The gothic horror fantasy The Keep had everything going for it when pre-production began in 1982/3. The novel by F. Paul Wilson was a bestseller, and the director Michael Mann was coming into his second film off the back of a critical and commercial success with his debut effort Thief (1981). The film had a respectable budget of $6,000,000, and a solid and dependable cast that included Scott Glenn, Jürgen Prochnow, Gabriel Byrne, and Ian McKellan. The casting however is very instructive; while all these actors are respectable in their own right, none of them were stars. The Keep was clearly the Michael Mann show, and the writer/director is both the worst and the best thing about the film. The novel represents a challenge too adaptation, and Mann was clearly not up to the task. His initial cut of the film ran to over two hundred minutes - somebody should have reminded him his name was Michael Mann not Francis Ford Mann! And much of the controversy around the film centres on the studios decision to cut the film down to a more palatable one hundred minutes. The question of whether Mann’s cut would have made any more sense is moot, the film exists as it does. And in its present form it is untidy, chaotic, incoherent, and confused. The Keep fails dismally as a story; plot development lacks even the most basic sense of continuity and the narrative is a mangled mess. But from a visual perspective The Keep is a stunning success; it overflows with one striking image after another, and is stylistically at least, one of the most beautiful horror/fantasy films of the 1980’s.
© Shaun Anderson 2012