The Keep (1983)
January 4, 2023 1:13 PM - Subscribe

Nazi captain Klaus Woermann (Jürgen Prochnow) and his soldiers take over an ancient Romanian fortress that seems to have been built not to keep people out, but to keep something in. As mysterious forces begin killing off his men, Woermann's commanding officer Major Kaempffer (Gabriel Byrne) demands answers. The nearby village's priest (Robert Prosky) suggests they retrieve Jewish scholar Theodore Cuza (Ian McKellen) and his daughter Eva (Alberta Watson) from a nearby concentration camp to see if they can uncover the keep's secrets. Meanwhile, an ominous stranger (Scott Glenn) circles and waits.

Also starring Michael Carter.

Written and directed by Michael Mann, based on the novel by F. Paul Wilson. Score by Tangerine Dream.

Michael Mann's original cut of the movie was 210 minutes long. Mann was contractually obligated to deliver a two-hour-long movie. Test screenings of the two-hour cut were not positive, leading Paramount cut the movie down to 96 minutes, against Mann's wishes. These last-minute cuts resulted in many plot holes, continuity mistakes, very obvious "jumps" in soundtrack and scenes, and bad editing issues. Even the sound mixing of the movie could not be finished properly because of Paramount's interference which is why every version of the movie suffers from bad sound design. The original June 3, 1983 release date was pushed back to December 16 due to the many problems in post-production.

44% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently streaming in the US on Criterion and Pluto. JustWatch listing.
posted by DirtyOldTown (6 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A few things to get out of the way: yes, Paramount cut the holy hell out of this. So much so, that there are huge leaps and gaps in the story that will make your head spin. (Eva and the Scott Glenn character meet. BAM, they are having sex and deeply in love.) Yes, there are Nazis. (Though the film not only does not ask you to empathize with any of them, with the exception of Woermer, who, it is hinted, was an anti-fascist, and only wants to save lives.) Yes, Molesar, the monster/villain is somewhere between deeply weird and corny AF. And also, it likely slid right past most folks, but this is emphatically not shot in Romania, but in Wales. And not only is positively no one in this actually Romanian, but they don't even seem to have thought Romanian was interesting enough as a language to have someone insure the names of people and places were pronounced even half-correctly.

But wow, there is some phatasmagoric visual goodness. Mann hates this movie and prefers never to speak of it. He wasn't interested in the novel, which he thought was terrible, and his experience with Paramount chopping this up made him bitter. Also, not for nothing, but even if he didn't despise even thinking about this film, a cut in line with his original vision is unlikely, because the big closing set piece, in which Molesar slaughters the Nazis, was never even finished, because the VFX producer died during production.

Anyway, this was wild and interesting. Mann is/was an exceptionally technically proficient and talented director and even in a misfire like this, there is tons of terrific imagery and tension.

Often times, I'd rather watch a true auteur's missed shot than a journeyman director's best work.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:21 PM on January 4, 2023 [2 favorites]

I saw this in the theater when it came out and I've been weirdly fascinated by it ever since. Not that I think it's some misunderstood masterpiece. It's a mess. But still I can't quite be rid of it. I found it on some streaming service or other a few years ago and watched it again, and I've read the book. The book is more coherent and - like the few other F. Paul Wilson novels I've read - has a similar weird effect on me. It's not that I think they're high art, but somehow they stick their little images into my mind and they're damned hard to get rid of.
posted by Naberius at 3:27 PM on January 4, 2023

Yeah, it's absolutely a mess, but I loved this when it came out and still have a fondness for it, despite not having seen it in years and years. I absolutely loved Jürgen Prochnow and Scott Glenn and so I didn't mind the disaster; I especially loved Prochnow's dry sarcasm in the beginning. It's visually pretty amazing; I always kept those images of the silver crosses and the light reflecting in my head. And of course, my friends and I wanted to see it for the Tangerine Dream soundtrack. I'd really love to watch this again now, I'll have to look it up.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 9:57 PM on January 4, 2023

i still love this movie... Nazis getting killed by powerful spirits... what's not to love
posted by kokaku at 7:29 AM on January 5, 2023

I've still never seen this film, but Tangerine Dream's soundtrack for it is excellent - see Kit Rae's site for the bizarre details. (I have to wonder how UK audiences reacted to the end theme in the theatre...)
posted by offog at 3:35 PM on January 5, 2023 [1 favorite]

Watched this two nights ago. When I went to my kitchen for a snack, Scott Glenn was asking if the attic room in the inn was the only window overlooking the entrance to the keep. When I returned maybe ten seconds later he was banging Alberta Watson on the floor.

From then on I shifted into "think of it as a workprint" and just let the rest of the movie wash over me.
posted by Molesome at 2:12 AM on January 13, 2023

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