The Keep (1983)

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?


  1. I was really looking forward to seeing this one, so I was naturally disappointed when it turned out to be a piece of crap. Michael Mann's direction is nicely stylish (especially during the scene where those two nazi guys unleash the evil), and the monster does look pretty cool, but I couldn't bring myself to care about what was actually happening. It was especially difficult to pay attention whenever Ian McKellan was onscreen because of his annoying voice, but it's probably not his fault (at least according to IMDb, which says he was dubbed).

    I've read a lot of people saying a director's cut would reform the movie, but I can't help but feel it would just be more of the same. Sure, it doesn't make much sense cut up as it is, but at the same time if it had been any longer I might have had a brain aneurysm!

    Between this and Cherry Falls, I've decided that Fangoria's 100 Best Horror Movies You've Never Seen might not be the best book to consult for new horror viewing....

  2. Another one my friends and I saw when we were teenagers in the 80s - and another one I have almost no recollection of whatsoever.

    The howling wind comment rang a bell though. And I remember it being very blue-tinted.

    Also, for some reason, I had it in my head that Christopher Lambert was in this - any idea why I could have thought that?

  3. The version you saw sounds like it has been cut more than normal. I saw a version online(sorry) about a year ago that was much more coherent and the story had a much better flow to it. Ian's character is first seen in a concentration camp, The man that eats the dog(that makes more sense), and when she gets taken a couple buildings down from the Keep it all makes sense. I dont condone stealing or torrents but I heard that the version was different so I went ahead with it. I feel it is somewhat more ok to do so when a movie has been butchered. You could to see how the people that put all of their time into a story actually intended it to be for audiences.

  4. Hmm, I can't think of anyone that looks like Lambert... maybe one of the random Nazis, but none of the primary characters.

  5. Gunslinger, I don't really go in for piracy myself either, though it has nothing to do with copyright - I just prefer to own the DVD or the CD or whatever it is.

    On the subject of piracy, I've been reading some interesting stuff recently - about how copyright was created as a form of censorship, stuff like that - by a Swedish pirate called Rick Falkvinge. Quite eye-opening, though nothing to do with horror!

  6. I have to agree in saying that the version you saw was heavily edited. I was in college and very into horror films when this filmed was released. I found it very interesting and a nice step away from the onslaught of slashers that were having their hayday.

    Since watching The Keep I became an F. Paul Wilson fan. I'm hoping that his successful Repairman Jack series, which ties into a little of the storyline of The Keep, raises enough reader interest to pressure for a decent DVD release.

  7. This was awesome at the New Bev. And thanks for throwing that cockroach on my fucker.

  8. I read this novel this week and I completely fell in love with it. F. Paul Wilson is one of the more lucid writers I've read. So, I was pretty surprised at how incomprehensible this film was. I wonder what was taken out?

    Here's a list of awesome stuff that I didn't see in the movie or was changed.

    1. Scott Glenn and the monstrous entity in the keep were from the "First age of Man" and represented the light and the dark.
    2. The monstrous entity is actually a vampire. He poses as a blood drinking vampire as he methodically kills german army soldiers. It turns out that he actually feeds off the debasement of humans. Nothing feeds him better than the corruption of a good soul. Ian McKellan's (Cuza) character is a faithful jew in the book, in the film he is presented as an atheist. When he turns Cuza into his lapdog he becomes more powerful than ever. There's an awesome scene in the book where Cuza tests the vampire against all of the traditional vampire banes. The only one that had any effect was the cross. Cuza essentially loses his Jewish faith because the vampire is afraid of a Christian symbol. Of course, the vampire was deceiving him. He was from a time that preceded any religion.
    3. The keep was a prison for the vampire built by Scott Glenn many years earlier. The talisman which Cuza unearths and is then rejoined with Scott Glenn's pipe was actually a sword hilt and Scott Glenn had the blade. Therefore, when the two pieces were reassembled it made a pretty sweet sword instead of the flashlight which looked like it took about 50 size D batteries.
    4. Eva (who was Magda in the book) was an extremely bookish (but beautiful) virginal spinster. Glenn was a very manly man who was able to get past Magda's virginal ways. The romance was actually very well developed.
    5. Glenn didn't bleed neon green and didn't wear weird looking contacts or shoot electrical shocks from his eyes.
    6. Kaempffer was a model Aryan with blond hair and blue eyes. He planned to start a Romanian death camp just south of the keep's location. Gabriel Byrne was horribly miscast. Especially since he had no talent for a German accent. The most Nazi of all the characters was the least in the film.
    7. Zombies and Rats were used to frightening effect in the book and completely dropped for the film.
    8. There's too many to list.

    This film need to be remade.


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