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Feature Friday: “The Keep” (1983)

I was raised on early 80s cinema, and I’ll always love it. As well as defend it: for one thing, it’s easy in the eternal autumn of CGI to recognize just how exquisite production design was back then. The Empire Strikes Back, Superman II, The Shining, Excalibur, The Road Warrior, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Time Bandits, Blade Runner, Conan the Barbarian, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, The Dark Crystal, TRON, Return of the Jedi, The Neverending Story, Brazil, Legend, … They’re all wonderfully enjoyable outsized films that still look great today.

The Keep, visually, holds its own in that company, and has the merit of being the most “New Wave” of the bunch. Sure, it’s set during WWII—but the Tangerine Dream soundtrack just screams early 80s. (How could it not?) (The track that starts almost 15 minutes in is especially awesome.) And as the film continues, its period trappings steadily fall away, until we’re left with images of Ian McKellen striding across abstract, fluorescent-lit sets that look like something out of a Gary Numan video

(Mind you, I’m not at all complaining!)

The Keep (1983)

Directed by Michael Mann

Written by F. Paul Wilson (novel) and Michael Mann (screenplay)

Scott Glenn, Alberta Watson, Jürgen Prochnow, Robert Prosky, Gabriel Byrne, and Ian McKellen

It’s also worth pointing out that the cinematographer, the late Alex Thomson, shot Excalibur, Eureka, Legend, Labyrinth, and Alien³ (as well as Cliffhanger and Demolition Man, two early 90s action films I remember enjoying well enough). And its art director, Alan Tomkins, also helped design Empire Strikes Back, my beloved Lifeforce, and the severely underrated Mel Gibson Hamlet. (He also served as supervising art director on Kundun and Saving Private Ryan, two films that I’m less crazy about, but that look absolutely terrific.) (He was also assistant art director on last week’s FF, The Devils, and worked as a draughtsman on 2001: A Space Odyssey.)

As for the movie itself: as many have complained, it’s something of a baggy monster, and none too coherent. I don’t think that’s a drawback, really, since the parts are all so wonderful. … But I’ve said enough. Enjoy!

  • A. D. Jameson is the author of five books, most recently I FIND YOUR LACK OF FAITH DISTURBING: STAR WARS AND THE TRIUMPH OF GEEK CULTURE and CINEMAPS: AN ATLAS OF 35 GREAT MOVIES (with artist Andrew DeGraff). Last May, he received his Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the Program for Writers at UIC.

9 thoughts on “Feature Friday: “The Keep” (1983)

  1. The Keep, was butchered in post production by the studio. They re-edited the film, cutting about an hour… to an hour and a half. The original runtime was somewhere near the three hour region, while the version that was put out is only 96 mins.

    1. Huh, I don’t think I knew that. It certainly is disjointed. I find it miraculous that it works as well as it does; it’s one of those movies where I’ve always liked the way it shifts and lurches around. Although no doubt repeated childhood viewings have influenced me….

  2. Its always nice to meet someone who appreciates this film. A lot of scenes were cut. At this link youll find a website dedicated to the film by a fan from Europe:-http://www.the-keep.ath.cx/default_en.htm

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