s Take:

I’ll probably be more generous with my assessment of Michael Mann’s 1983 attempt at horror than many. It exhausted a good portion of our packed living room audience and yet my critiques were softened by my appreciation of some truly incredible cinematography, stellar locations, rich set design, as well as and some delightful smoke-heavy effects work to dress up the golem-like entity that was bound in the film’s titular location – the gothic, fortress-like, keep.

Also, a score by Tangerine Dream reliably acts as a potent carrot-on-a-string to guide me to a satisfying cinematic experience. Tangerine Dream’s previous collaboration with Mann on Thief, his feature directing debut, was the reason I sought that film out. After watching this strange beast of a movie, it made me appreciate just how much Tangerine Dream can bring to the table.* With the exception of The Last of the Mohicans, I don’t think there’s a movie he has since directed that wouldn’t have benefited from a score by Tangerine Dream. The sultry ambiance provided by their music suits the impressionistic-macheesmo of Mann’s style perfectly.

My critiques were all in the character department. I couldn’t find myself giving much of a shit about any of the characters. Gabriel Byrne, Scott Glenn and Ian McKellan were especially wasted. My guess is that in adapting the source material, the filmmaking team lost sight of whatever kernel gave the book enough life to make Hollywood notice it in the first place. Or maybe all the greatness I felt being hinted at was hidden away in the rumored original cut – supposedly spanning more than three hours.

Regardless of my complaints, The Keep will last in my memory far longer than it deserves to. I’ve already forgotten whatever half-plot was left on the screen by the time it got to us, but the images and sounds will echo around upstairs for a lot longer.

*Apparently, due to rights issues, the version of The Keep on streaming sites doesn’t feature the original score. It’s still Tangerine Dream, but it’s not their original music. VHS copies still feature the original. Score another point for the VHS as a format



One Comment on “The October Diaries: The Keep”

  1. 1 Da said at 7:47 pm on October 13th, 2014:

    Saw this movie a long time ago, don’t remember much about it, but thoroughly enjoyed the reviews, keep up the great work gentleman!

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