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an article
Starfix No. 3
Hors Serie
(April 1984)

From Starfix No. 3 Hors Serie (April 1984, France), pp. 77-79

A Few Holes in The Keep
By François Cognard
scans and original French text courtesy of Kit Rae of "The Keep Score by Tangerine Dream:
Strange Obsessions for the Music from an Obscure 1983 Supernatural Horror Film"

translated by Alicia M, date unknown
page breaks added by Steven Feldman on December 9, 2013

"When you spend a year of your life making a film, you change, you evolve.
And if you're lucky, the film will be beautiful and consistent." -- Michael Mann

Those few words say it all. The difference is that Michael Mann was not lucky.

As you've probably noticed through the interviews of actors and technicians, The Keep is a film that has suffered much. Suffered in its ambition, suffered its hectic filming schedule, and especially in the lack of resources to complete the special effects. Inevitably, this series of problems affected the look of the finished product. Without mincing words, The Keep is a film that both impresses... and disappoints. So you ask, is that why we have given it half an issue? Yes! Precisely.

The people who experienced it firsthand such as Scott Glenn, Alex Thomson, Nick Maley, Nick Allder and Enki Bilal, can attest to the difficulties encountered during this adventure.

Then we saw panic amongst the film's producers who willingly took on an adventurous and ambitious arthouse project, then panicked when the budget ballooned, cut off the money, then arbitrarily demanded cuts to the final film. Remember Cimino's Heaven's Gate...

In the end, The Keep was anything but a mediocre, dull, hollow or uninteresting film. Some call it a sublime failure, but I say that Mann's film is a mesmerizing journey to nowhere. A superb aesthetic digression. A huge hour and thirty minute music video, full of loud guns and Tangerine Dream.

To borrow a phrase from Truffaut applied to certain Hitchcock films, The Keep is "a very sick movie." Compared to Mann's previous films, this was to be an exciting, personal, gutsy, and original film, but the released film was confusing. It was a victim of budget and technical constraints...!

There was studio interference. The Keep was to have a minimum two hour running time, but the producers decided that the released film was to be shortened by at least a half hour, something far from the intentions of the director. As a result, this choice robbed the film of its substance. [The untranslated sentence "Et ce n'est pas un hasard si le visuel a ainsi vampirisé la substance 'cérébrale'." appears here.]


From its conception, the project was risky. First, because Mann is not necessarily an intellectual visionary compared to Kubrick or Boorman. Instead, what made Jericho Mile and Thief work was his instinctive ability to show the loner's struggle in the banality of everyday America. His primary inspiration comes from the work of earlier masters, Walsh and Ford.

With the The Keep, he was giving us a coldly natural philosophy. Bizarre? Not really, because if you search a bit, there are thematic parallels. The Divine Sentinel Glaeken, Frank the thief, and Murphy, the crazy runner of Jericho Mile, all pursue the same ideal: to flee their purgatory (beyond the medium of prison) to get outside, to be free. At the same time, the Nazis, the gang of drug traffickers who extort Murphy, or the mafia family of Thief represent the ultimate active fascist authority. And then there is the locale itself. This fortress is built in the mountains, with thick black walls. A place that literally suffocates its tenants, like a prison or a vault.

Mann wanted to somehow trace the origin of the struggles of his tormented heroes. No problem. But the difference here is the enormous scope requiring him to create from scratch an entirely different fantasy universe, with a supernatural battle. A world of fairytale, with its laws, its symbols, its landscapes. Quite <78> a challenge. Far from the conflicts between gangsters and convicts in his first films...


When Spielberg filmed Raiders, or when Lucas oversaw Return of the Jedi, they created characters that were simply action figures, but concentrated their main efforts in building incredible worlds of the past and the future they inhabit. Mann did not merely refine aesthetics, he also wanted his characters to be symbolic and representative, stylized in the way they express passions or fears from the unconscious. Starting with Mosalar, the demon fortress was supposed to be the embodiment of pure fascism. For this reason he more or less disowned Paul Wilson's novel, which he considered too narrative, too trivial, and too loyal to some gothic tradition.

His intentions were laudable: First tell how a band of Nazi soldiers get massacred by an evil creature within a forgotten fortress in Transylvania. Then graft onto that dramatic framework a banal philosophy. Fairytale. So, Molasar, who was a folk reincarnation of the contemporary vampire Vlad Tepes in the novel, decides to conquer the world, becoming a demigod sufficiently close to Satan. Mann changed what was between the stone walls of Wilson's castle, revealing his den, a huge anteroom lost in a basement of hell. He also changed how the Nazis were killed. In the novel, in good vampire tradition, Molasar tore out their throats with large claws, in the film he instantly reduces them to burnt gray pieces of charcoal. In short, a touch of black magic!

