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John Ary's Aint It Scary Reviews #19 Of 31!! Michael Mann's THE KEEP!!

THE KEEP - Friday, October 19

John Ary here with another installment of Ain’t It Scary Reviews.  Today, a group of Nazis learn the catastrophic secrets of a mysterious stone structure during World War II.

Michael Mann has done some fantastic work over the years.  Manhunter, Last of the Mohicans, Miami Vice, Heat... all projects that I’ve really enjoyed.  That’s why I was eager to watch his second theatrical release The Keep.  There is a very good reason why I’ve never heard much about this Nazi-era supernatural tale.

A platoon of Nazi soldiers is stationed in a small Romanian village during World War II.  They take shelter in the keep, a large stone structure that is oddly built.  None of the villagers knows much about it, but everyone who has tried to spend the night there has left due to nightmares.  When a couple of the Nazi soldiers go treasure hunting inside the strange building, they inadvertently unleash a supernatural force that begins killing everyone.  Scott Glenn shows up as a mysterious stranger with his own supernatural powers.  What is his connection to the force living inside the building?

There are some really iconic moments in The Keep featuring strong performances from its company of actors.  Sir Ian McKellen plays an elderly jew who begins to do the bidding of the keep’s creature after his daughter is saved from a Nazi attack and he’s given his health back.  Gabriel Byrne shows up as an evil Nazi major that becomes fascinated with the secret hiding in the walls of the structure.  Also Jurgen Prochnow anchors the events with a nice performance as a Nazi captain with a conscience.

Then there is the monster.  The effects work looks good for a film from the early 80’s.  After each kill the monster takes a more tangible shape.  It’s interesting to see how it changes throughout the picture, starting off as a ball of energy, then shifting into a cloud of smoke, then a body with veins and muscles and later an almost complete humanoid.  The special effects work brightens up what is otherwise a dull movie.

The cinematography is good.  There are a few wide shots that look amazing.  

The pacing is slow... very slow.  I think Mann is trying to play up the dramatic tension and create anticipation, but there isn’t a payoff when the true terror strikes.  The creature creates a couple of Nazi head explosions, but that’s about as exciting as the kills get.  Otherwise, most of the creature attacks happen off screen.  We hear a scream and when the characters walk into the room, they see charred dead bodies.  That’s it.  It’s kind of a let down.

The final battle between the two magical characters is fairly anticlimactic.  Scott Glenn points his magic staff at the monster and we have 5 minutes of wind and cool lighting effects.  It would have helped if we knew more about their relationship, but it feels like Mann was trying to be more cryptic and open-ended with the plot.  


One of the reasons this movie never made it to DVD had to do with copyright problems with the soundtrack.  Mann employed a German electronic music group named Tangerine Dream for the score.  In my humble opinion, it ruins several of the films dramatic scenes.  I’ve never like electronic music in period pieces.  It always feels anachronistic to me.  This is no exception.  Another reason you’ve never seen this on DVD is Mann’s desire to distance himself from the movie.  Wise choice Mr. Mann... Wise choice.

The Keep is currently streaming on Netflix.  It’s also available on VHS here.

Check back in tomorrow for another Ain’t It Scary Review as the residents of a boarding house wonder if the new tenant is actually a serial killer.

Here’s a look back at the Ain’t It Scary Review installments that you might have missed:

The Ground Rules to the Project
#1 Son of Frankenstein
#2 Scream, Blacula, Scream!
#3 Black Sabbath
#4 Maniac
#5 Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
#6 Invisible Invaders
#7 The Mummy’s Curse
#8 Lord of Illusions
#9 Night of the Demons
#10 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
#11 The House of the Devil
#12 Dr. Phibes Rises Again!
#13 Audition
#14 The Catman of Paris
#15 Kuroneko
#16 Chillerama
#17 Werewolf of London
#18 Tales from the Hood

For more video news, reviews and interviews subscribe to the AICN Youtube channel and follow me on Twitter.

Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 19, 2012, 11:14 a.m. CST

    Was that Darkseid?

    by Doctor_Nefario

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 11:17 a.m. CST


    by asummerstorm

    awesome group and soundtrack. mediocre film

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 11:30 a.m. CST

    I quite enjoyed it.

    by JRcanReid

    Looking forward to the Blu-Ray release.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 11:50 a.m. CST

    Doctor Nefario

    by solitaire

    That was what I always thought when I watched this! And Goddamit, I said DART gun!

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 11:51 a.m. CST

    tangerine dream

    by pete

    just for your humble information. tangerine dream maybe is -beside kraftwerk - the most seminal german electronic rock group ever existed. with dozens of cinema soundtracks .... by the way, t.d. mastermind and keyboarder christopher franke is the creator of the babylon 5 soundtrack ... (with exception of the pilot - stewart copeland ?)

