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Monday 3 October 2011

Burl reviews The Keep! (1983)

Hello! Yes, you guessed it, it’s Burl! I’m here to review an old Michael Mann movie called The Keep! This one’s pretty hard to find unless you’re a VHS collector like me, but if you enjoy the films of Mann, particularly Manhunter, you might find the effort worthwhile!

Apparently the original cut of this movie was three hours long, which is not as unusual as you might think, but in this case, being cut down to 93 minutes resulted in a very oddball and choppy movie indeed! It’s not so much that the story is hard to follow, though there are certain aspects which could really use some clarification, but the movie feels rather like it was made from a treatment rather than a fleshed-out screenplay!

So as I’ve read the book it was based on and have seen the movie several times over the years (I even saw it in the theatre!), I was tempted to review not the movie, but the movie I imagine Michael Mann would have released if he could! (He was pretty clout-free in those days, I guess!) However, that seems a little pointless, since none of us can watch that picture, and I’m fairly sure that, even if the elements were still locked away in the Paramount vaults somewhere, and were made available to him, Mann will never bother trying to piece together a director’s cut! Still, ha ha, you never know!

The story is set in Romania in the earlier days of the Second World War! German soldiers truck into a little town and set up camp in an old castle-like structure, which soon proves to harbor something even nastier than Nazis! At least, that’s what the movie wants you to think, but as the creature only kills Nazis and, at least in the final cut, gives no hints as to his larger goals, he comes off as rather a decent chap!

Soon SS-Einsatzkommondo Sturmbannfuhrer Gabriel Byrne arrives, believing the killings are the work of partisan villagers! He starts shooting people at random, hoping to smoke the partisans out, but no such luck! The highly mysterious and purple-eyed Scott Glenn, whom we recall from The Right Stuff, shows up almost but not quite wearing his net shirt from Urban Cowboy, and is soon making sweet love to the pretty daughter of a Jewish academic played by Ian McKellen in old age makeup! As in Heaven Can Wait, we get to see an actor we now know as an old man in speculative old man drag years before actually becoming an old man! But the supernatural creature makes a deal with the old professor, and zaps him young again! 

However, even the indescribably ancient power of this ferocious being is no match for Ian McKellen’s eyebags! It all leads to a finale involving many, many optical effects and colorful animations, courtesy of special effects man Wally Veevers, whose final film this was! Speaking of the special effects, I want to mention the great smoke effects used to cloak the monster during one excellent scene where he saves the professor’s daughter from a rape attempt, and then carries her back to her room! Really cool trick effects, I have to say!

In the end, though, despite several nice visual moments and some committed thesping, the movie is just too nonsensical to rate very highly! Also, I have to say, the Tangerine Dream score is a little bit bonkers, and frankly kind of chortle-worthy! I certainly appreciate the attempt to do something different, but in this case it didn’t really work! Sorry Mann! I give this movie, or at least the truncated cut of it, one and a half glowing nickel crosses!

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