It’s a common story amongst fans of the cinema, especially sci-fi and horror aficionados. You wait years to see a movie. You’ve heard very little but your curiosity is killing you. Finally, you track down a copy. You fire up the big screen, put in the DVD or pull up Netflix. Minutes later, you are being transported to another time and place. You can’t believe you are finally going to see the movie. Then, some 90 minutes later, you wonder if Marty McFly can swing by with the DeLorean so you can get those 90 minutes back. Unfortunately, these are thoughts crossing my mind after I recently watched The Keep (1983) but not for the reasons you might think.
In 1983, director Michael Mann assembled a cast that included Scott Glenn and Ian McKellen in an effort to bring author F. Paul Wilson’s novel The Keep to life on the big screen. Up to this point, Mann had only one theatrical film to his credit, 1981’s Thief. And, after viewing The Keep, I’m not surprised to see that his Hollywood career made a transition to producing such television hits as Crime Story and Miami Vice. The movie has a lot of interesting aspects going into it. Set in World War II Romania, the German Army takes residence in an abandoned citadel, known as the Keep, in an effort to control a pass. The locals are concerned about the Germans staying there and are warned to leave. However, Captain Klaus Woermann (Jurgen Prochnow) becomes intrigued with countless T-shaped icons made of nickel. A local priest warns them not to touch them but a couple of soldiers attempt to steal them, inadvertently unleashing an entity known as Radu Molasar. Beams of light leave a path of destruction, which warrants the priest to request a Jewish historian named Professor Theodore Cuza (Ian McKellen, The Hobbit and X-Men) and his daughter Eva (Alberta Wilson).
Molasar begins to take form (it reminded me of a Golem with red eyes) and saves Eva from two German soldiers. Then, he cures Professor Cuza of scleroderma, resulting in the professor gaining strength and being indebted to him. Molasar needs the professor’s help in escaping the citadel, promising to kill the Nazis if freed. Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger with glowing eyes (Scott Glenn) comes to the village with his own plans of stopping Molasar. As it turns out, Molasar has evil plans and the stranger is the only one who can stop him.
The Keep is an atmospheric film that is in desperate need of restoration and remastering. The version I watched on Netflix is only in full frame and was a very worn copy. The film originally had a soundtrack by Tangerine Dream but other versions contain a different score due to rights issues. However, this version had the Tangerine Dream music, which really is not a plus. I love Tangerine Dream but their score just seemed out of place in this movie and overpowering at times. Which leads me to the sound editing. It is perhaps the worst I’ve experienced in some time. It is very hard to hear most of the cast. This could have been how it was filmed or it could just be the current mix. In any case, it needs corrected should this ever get a DVD or Blu-Ray release.
The Keep had a lot of potential. I love the concept of World War II horror. However, it also suffers from a convoluted script. This could be due to the fact that the movie was originally over three hours long and was cut down to half that running time. I suspect a lot of detail and explanation was lost in that abandoned 90 minutes. Michael Mann has no interest in seeing this film restored due to the overall negative reception it received. I’ve never read author F. Paul Wilson’s original novel but I am definitely interested. Wilson was also disappointed with the movie, stating it was incomprehensible. With a theatrical release just before Christmas, an odd time of year for a film like this, needless to say it was a flop. The Keep has only been released on laserdisc and VHS, so unless you can find one of those on eBay, your best option would be Netflix or on YouTube, which is at least a widescreen version converted from the laserdisc. It’s worth a watch to see the promise that it had but be warned. It’s a frustrating watch that may leave you wishing for that 90 minutes back, at least until a better version becomes available.