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  The Keep
Michael Mann, UK, 1983
Rating: 1.2

Posted: August 18, 2003

Despite those nasty rumors being circulated by Laurence Station, Clemenza is no stranger to literature. In fact, not so long ago -- okay, quite some time ago -- I studied at a rather prominent institution of higher learning. The fact that I was thrown out of that institution should not devalue the quality of my brief education there. I enjoy reading. In fact, one of the very last things I read was an interesting novel by F. Paul Wilson entitled The Keep. It was an interesting tale set during WWII, with a contingent of the German army seeking refuge in an ancient castle. Each night one of their number is brutally murdered, and no trace of the killer can be found. Soon, the SS is called in to employ their brutal tactics to bring the assassin to swift and deadly "justice." As the shroud of mystery is pulled back, it reveals a clash between two beings older than time itself. Wow! If you've not read it, you should. One, because reading is good for you. And two, if you don't, there's no fucking way you'll have any idea what this piece-of-shit movie is supposed to be about.

In a whirlwind of confusing visuals, abysmal special effects (even for 1983) and horrid editing, the viewer is assaulted with stylistic images that do nothing to advance or enhance the story. Scott Glenn's character, a pivotal one in the novel, receives only marginal treatment here. We get to see his eyes glow once and he spends a lot of time either standing in front of bright light, or behind bright light. Enough with the lights already! Look for the scene of Glenn departing for the keep in a boat. You can't miss it. It goes on for what seems like an eternity. I can only assume that the script was rewritten by a roomful of diarrheic monkeys with manual typewriters. Or that the editor went out for a quick sandwich, during which time a drooling, inbred, club-footed, Sasquatch missing link type snuck in and "got happy" with the equipment. One hopes that the actual director's cut got left on the cutting room floor, and that what we have here is all the stuff the crew intended for the gag reel at the wrap party. 'Cause there ain't no freakin' way that anyone who actually read the book could have created such an atomic turd as The Keep.

Whatever happened, it's hard to believe that this is the work of the same Michael Mann who would later direct The Insider and the great Heat. (My own theory is that Mann was drugged and held captive during filming, while the guys who directed Human League videos in the '80s assumed command of the project.) I can assure you that Scott Glenn, Gabriel Byrne and Ian McKellen would rather leave this particular gig off of their resumes, and erase it from their memories altogether. I wish to hell I could! This is yet another example of a great premise, a great setting, and an interesting conflict all left untapped. The only comparison I can make is reading Moby Dick and then seeing a film adaptation where there ain't no whale. Characters are not developed, situations are not set up, and before you know what is happening, the "monster" (and to use the term here is an insult to those antagonists who bring some dignity to the name "monster") shows up in an amorphous state, with glowing eyes, and tries to manifest a hint of a threat.

Okay, maybe the part about the Human League folks is wishful thinking on my part. Truth is, Mann's visual stamp is all over this effort. If the script had bothered to even remotely follow the book, Mann's touch would have added a stylized atmosphere to the film. How many times do I need to see a guy either walking in slow motion into a bright light or running from a bright light?

Instead, it is, as the saying goes, like "putting lipstick on a pig." In all actuality, I would have rather seen a film about a pig that wears lipstick The potential there is limitless.. The Keep, on the other hand, even fails to deliver suitable nudity, lesbianism or gratuitous sex, the last hopes for any awful film.

For those who have read the novel, forget about the harrowing first nights in the keep. Forget about the tension between Woermann, the German commanding officer, and Kempffer, the SS officer dispatched to stamp out whoever or whatever is behind the killings. Forget about any explanation as to why Scott Glenn is in the film. I mean, come on man, I know you can't retell the novel word for word, but at least throw in the cornerstone ingredients that explain the entire story! The ancient plot line? The relationship between the antagonist and the protagonist and how they define each other? The significance of the "crosses" that are scattered throughout the castle's walls? Anything? Sorry, Charlie. Instead we get bright lights, lots of fog, and occasional crappy slow motion shots.

And listen up, if you're waiting for the breath-taking, epic battle between good and evil, the climax of the story, well that's like waiting for Kevin Moreau to pick up the check at dinner. It just doesn't happen.

Those more cultured than I will tell you that this is a highly stylized, conceptual offering. Those equally cultured as I will call it a total abortion of a film. Those less cultured than I will be fascinated by the slow-motion shots and Tron-like special effects. The Keep is a total failure with no redeeming qualities whatsoever (save for the cool, eerie Tangerine Dream soundtrack -- which you're better off just tracking down on your own), and all copies of it should be burned so that future generations will be spared 96 minutes of confused misery.

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 Clemenza's Ratings Key:

 5.0: A drop of bliss

 4.0-4.9: Touchdown!
 3.0-3.9: Close, but...
 2.0-2.9: Box of Rocks
 1.1-1.9: Time bandit
 0.0-1.0: Soul scarring
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