SEPTEMBER 21, 2008
The first friend I made in LA was this guy Steve that I worked with at E! (the absolute worst job I’ve ever had in my life, by far). He was a fellow movie nerd, and when the subject of Michael Mann came up one day, I told him how I had never seen his film The Keep. Steve was kind enough to make a DVD copy for me, duped from his laserdisc. But then I discovered that the film was cut in half by Paramount, so I never watched it. When I know a film is truncated, I don’t bother to see it; I will wait until the full version is made available. However, I have another even nerdlier rule, and that is I prefer to see a film in theaters if possible, rather than at home on DVD. So when my beloved New Beverly scheduled The Keep for a midnight screening, I made an exception to the former rule.
(Plus, according to my traditional post-screening internet research, it seems as if the full version will never see the light of day, sadly).
I also wanted to go for the irony, as today is Peace Day, and the film concerns a ghost/force that is killing Nazis during WWII. I kind of like the idea of a horror movie in which the “victims” are despicable Nazis (the film is NOT sympathetic toward them at all). And their deaths are incredible; the ghost thing sucks their soul (?) out until their bodies harden and explode like mannequins.
Of course, at least that’s what I THINK is going on. This is the third movie in a row now that I spent a lot of it going “huh?” But at least with this film I know why; half of it is missing. Ironically, it’s actually not too incoherent. You can pretty easily see where chunks of the film were removed, but otherwise it’s not the hardest film to follow. It’s just the gaps make the action jump ahead at an awkward rate. For example, we first meet Ian McKellan’s character on a boat, as he is heading toward the keep (a cave/structure in the side of a mountain). But in his next scene, he’s already inside the damn thing, trying to keep the Nazis in check by decoding some of the symbols written on its walls. Obviously, there is at least one scene of him arriving in town and being brought up to speed that is missing, but you can sort of mentally fill in the blank.
One of these edits makes for a hilarious experience, especially at the Bev. Scott Glenn’s character (Glaeken; oddly enough in F. Paul Wilson’s book the character’s name was Glenn) meets McKellan’s daughter, and less than 5 minutes later in the film, they are fucking the shit out of each other. Either there’s some missing character stuff, or Glaeken went to the Dan Challis school of baiting women. Adding to the hilarity is the “pillow talk” which follows, as she begins asking him where he’s originally from and shit like that, and he just goes “Go to sleep...” and brushes his hand over her eyes, as if to shut them (and he has magic powers so maybe he actually DID knock her out, the movie cuts away right after).
Now, this was a midnight movie, so naturally I dozed a few times. So when I would wake up, it would seem like I missed a lot of stuff, but in reality I had only missed a few minutes (I finally watched Steve’s homemade DVD later on today to see what I missed, which turned out to be less than 20 minutes spread over 4 “naps”). There's a weird sort of charm in that that I need to come up with a nonsense term for.
Some stuff still doesn’t make sense though, such as when Robert Prosky’s character seemingly goes insane and eats a dog. The next time we see him, he’s normal. No idea what the fuck was up with that. Also, the daughter is supposedly taken away to be kept safe, but she’s like, a 30 second walk from where she was being kept before?
Speaking of Prosky, the cast is pretty awesome. McKellan is always a joy to watch (especially in his face off with the killer ghost thing; he tells it about what the Nazis have been doing and the thing shouts “I WILL DESTROY THEM!” – it’s awesome). Plus, Glenn is at his most Lance Henriksen-y, and Jurgen Prochnow plays a sympathetic German soldier (NOT a Nazi). And Gabriel Byrne is great as the most Irish Nazi of all time.
Also awesome is Tangerine Dream’s score. It didn’t help me stay awake any, because it’s so pretty and lulling, but it’s great nonetheless. The sound design is also pretty impressive, especially the final half hour, which has an overbearing wind howl over almost every scene. Some of the effects aren’t as impressive (a character is shot to death, his wounds keep changing color and somehow not a single bullet goes out the other side), but the makeup/design of the ghost thing is pretty great.
Sadly there is no DVD release (or even one planned, best as I can tell). There is obviously a wealth of lost material, a cast and crew that are pretty much all still alive, and Michael Mann’s name alone will generate interest from the non-horror crowd. I really hope it sees a proper release someday so people can check it out. It’s unintentionally goofy and not entirely coherent, but there is definitely some magic going on in there, and I would definitely recommend it to those among you who enjoy a trainwreck for its sheer audacity.
What say you?