Based on the novel by F. Paul Wilson* — which was the first of a seven book series called The Adversary Cycle — The Keep is the movie you find on Wikipedia when you look up troubled production. Starting with a rough thirteen week shoot that went all the way to twenty two weeks with reshoots and a supernatural creature that kept changing because director Michael Mann couldn’t decide how he wanted it to look, the fact that this movie was ever released is pretty amazing.
Making things even more challenging was the sad fact that visual effects supervisor Wally Veevers died while the film was still being made and nobody knew how he planned to finish the visual effects scenes in the movie. Mann had to finish 260 shots of special effects himself after Veever’s death.
This is a movie with so many different endings that it’s hard to keep track. The original end was close to the effects Veevers did for 2001: A Space Odyssey with a dimensional wormhole tearing through The Keep and time and space itself. Paramount refused to pay for the filming of the additional footage needed for this finale, so Mann had to compromise.
Mann’s original cut was 210-minutes long and we may never see that version of this movie. It was taken out of his hands and cut down to 96-minutes and the result was utter hackwork. Huge chunks of the story are missing, continuity is all over the place and there are obvious mistakes in the sound design, soundtrack and editing. And that’s what played in theaters!
There was a Laurie Anderson score for this — it ended up becoming her album United States Live — but this film wouldn’t be as successful as it is without the Tangerine Dream score that plays throughout.
Somehow, it took until 2020 for this to come out on DVD and that was only in Australia. It looks like this will never get a big release, but hey — we’ve been surprised before. When asked if it would ever be released in 2016, Mann said, “No. we were never able to figure out how we were to combine all these components that were shot (pre blue and green screen). That one’s going to stay in its…” before he just stopped talking.
A German unit of soldiers have occupied an uninhabited citadel n Romania in an attempt to control the Dinu Mountain Pass. Two soldiers attempt to steal a religious icon before releasing Radu Molasar, a monster that kills several soldiers as it becomes more physically real. And as the soldiers struggle to keep their ownership of The Keep, even more sadistic troops come to town, killing the local villagers.
There’s also a Jewish historian named Prof. Theodore Cuza (Ian McKellen) who the Molasar is using to escape the confines of this building, another mysterious named Glaeken Trismegestus (Scott Glenn) and yeah — just listen to the cool music and watch the pretty lights and let this movie wash over you. I mean, German soldiers and Jewish people joining together to stop a golem? Is that a good explanation? Who knows!
There’s a great cast game for whatever happens, like Gabriel Byrne, Robert Prosky, Jürgen Prochnow and Alberta Watson.
As for Mann, he left the movies behind for a while. But he did just fine, creating Miami Vice and making films like the fascinating Manhunter, Heat and The Insider.
Somehow, Mayfair Games was able to take the movie and make a board game and a Dungeons & Dragons module in its RoleAids line.
No matter how disjointed or poorly editing this movie is, I keep watching it. Maybe someday, the film I get to see will be the one that Mann actually wanted audiences to see.
*Wilso disliked this movie so much that he wrote a short story called “Cuts” in which a writer puts a voodoo curse on a director who has ruined one of his books.