Within an uninhabited citadel (the “Keep” of the title) in World War II-era Romania lies entrapped a dangerous demonic entity named Radu Molasar (Michael Carter). The inner walls of the citadel contain 108 T-shaped icons, supposedly made of nickel. When the German Army under the command of Capt. Klaus Woermann (Jürgen Prochnow) occupies the castle to control the Dinu Mountain Pass following the commencement of Operation Barbarossa, Molasar is unleashed by a pair of looting soldiers who identify one glowing icon as being made of silver. In the ensuing days, Molasar kills several soldiers. A detachment of Einsatzkommandos under the command of sadistic SD Sturmbannführer Eric Kaempffer (Gabriel Byrne) then arrives to deal with what is thought to be partisan activity, executing villagers as collective punishment.
At the instigation of the local priest, the Germans retrieve a Jewish historian, Prof. Theodore Cuza (Ian McKellen), from a concentration camp. He deciphers a mysterious message emblazoned on a wall of the citadel. Molasar saves the professor's daughter, Eva (Alberta Watson), from sexual assault by two Einsatzkommandos by feeding on their essence, and then enlists the aid of her grateful father to escape. Cuza is also cured of his debilitating scleroderma by the touch of Molasar and therefore becomes doubly indebted to the entity, who is taking on a solid form. However, a mysterious stranger named Glaeken (Scott Glenn) suddenly arrives to foil this plan. After an unsuccessful attempt by the professor to have the stranger stopped, the two supernatural beings confront each other. Molasar, who is not perturbed by Christian crosses, is weakened and drawn back into the innermost recesses. Glaeken is transfixed, taking the place of the seal that was broken by the German looters.Scott Glenn as Glaeken Trismegestus
Alberta Watson as Eva Cuza
Jürgen Prochnow as Capt. Klaus Woermann
Robert Prosky as Father Fonescu
Gabriel Byrne as Sturmbannführer Erich Kaempffer
Ian McKellen as Dr. Theodore Cuza
W. Morgan Sheppard as Alexandru
Royston Tickner as Tomescu
Michael Carter as Radu Molasar
Rosalie Crutchley as Josefa
Wolf Kahler as S.S. Adjutant
Bruce Payne as Border Guard
The movie had a very troubled production. Shooting started in September 1982 and lasted for 13 weeks. Filming was very grueling, and once principal photography was finished, additional re-shoots were done which extended the filming for a total of 22 weeks. The look of the main villain of the movie, Molasar, was changed many times during filming because Michael Mann wasn't sure how he wanted him to look. There was even a mechanical figure built which was to be used in the scene where Molasar talks with Dr Cuza for the second time, but that design was changed to a man in a suit once Mann decided to film the scene differently. Two weeks into post-production, visual effects supervisor Wally Veevers died which caused enormous problems because nobody knew how he planned to finish the visual effects scenes in the movie, especially the ones that were planned for the original ending. According to Mann, he had to finish 260 shots of special effects himself after Veever's death.
Because of this, several new endings had to be filmed long after the crew and original cinematographer had left the production. Originally Mann had two ideas for the film's climax, one with a battle between Glaeken and Molasar on top of the keep, and one taking place inside the keep.
The original climax that Mann chose involved Glaeken and Molasar in an epic-effects laden battle on top of the keep tower that ends with Glaeken opening an energy portal that blasts forth from the ground of the keep. It was to be some type of dimensional portal, which probably would have had effects similar to the star gate in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (a film Veevers also worked on). The two were to fall from the keep wall and get sucked into the portal and tumble through a void. After that, Glaeken would materialize in the cavern below the keep by a pool and be reawakened as a mortal man.
With the constant production extensions and the film already well over budget, Paramount refused to pay for the filming of the additional footage needed for this finale, so the simplified ending Mann put together for the released film was a weak, somewhat unsatisfactory compromise.
Michael Mann's original cut of the movie was 210 minutes long. He was only allowed to have a two-hour-long movie. Test screenings of the two-hour cut were not positive so Paramount cut the movie down to 96 minutes, against Mann's wishes. These last-minute cuts resulted in many plot holes, continuity mistakes, very obvious "jumps" in soundtrack and scenes, and bad editing issues. Even the sound mixing of the movie could not be finished properly because of Paramount's interference which is why every version of the movie suffers from bad sound design. The original June 3 1983 release date was pushed back to December 16 due to the many problems in post-production.
