The Keep

The Keep is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Keep (1983) – Rated R

“Director Michael Mann’s visual artistry is highlighted in this 1983 horror outing starring J├╝rgen Prochnow as Capt. Klaus Woermann, whose German soldiers are slain by an ancient spirit after they commandeer a Romanian castle during World War II. Jewish scholar Theodore Cuza (Ian McKellen) is forced to investigate and wants to unleash the demon to decimate the Nazis, but an enigmatic wanderer (Scott Glenn) intends to keep the evil contained.”

“Why are the small stones on the outside and the large stones here on the interior? It’s constructed… backwards. This place was not constructed to keep something… out. “

I have a terrible soft spot for Nazi villains, particularly in the horror genre. Ian McKellan is fabulous as the tutor in Apt Pupil. Dead Snow is a riotous Nazi Zombiefest. I love Peter Cushing in Shock Waves. The military horror movie, The Outpost is quite good. Gregory Peck is fun as Dr. Mengele in The Boys from Brazil. I have even been known to watch The Madmen of Mandoras aka the shorter, better version of They Saved Hitler’s Brain!

I love The Keep. The Keep is a complete mess. The Keep is a terrific horror movie. The Keep is a terrible horror movie.

Michael Mann is an incredibly stylish director. After The Keep, he would start Miami Vice (1984), change Miami for Chicago and make Crime Story (1986), make the first Hannibal Lecter film (Manhunter, 1986), and make the best film about the French and Indian War (The Last of the Mohicans, 1992). He launched the careers of Dennis Farina, William Peterson, James Belushi, and Robert Prosky – and that was just from his film Thief.

Mann assembles a nice cast here. Jurgen Prochnow is good here in what is essentially a retread of his good German soldier from Das Boot. Gabriel Byrne is the flipside and pretty nasty as the villainous Major Kaempffer. The always excellent Ian McKellen plays Jewish historian Dr. Theodore Cuza. Scott Glenn is the mysterious stranger. Alberta Watson plays Eva Cuza, Theodore’s daughter.

Mann wrote the screenplay himself from F. Paul Wilson’s 1981 novel. I would love to see Mann’s original cut which was reportedly three and a half hours long. The Netflix version runs 95 minutes (96 listed on imdb) and is a choppy, incomprehensible mess.

The special effects run a wide gamut. There are great atmospheric effects such as the wall crosses and fog. The castle setting is absolutely wonderful. The climactic light show looks awful – as if this were from the early days of CGI. The device looks like a flashlight with fins attached.

The score is fantastic and done by Tangerine Dream. Tangerine Dream did some marvelous soundtracks in the late 70s and early 80s, notably for Sorcerer, Risky Business, Mann’s Thief and The Keep.

Final scorecard: marvelous atmosphere, good story, great location, nice acting (mostly), and wonderful score marred by incomprehensible plot, choppy editing, some poor special effects, and some sub-par acting.

The good news is that The Keep is available on instant Netflix even though it has never received a U.S. DVD or Blu-Ray release. Mann has disowned the film and squashed any release. The bad news is that the visual quality is pretty terrible, almost as if Netflix had copied it from an old VHS tape.