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 11:56 a.m. CST

    Watched this two weeks ago. One of the worst movies I've ever seen.

    by Raptor Jesus

    Good God, it was awful. Great idea for a movie, though. But no flesh on the bones here at all.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 12:23 p.m. CST

    This movie is great.

    by TheAwareness

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 12:23 p.m. CST

    It's got a terrible script and the visualization of the monster

    by Samuel Fulmer

    Is horrid, but I'd still like a blu ray release since it does have some really good cinematography, and it's also just too damn weird not to watch.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 12:24 p.m. CST

    even though i havnt seen the last 40 some odd minutes..

    by TheAwareness

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 12:25 p.m. CST

    I agree with you, John...

    by Darkness

    it is dull, complete and utter bollocks! It's just a case of Michael Mann losing himself on the outset of his creativity. Well, he did follow it with the superb, "Manhunter". But, on the case of Tangerine Dream: I like their work outside of the film music medium - it just works better. They screwed with "Legend" and made a mockery of the great, Jerry Goldsmith. (No fault of their own, of course). "The Keep" will have it's fanbase, and good luck to them.

  • Their "Legend" soundtrack didn't work for the film, either.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 12:58 p.m. CST

    Read the book!

    by Gordon Rowe

    The novel by F. Paul Wilson is awesome, much better than the movie (though I admit that I'm fond of the movie.) It also happens to be the first novel in a much larger story called the Adversary Cycle which introduces an awesome character called Repairman Jack who's sort of an urban mercenary/equalizer type.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 1:11 p.m. CST

    Remake, please!

    by GQSioux

    The book is amazing. I read it in Junior High and was blown away. This movie screams to be remade. A closer adaptation to the book with better, modern effects would be awesome, especially in the hands of someone like Guillermo Del Toro.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 1:15 p.m. CST

    The book was awesome

    by DamianVonBarone

    I read it in after watching the movie

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 1:26 p.m. CST

    LOVE Lost '80's Movies!!!!

    by J

    One of my lost movies, and about the only one I have not been able to find on DVD. I recently hit up Amazon for: The Bermuda Depths (that giant turtle movie with Connie Seleca); Damnation Alley; The Last Dinosaur; Ghost Warrior (frozen samurai defrosted in '80's); Dark Angel (I Come In Peace); Malone; and Capricorn One. If you like great campy 80's flicks, check some of these out. Promise you'll likey! All Great Movies, but my collection is missing The Keep.... Just sayin'

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 1:29 p.m. CST

    And yes,

    by J

    I loved the F. Paul Wilson books in this series. ALWAYS prefer book to movie/TV with only exceptions being King's The Shining (the book scared the Dagget out of me) and Christine (great movie but one of King's literary failures). Still sayin'

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 1:56 p.m. CST

    Yeah, it's not one his best. Thief (his first) was way better.

    by Darth_Kaos

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 2:01 p.m. CST

    This movie deserves

    by RoarsLoudly

    To be remade and give it the treatment it deserves. The book was AWESOME!

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 2:22 p.m. CST

    I love this film

    by Col. Tigh-Fighter

    A real 80's period curiosity. The Tangerine Dream soundtrack totally works with the psycadelic vibe in the film. Slow, you say? Its an acid trip of a film, that's all.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 2:28 p.m. CST

    So disappointed

    by Karl

    I watched this with a mate years ago after he sourced a very rare (and expensive) copy on VHS. The set-up sounds so good and yet the film is a steaming turd.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 2:35 p.m. CST

    This is the remake we are looking for.

    by Scarecrow237

    If Hollywood is going to insist upon remakes, why not remake bad movies with great concepts and leave good movies alone?

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 2:53 p.m. CST

    Michael Michael Mann. I want to be a Michael Mann.

    by Smerdyakov

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 3:08 p.m. CST

    I thought the TD soundtrack for Legend was terrific

    by kevred

    I thought it worked well with the film and was an interesting departure from the typical symphonic stuff. Created some great, strange atmospheres. Plus, I had my first-ever transcendental music-listening experience as a kid, while somewhere deep in the woods on a family vacation, while listening to the song that TD did with Jon Anderson on the soundtrack. Haven't had that reaction to any other film soundtracks.

  • ...and the camera pulls back and down, into the darkness, and just keeps going down, further and further, and further... that was a very cool moment. But the monster stuff was completely silly.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 3:39 p.m. CST

    I was soooo excited to see this movie but then I saw it and...

    by MainMan2001

    bad. Really really really really bad. It doesn't even feel like a Michael mann movie.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 4:24 p.m. CST

    Great Book

    by Darth.Squishy

    So-so movie

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 4:35 p.m. CST

    I always thought that the monster from the Keep

    by deelzbub

    looked alot like Marvel's Universal Champion. The big guy who was in a boxing match with the Thing.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 4:58 p.m. CST

    You can also see the whole movie on YouTube

    by thelordofhell

    It was there for years before Netflix finally streamed it.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 5:08 p.m. CST

    For the love of god

    by vermicelliknid

    Review some good horror films!