For Mann, life and death struggle as in a fever dream. By agreeing to help Molasar to flee the fortress, Cuza was given his youth. Glaeken, shot by the Germans, suddenly returns to life: In the depths, the characters meet their doubles (Glaeken/Molasar) or their parents (Molasar telling Kaempffer, leader of the SS: "I come from you"). This is a unique tour of the afterlife that we are invited to witness. A descent into the limbo of the human unconscious. Direct contact with myths is suddenly crystallized. So, how does the visual transcript of this metaphysical experience hold up? Does it hold up to the simplistic but functional framework of Wilson's novel? That is where there is a problem.


If you know the Great Old Ones of Lovecraft, those were the cursed creatures that constantly harassed the human narrators of those stories. Despite the deliberate vagueness and sometimes laughable descriptions (like, "He saw the nameless and fainted!"), you still imagined how they looked. OK.

Now, take a piece of paper and try to draw one of those things ... Or better yet, <79> create it in three dimensions on film. The result could be very well be sad!

Mann has encountered the same problem with Molasar, the incarnation of absolute evil. How do you visually translate such a folkloric concept without falling into ridicule? Do you only suggest him subjectively with the camera? Not likely. Especially when he requires long dialogue scenes with Cuza and he appears in a final battle with Glaeken.

If Mann brings this insidious and deadly presence out of the shadows from wasting German soldiers, he must also then show Molasar, make him move and talk. So, what we see in the first part of the film as a sort of wispy spirit eventually materializes completely. This is where things get tricky.

To achieve this goal, Mann relied on the optical effects of Wally Veevers, who was to create this with a dreamlike texture of light, something halfway between the material and the fluid. But as you know, Veevers died after two weeks of post production, and the entire film crashed back down to earth. The dream would have to take on a much more real physical appearance, losing the idea of a dreamlike effect. Molasar, reworked by Bilal, had a look that some deemed too raw, too realistic for a fairy creature, with behavior rather too much like a normal person. It was a shame.

All of the magical manifestations of his power have largely been lost: his final fight with Glaeken into a huge laser beam emanating out of the ground, his basic massacre of the Nazis in the main room of the keep. [Aha! so *that's* why we only hear Molasar kill Nazis offscreen, instead of actually seeing him do it! I always found this lack to be inexplicable. So, originally, we were supposed to witness Molasar wiping out the Nazis? *That* makes more sense. -- Stephe]

What remains? Foggy air and the optical effects of the minor hack Roy Field, supervisor of animation mattes for Krull and Superman III. Although the visual effects falied to be either magical or spectacular, The Keep still retains a unique and fascinating "look".

The arrival of the Germans in the hostile Romanian village, the discovery of Molasar's cave by the two nosy soldiers, the first real appearance of the demon, as a non-corporeal glowing cloud of smoke (as in Tourneur's Night of the Demon): sublimely highlighted by the expressionistic photography of Thomson and the set decorations of John Box.

But as the producers have seen fit not to back the film, the characters have lost their potential. They do not have enough time to reveal all their secrets, and are primarily used here to connect disparate events. Glaeken, for example, is too much like a servile robot, and does not sufficiently express the despair of having to live on the fringes of human society without ever really making contact with them.

In the final version of The Keep, the editing choked the dreamlike consistency. Not only had Mann been forced to cut short the aesthetic of his fairy tale, but from the viewer's standpoint, he also fell back to a more simplistic tale than the novel. Some of his vision remains intact here and there, but the beauty of it was robbed. Rather than sparse drama, this is what was to be the core of the film: metaphors. These technical shortfalls have only allowed that to be half-true.

But somehow, this "failure" of the film is telling. It shows that this company had something many other productions of the same kind are lacking: ambition.

François Cognard


Page 77:
The first, untranslated caption reads, "Eva (Alberta Watson) et Glaeken (Scott Glenn) après l'affrontement final. Photo posée ou scène sucrée au montage?"

Page 78:
A section that is missing from the film, Eva attempting to bring Glaeken back to life in the den of Molasar. Reflections in her hair and the fluorescent blood of his supernatural man.

Two scenes of famous melee between Molasar at Glaeken, before and after the plunge from the top of the fortress. The duel scenes were abandoned because of the death of Wally Veevers, supervisor optical effects.

Page 79:
Useless costly machines on location: Mann and technicians handling a huge fan to recreate the sucking wind in the cave of Molasar. But unfortunately things went awry in post production.

Mann's true finale ended in the Mediterranean. Glaeken, Eva Cuza, and her aging father, each survivors of the the keep. Another scene that was removed for technical reasons. A very different conclusion than what we saw...

-- François Cognard

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Created at thekeep.0catch.com on 12/10/13.
Copyright © Steven Feldman, 2013. Last updated 12/10/13.