"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
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
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.]
THE IMPOSSIBLE JOURNEY
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
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...
THE REVENGE OF GLAEKEN
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
THREE DIMENSIONS OF IMAGINATION
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
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
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
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
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
The first, untranslated caption reads, "Eva (Alberta Watson) et Glaeken
(Scott Glenn) après l'affrontement final. Photo posée ou scène sucrée
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.
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