The Keep (1983) – Michael Mann

(Re) Watching Michael Mann’s disjointed supernatural film, The Keep I realised I wanted one thing from it – Mann’s original cut. Apparently clocking in at 3 1/2 hours it was trimmed down to 2 by Paramount Pictures, who then cut another half hour out of it after some rough previews.

It’s not like now. If Michael Mann came to a studio and said he has a three hour genre epic (and honestly can we please get Mann to do another supernaturally themed film – PLEASE!) studios would snap it up. In the early 80s, with only one previous feature film Thief under his belt Mann didn’t have the clout, or the recognition that he does today.

Adapting the novel by F. Paul Wilson, the story is simple, and no doubt effective if screened as originally intended, and in Mann’s hands is incredibly dreamlike.

A group of Nazis have arrived at a small village in Dinu Pass amongst the Carpathian mountains. There they find a staggeringly huge construct, a keep, covered in crosses. As their leader, Woermann (Jurgen Prochnow) investigates and takes possession of village, and keep, he realises that it looks more like it was designed to keep something in.

Nazi soldiers attempt to pry some of the crosses off the walls, thinking they have some monetary value, and unwittingly release a demonic presence that begins to stalk the walls of the keep, seeking a way out. It’s also leaving messages on the walls in a language that has been dead for five centuries.

With men dying nightly, another officer, an SS officer, Kaempffer (Gabriel Byrne) arrives, and promises to kill five villagers for each soldier who dies. They also go to a nearby concentration camp, and bring a Jewish historian, Dr. Theodore Cuza (Ian McKellan) and daughter Eva, (Alberta Watson) to the keep to decipher it and help stop whatever is going on.

With nightly murders, and madness seeming to seep into the village, it is Cuza who encounters the being that walks the keep’s walls, trapped there by a talisman it wants removed. And it may corrupt Cuza to do it.

The side of the right is aided by the arrival a mysterious man, named Glaeken (Scott Glenn) who knows more than anyone what is really going on here, and he knows how to stop it.

The strange demonic being is becoming a physical manifestation with the more loves it claims, and soon, should it break free of the keep, nothing will be able to stop it.

And man, I wish I could see a longer cut of this film. There are jumps in continuity, and plot holes, and jaring musical edits that suffer from the cutting that was done to the film. And yet, I still dig it. there’s something fascinating about the tale, and the cast involved.

Sure, the author hated the adaptation (done by Mann) but did he see the intended cut, or the one that got pushed into theatres? I wish the cut footage could be restored. I have no doubt it would be a whole new movie, and would end up being a solid entry in Mann’s filmography instead of a film he disowned.

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