Unleashing Michael Mann’s THE KEEP (1983)

February 22, 2020 | By

The fact a third of the poster is devoted to explaining THE KEEP (1983) is an indicator of a confused, disinterested, and already dismayed studio.


I learned of Michael Mann’s The Keep in two parts – the TV trailer, packed with haunting, purple-and-pink-hued colours; and Jay Scott’s short, terse review for The Globe and Mail. Scott referenced the pre-release studio tampering, which caused serious gaps in coherence, yet he seemed to recognized that Mann’s pink & purple opus looked nor sounded like anything else.

While the film did make its rounds to home video and TV airings, it sort of became that weird, wacked-out movie Mann directed before hitting pop culture fame with TV’s Miami Vice, and what still ranks as the definitive Hannibal Lector thriller, Manhunter (1986).

I’m saving further comments about Manhunter for a later blog – I plan to dig out my old laserdisc and see if it still has the fat bass that I remember – but it is worth nothing that of Mann’s feature films, The Keep has remained the ugly child, the ill-conceived thing which even its maker refused to acknowledge or seemed willing to fix in an era of Director’s Cuts and restorations.

Or not.

When Stewart Buck’s soon-to-be-completed documentary A World War II Fairytale: The Making of Michael Mann’s The Keep emerges after a long period in development and post-production – expect a release sometime this year – it may well confirm that Mann rightly felt hurt and ill in the gut from having his version truncated. A series of mishaps plague the production, and affected the planned visual effects that were to make the supernatural Molasar come alive.

Even after finally seeing the film on home video via a letterboxed laserdisc dub in the early 1990s, I sensed a mess, but a fascinating one, with flashes and whisps of technical and stylistic brilliance.

Alex Thompson remains one of my favourite cinematographers – think Ridley Scott’s Legend (1985) and David Fincher’s Alien 3 (1992), two similarly flawed films with messy production and post-production phases. Tangerine Dream wrote one of their most interesting scores for Mann, and one of their best for the messy North American re-edit of Ridley Scott’s Legend, which was previously married to a score by Alien’s Jerry Goldsmith.

Like Goldsmith, TD’s second teaming with Mann (after their iconic music for Thief) was affected by deep cuts and a flawed mix, and neither composer(s) worked with their respective directors again. Mann tried to get subsequent composers to pay homage to TD’s dense synth atmospheres and rhythms in later films, while Scott perhaps found large scale orchestral works, passé, and found that his own visual style – perhaps more overtly commercial than Mann’s, but nonetheless dramatic – was better supported by electronica and orchestral-synth fusions.

Scott has similarly fiddled with his films, creating needed Director’s Cuts (Kingdom of Heaven) and mucking up perfect edits (Alien: The Director’s Cut), whereas Mann’s created longer cuts (Ali), altered original theatrical releases (Miami Vice), retooled prior theatrical and home video editions (Last of the Mohicans, Thief), and most extreme, fiddled with Manhunter which exists in multiple versions: Theatrical Cut, Director’s Cut, Restored Director’s Cut, and the 1991 NBC TV edit which has significant differences, including the new title Red Dragon: The Curse of Hannibal Lector.

The Keep has remained untouched, but it’s the one that deserves the biggest overhaul – if not to satisfy its legion of fans, then offer closure for its maker. TD’s score similarly deserves a proper release featuring the original used & unused film versions – if not to satisfy fans, then render the countless bootlegs obsolete by presenting the music to the film the group was hired to score.

Via Vision’s Australian Region 0 NTSC DVD is the first legit release of the film in its original 2.35:1 ratio, and in an okay stereo mix. I’ve taken a peek at the disc, examine the film, and spotlight the raw warts and the genuine virtues that still resonate from this bizarrem alluring shocker.

It is a film meant to be seen on the big screen, and if Clive Barker’s original version of Nightbreed (1990) was finally recreated using elements from the vaults, why not The Keep?

Thanks for reading,



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

Comments are closed.