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 5:08 p.m. CST

    it is on Netflix

    by freerangecelt

    But the sound quality is terrible.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 5:53 p.m. CST

    "Electronic music in period pieces" - I tend to agreed, however,

    by Fred Garvin

    I think a glaring exception would be Vangelis' score for The Bounty....which, I think, works fine and creates a unique & interesting atmosphere for the movie.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 7:18 p.m. CST

    My two cents on the Keep

    by Clio

    It is certainly a below average movie, with a dreadful script, great actors given nothing worthy of their talent, and comes from a fantastic novel. In fact, Michael Mann to this day refuses to discuss it with any interviewer. Even he knew it was, on he whole, rubbish. But I sure enjoyed the novel.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 8:12 p.m. CST

    Repairman Jack...

    by Terry Powell such a great character. I'd love to see a movie version of The Tomb. I know they couldn't commit to a film series of the whole adversary/Jack cycle, but why they haven't done this one, I have no idea. Yet we are getting multiple versions of King books. Can't figure it out.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 8:26 p.m. CST

    So a lot of you hate THE KEEP... but love HEAT?

    by Monroville

    Really? At least THE KEEP is pretty unique (good or bad) and actually has loads of style. HEAT has a few good moments, but there is no way it should have taken him 3 hours to tell that story, much less: - why spend any time (much less what could be more than a half hour) to develop a character that gets shot as soon as he goes on the job? - the ending? Am I to believe Pacino wouldn't be the one getting wasted after being lit up by the airport lights? I know the bad guy has to lose, but he won. He escaped. The only reason he went back was to let the good guy win. Overall, I think 1990's Mann is pretentious and boring. He may have been pretentious in the 1980's but at least his movies weren't boring.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 9:54 p.m. CST

    i've always liked this movie AND THE SOUNDTRACK.

    by NorthTronic

    it always had a uniqueness to it.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 10:23 p.m. CST

    Always have to mention this when the Keep comes up

    by magnetoelectric

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 10:29 p.m. CST


    by magnetoelectric

    I wrote a whole thing that vanished. Anyhow . There was a board game , A board game I dont think anyone ever played. Google it.

  • Oct. 20, 2012, 2:44 a.m. CST

    My Fan-made KEEP trailer (is it better than the movie?)

    by BillboeFett

    Tell me what you think. Bonus points to identifying music sources. <p>

  • Oct. 20, 2012, 3:01 a.m. CST

    Alternate ending to The KEEP!

    by BillboeFett

    Love the aggressive TD music that comes in as she descends the KEEP.. <p>

  • Oct. 20, 2012, 4:47 a.m. CST

    True story about The Keep from someone i met who worked on it.

    by Keith Maniac

    A friend of mine used to have shop in Liverpool, a guy he new, who frequented the shop worked as a special effects guy on The Keep. The appearance or colour of the monster changes during the film, because the producer, if i remember correctly, wanted the creature to be black. But the costume, i believe, was red to begin with, apparently the producer felt so strongly about this, he actually took a brush to the costume during a lunch break and hey presto, costume was black, or changed to the point where they had to go all the way and make it black. Its about fifteen years since the story was related to me, but those are the basics. This guy also used to mix the blood for the Hammer movies.

  • Oct. 20, 2012, 8:09 a.m. CST

    Orchestral music is just as anachronistic.

    by Bedknobs and Boomsticks

    People complain about the scores to Legend and Ladyhawke. The instruments in orchestras weren't used in the Middle Ages (not that those movies are hard and fast in the in any real year). I always liked that it felt as if one was in the 80's being told a fairy tale. The Goldsmith score for Legend is terribly limp, but the TD is otherworldly. Now, the Alan Parsons for LH is an acquired taste, but have you heard a reconstruction of actual Medieval music? It's not what you imagine. The instruments were mostly played solo and the melodies are not harmonized -- they each play their piece separately, including the vocals. Also, the bitching over "adiós amigos" in Legend since the 80's has to stop. Contemporary English is just as anachronistic, and you might as well claim that Inigo Montoya is anachronistic in TPB.

  • Oct. 20, 2012, 8:15 a.m. CST

    Now, for the Keep, what music is most appropriate?

    by Bedknobs and Boomsticks

    That which fits the times, or something that evokes a mood? Even in the 30's, an orchestra isn't necessarily what common people listen to for pleasure. Perhaps ranking Nazi officials, like the guy in Swing Kids, but what exactly is period accurate? Popular music of the era might be just as jarring.

