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Ranking + Dissected: Michael Mann

on January 12, 2015, 11:30am
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10. The Keep (1983)

the keep 1983 Ranking + Dissected: Michael Mann

Runtime: 1 hr. 36 min. (Theatrical); 1 hr. 31 min. (VHS); 3 hr. 30 min. (Director’s Cut)

Press Release: It’s 1942, and a troupe of Nazis are sent to a storybook Romanian pass to guard an ancient, ominous, trapezoidal, and totally rad-looking fortress known solely as “The Keep.” After a lil’ Nazi awakens a mysterious force in the fortress, SS heads start exploding. So what’s a befuddled Nazi leader to do? He enlists the help of a crippled, old Jewish historian to decipher some demonic mumbo-jumbo carved on the walls. But when the old man and the monster meet, they form an alliance to get the creature out of The Keep and kill all the Nazis. Oh, and there’s a Christ-ish alien out to kill the monster, and he’s weird in bed.

Cast: Scott Glenn, Jürgen Prochnow, Robert Prosky, Ian McKellen

Soundtrack: Tangerine Dream creaming all over the place. They’re billed right after Ian McKellan.

Location, Location, Location: Gunpowder gray and gorgeous Wales substituting for Romania, but most of the action is in The Keep itself, a truly stunning set built upon an abandoned quarry that Mann described as “a black monumental structure that might have been built by a medieval Albert Speer.” And it looks really cool filled with smoke, glowing silver semi-crucifixes, and pastel lasers. Plus there’s a grand finale filmed in Llechwedd Slate Caverns where smart framing and a few fans and floodlights trump all the CGI in the world.

The Brooding Man: There’s a fake-out earlier in the film, in which a brooding Jürgen Prochnow broods like William Petersen, and you think he’s gonna be the star of the film. But McKellan’s the true lead here, and he’s got a helluva crisis of conscious. If he helps the monster, he gets to be young and pretty again and all the Nazis get to be exploded. But it’ll probably lead to the end of the world. Tough call.

Sharpest Portrait:

the keep screenshot Ranking + Dissected: Michael Mann

Essential Clip: Since none of the clips of exploding Nazi heads are available online, enjoy the tease of the moody, Tangerine Dreamy opening scene…

Director’s Cut: I wish.

Analysis: It’s a feast for the eyes, but it’s hard to watch … literally. Mann disowned his follow-up to Thief after the studio chopped 10 reels out of it, and it’s the only part of his oeuvre that’s never been on DVD. The VHS, and from what I’ve been told, the recently removed Netflix stream, are worthless pan-and-scan hatchet jobs stripped of the score. Finding it in its 2.35:1 wide-screen Tangerine glory is a task (there’s an online rip of a Laserdisc, and that’s as good as it gets), but it’s worth it and shouldn’t be disowned.

It’s got everything you want from the Mann. Mood and brood in spades. Trademark visual and sonic tones that came to fruition the very next year on TV’s Miami Vice. Every shot is smothered in Mann’s ‘80s, pre-digital style. The lines between good and evil are always blurred. And the smoke monster looks awesome and probably asphyxiated the crew.

But its anguishing thinking about what the longer cut could have been. You can see how much work went into the savagely abridged and jarringly disjointed curio. What remains is a hypnotic and atmospheric monster picture that makes you wish Mann would make another horror movie.

–Roy Ivy

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