Saw this film many years ago, back in 1984 I think, maybe 1985, on a VHS rental. As I remember, I rather enjoyed it at the time, particularly the creature design. The premise seemed quite novel; set in World War Two, Nazis occupying a remote mountain keep unleash an ancient evil. The film has been most notable for the fact that it was directed by Michael Mann (famous for Miami Vice, the classic films Heat, Manhunter etc) and also that the film is unavailable on current home formats due to rights issues (and an alleged campaign by Mann to bury the film). The other night it was on Film 4 so I set up the TIVO and have finally managed to see it again after over a quarter of a century- yeah, you know you’re getting old when you write lines like that.
Well, oh dear. This film hasn’t aged well at all. You can see the influence of Mann’s own Miami Vice tv series on this film; the slo-mo visuals, the electronic Tangerine Dream soundtrack. Miami Vice had a fine electronic music score by Jan Hammer breathing life into it, a heartbeat to the flash neon-drenched visuals. Mann was clearly aiming at something like that when he sought an electronic soundtrack for this period horror film. Back in the ‘eighties Tangerine Dream were extremely popular for (cheap?) soundtracks that were deemed ‘hip’ at the time. The group did soundtracks for films like Miracle Mile, Firestarter, and infamously supplied a replacement score for Ridley Scott’s troubled Legend utterly abhorrent to anyone who prefers the Goldsmith score it replaced. Its remarkable now that any of that TD stuff was popular at all- I have no real experience of their ‘pop’ albums, but their score work is dismal. The TD score to The Keep is that old familiar droning that is a poor fit for the period setting and yet also manages to make the film seem horribly entrenched in the ‘eighties.
The score doesn’t work, but neither does the film itself either. Its a mess. The acting is uneven at best, shocking at its worst, the script is shambolic, the editing confusing. Its clearly a broken movie. The films fans (and yes, incredibly, this film does have its fans) sees the mess and describes it as surreal, dream-like. Sorry folks its just simply bad film-making. Now, I’ve read over the years that Mann fell out with Paramount Pictures, that his three-hour cut was edited down to under two-hours, that this was done behind his back. I suspect much of this talk is by apologists for Mann considering the fine films he made afterwards. Maybe there is a good film buried in the vaults somewhere but I doubt it, I doubt any Directors Cut could save this film. Its just one of those situations where its unavailability on DVD or Blu-ray has lent the film something of a mystical status for some, as if its a great film withheld from the masses. Well its not, its simply a bad movie perhaps best left in home video limbo. And seeing the influence of Miami Vice‘s style I wouldn’t grant Mann immunity from the blame. Its just a wonder he had great films in him.