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The F*ckin Black Sheep: The Keep (1983)

11.24.2016by: Ryan Doom

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

The Keep (1983)
Directed by Michael Mann

“I don’t hate THE KEEP, but I’m not a fan either. It’s an interesting film, but ridiculously uneven and boring.”

Thanks to HACKSAW RIDGE and ALLIED, WWII has returned to cinemas again to remind us of the horrors of war. WWII remains a subject that will never disappear because it gives viewers the ultimate evil to battle: the Nazis. Like The Empire, they remain the greatest villains (but they are extra scary thanks to them being real and all). Anyway, that’s probably why so many filmmakers have been attracted to projects from that time. Case in point: Michael Mann.

Like so many flicks that carry the label “Directed by Michael Mann,” viewers typically know what they’re in for…especially from the 1980s. Lots of stylized acting. Lots of stylized camera shots. Lots of slow motion. Lots of vibrant colors. Lots of fancy sounding synthesizers. While Mann had a fine run with films like THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, HEAT, and COLLATERAL, his WWII project THE KEEP has always been the…well, black sheep of his catalog. I don’t hate THE KEEP, but I’m not a fan either. It’s an interesting film, but ridiculously uneven and boring.

Based on the novel by F. Paul Wilson, THE KEEP is Mann’s second feature after the great THIEF, and the year before he produced MIAMI VICE. And somehow THE KEEP feels like its his in-between. It can’t quite figure out what it’s doing, and the characters aren’t interesting. The story revolves around when the Nazis stop in Romanian to make a town’s Keep their base of operation. Quickly, they discover the place could be haunted as some Nazis end up dead. The semi-good Nazi Woermann (Jurgen Prochnow) has to battle his asshole Nazi boss Kaempffer (Gabriel Byrne), but both turn to historian Dr. Theodore Cuza (Ian McKellen) for help. Oh, then there’s Cuza’s kinda hot daughter Eva (Alberta Watson) and Scott Glenn as Scott Glenn with super powers. Oh, then there’s a giant rock/foam demon.

If anything, THE KEEP boasts some fine performances from some fine actors including Scott Glenn, Ian McKellen, Jurgen Prochnow, Robert Prosky, and the great (and unlawfully underused) Gabriel Byrne. Glenn performs just as expected as Scott Glenn, but the real standout comes from a youngish looking Ian McKellen. He’s such a terrific actor, and it’s amazing that his breakthrough role really didn’t happen until 1998’s APT PUPIL. At least that’s the project that brought him international attention, until X-MEN and LORD OF THE RINGS of course.

But a movie with great performances can still be boring and uninteresting, which is what happens to THE KEEP. Great acting and some really cool effects and visuals, but its sleep inducing thanks to the pacing and dull characters. Even more annoying comes from the variation of accents, which always bugs me about war films. Somehow, when it comes to German characters, Hollywood loves to hire the British, who go in and out of accent (and sometimes don’t even try). What might make it all sound even stranger comes from having actual German Jurgen Prochnow as our moral Nazi. He sounds like the real deal…because he is. While I have always loved Byrne (and he makes a fantastic Nazi), he just sounds like his Irish self, though he has a helluva haircut.

And then there’s that demon, Radu Molasar, who looks a lot like a mixture of the foam muscled The Thing and the recent X-MEN bad guy Apocalypse. He looks pretty sweet from a distance but as soon as he’s not covered by the onset fog machine, that outfit…oh man. Pretty bad.

So what’s the end result for THE KEEP? Two words: uneven and confusing. There were several times when I had a full wtf moment. As expected Mann makes everything look really fancy, but to what effect? It’s a great looking and beautifully sounding mess (thanks to band Tangerine Dream) that can’t quite figure out what it wants. Thankfully, it has a lot of fog. Because fog makes everything look cool. (Oh, if you decide to watch it, rent it has never been released on DVD or Blu Ray.)

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