  • Oct. 20, 2012, 12:57 p.m. CST

    The movie is more enjoyable if you read the book.

    by pax256

    Because you can read into it and add the missing context of the conflict. The scope of which is insane. Even if you dont like the movie for its changes (that I consider slight except for whats missing) or style (which I love) you def have to pick up the book.

  • The score is great too. Who writes this dross?

  • Oct. 20, 2012, 1:05 p.m. CST

    People who hate movies like The Keep

    by kwisatzhaderach

    tend to like shit like Prometheus and JJ's Star Wreck. That is all.

  • Oct. 20, 2012, 1:06 p.m. CST

    John Ary

    by kwisatzhaderach

    Mann wasn't trying to be cryptic and open-ended with the film, it was gutted by Paramount of about 40 minutes footage.

  • Oct. 20, 2012, 1:36 p.m. CST

    Kwis: I liked Prometheus but didnt care too much for JJ's ST

    by pax256

    But Prometheus isnt a stand alone movie imo... The Keep is in my top 10 genre movies.

  • Oct. 20, 2012, 1:55 p.m. CST

    I saw this in an empty theater when it opened in the 80's...

    by Zardoz

    It was the height of the "Miami Vice" craze and I went to see the movie from the guy who created my favorite TV show. (at the time!) It was unlike anything on "Miami Vice", to be sure!

  • Oct. 20, 2012, 2:34 p.m. CST

    The Keep

    by MothrasGhost

    This movie is one of the only movies that have stuck with me from the 80's. The acting is superb, and the monster theme is about the price of revenge and hatred. I love his movie to death and the soundtrack is amazing

  • Oct. 20, 2012, 10:10 p.m. CST

    little know trivia: Industrial Light and Magic worked on this...

    by shane peterson

    ...right after finishing up on Return of the Jedi. They did uncredited rotoscope work on it.

  • Oct. 21, 2012, 12:30 a.m. CST

    Butchered in editing, but still a great movie!

    by Ivan_Mtl

    Let me just say that I love both F. Paul Wilson's book (it is one of my favorites), as well as Michael Mann's wonderful movie. Yes, I know that the author despises the movie, and the director has since disowned it, but I suspect that they do so for more or less the same reasons. You can tell while watching the movie that a lot was left on the cutting room floor. I think I read somewhere that it originally clocked in at around 3 hours, but the studio stepped in and butchered it in the editing. I know there is a clip of the original extended ending on Youtube that really adheres to the book, so who knows what else was cut out. Sure, there are subtle differences such as the monster in the book being a vampire (well, not really), while in the movie he is essentially a Golem, and the name of professor Cuza's daughter being changed (from Magda to Eva, if I think), but it does follow the storyline pretty closely - albeit, without some of the book's subplots. The movie boasts an incredible cast, and it is both visually beautiful as well as having a haunting soundtrack by Tangerine Dream. The movie certainly does NOT need to be re-made. It needs to be restored to its original intended running time with a special Director's Cut of the film. Michael Mann has nothing to be ashamed of because he did an amazing job creating a beautiful, dark fairy-tale of good versus evil.

  • It might sound trivial but it wasn't. The Wermacht was far less politicized then most would believe from watching Holywood WWII war movies. And i think this movie is quite underrated. People make too much of a fuzz about it's "flaws" and forget there's alot of good in it too. If for notingh else, it's quite an unique movie, there sure aren't that many like it. And the cast is stellar.

  • Oct. 21, 2012, 7:06 p.m. CST

    Needs a remake.


    With the exact same, cast, crew and director. No reason why it wouldn't work.

  • Oct. 21, 2012, 9:35 p.m. CST

    Terrible movie, but I sort of like it anyway

    by Seven_of_Borgnine

    This is a perfect movie for those lazy days when you're stuck inside for days on end (due to a blizzard or the flu or whatever). A few good scenes, nice mood... but the spell is frequently broken by far too many "huh?" moments. I assume it was cut to shreds by the studio, but I also assume that it would not have been much improved even if it hadn't. Something is clearly amiss here. Mann's techno-centric taste in lighting and music in any given era tends to date badly very quickly, sometimes before his films are even released. He also succeeds in making Ian McKellen look like the worst actor in the world. Now THAT takes some real talent. Despite its flaws, it remains oddly fascinating as a gothic, teutonic example of 80s Michael Mann.

  • Oct. 21, 2012, 9:46 p.m. CST

    PS - I'm a sucker for oldschool German synth music.

    by Seven_of_Borgnine

    I collect that stuff fervently...but it still makes an ostensible WW2 horror movie feel like it's taking place in some genre or "reality" other than the one that's being presented visually. The soundtrack and visuals do have a nice synergy through the weird blue foggy lighting and terminator-red laser eyeball (?!!) effects. But what that has to do with WW2 and ancient evil beings, I have no idea.