The original happier ending, which had Eva finding Glaeken inside the keep after he defeated Molasar and Eva and her father leaving Romania by boat with Glaeken, was completely cut out by Paramount in order for the movie to have a shorter running time. Removal of these scenes made no sense because numerous stills of this ending were shown in many movie magazines when a movie was to be released and even cast and crew members, including Mann, said in interviews that the movie had a happy ending. Part of the "happy" ending, in which Eva goes into the keep and finds Glaeken, was used in 1980s TV versions of the film. Other deleted scenes include more backstory between Glaeken and Molasar, actual explanation for why Eva and Glaeken fall in love, Glaeken killing the captain of the boat (the one who brings him into Romania) who tries to steal his "weapon" which he uses in the end to kill Molasar, more scenes between villagers and with Father Mihail and Alexandru, and Alexandru being killed by his sons when the keep starts to corrupt the village.
Theatrical and TV trailers for the movie were edited by using the footage from one of the earlier, pre-release cuts of the film which is why there are some alternate and deleted scenes included in them: a longer conversation between Woermann and Alexandru in which Woermann says that the keep looks like it was built to keep something in; a longer version of the scene where Molasar is talking with professor Cuza for the first time (also in this scene Cuza asks Molasar "What are you?" one more time); Glaeken talking with Eva asking her if she found what she was looking for and if she expected to find him; Glaeken touching Eva's face while she asks "What's happening to me?"; Glaeken walking inside the keep with his eyes turning white; longer version of the ending where Glaeken is standing at the entrance of the keep looking over Molasar's fog/white smoke; different version of the scene (different visual effects) where Glaeken is walking towards the room where Molasar is waiting for him (in this alternate scene Glaeken's sword is covered with some glowing grey light).
Contrary to some rumors, there actually was going to be a scene near the ending showing Molasar killing all the German soldiers inside the keep. Much of the effects for this scene including shots of soldiers heads exploding were filmed but unfortunately this scene, which would include a lot more complicated effects, couldn't be finished after Veever's death.
The sets for the Romanian village were built at the disused Glyn Rhonwy quarry, a former slate quarry near Llanberis in North Wales. Some interiors of the keep utilised the stonework within the Llechwedd Slate Caverns, near Blaenau Ffestiniog. Due to heavy rain, the film suffered significant delays in its shooting schedule. Shepperton Studios near London was used for interior Keep scenes featuring the demon Molasar. A secondary crew also went to Spain for footage depicting Greece.
The special effects for the creature were made by Nick Maley, helped by Nick Allder, who had previously worked on Alien and The Empire Strikes Back. Molasar was conceived by Enki Bilal.
The theme and incidental music was composed by Tangerine Dream. The band previously worked with Michael Mann on his first theatrical film Thief. The score to The Keep is primarily made up of moody soundscapes, as opposed to straightforward music cues, composed by Tangerine Dream. Most notably, an ambient cover of Howard Blake's "Walking in the Air" was featured during the end sequence of the film. Additionally, Tangerine Dream's arrangement of the song "Gloria" from Mass for Four Voices by Thomas Tallis can also be heard in the film.
Due to rights issues, the version of the film that is currently available on streaming media sites contains a different score than its original release. A limited run of 150 original soundtrack CDs were sold at a concert by the group in the UK in 1997, and Virgin Records soon announced that the album would be available for general release in early 1998, but legal issues with the film studio stopped the release. The full score can be found in the laserdisc and VHS versions of the film.
The film, extensively cut by the studio from its original three and a half hours long runtime to just over one-and-half hour, was given a limited release theatrically in the United States by Paramount Pictures on 16 December 1983. It grossed $4,218,594 at the domestic box office. A board game based on the film was designed by James D. Griffin and published by Mayfair Games. Under their Role Aids label, Mayfair Games also produced the role-playing game adventure The Keep based on the film.
The film was released on laserdisc and VHS by Paramount Home Video. As of 2016, the film has not been officially released on DVD or Blu-ray Disc in any country, but is available for streaming on Amazon Video and available on Netflix (UK and Ireland), streaming with the Tangerine Dream soundtrack.
The Keep has received generally negative reviews, with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 31%.
Michael Nordine in the LA Weekly stated The Keep "can’t always keep its many moving parts in lockstep, what with its hinted-at mythos that obscures more than it elucidates and its cast of enigmatic characters whose precise dealings with one another are never made entirely clear". However Nordine praised Mann's direction, saying it showed "Mann's... rare ability to elevate ostensibly schlocky material into something dark and majestic".
F. Paul Wilson has publicly expressed his distaste for the film version, writing in the short story collection The Barrens (and Others) that it is "Visually intriguing, but otherwise utterly incomprehensible." In the foreword of the graphic novel adaptation, he expressed disappointment, claiming to have created the comic, "Because I consider this visual presentation of THE KEEP my version of the movie, what could have been...what should have been."
It's been mentioned that Michael Mann disowned the movie but in a 2009 interview he said that the production design and the form of the film were in better shape than the content, which is why he likes it for those aspects.
Although a financial and critical failure at the time of its release, The Keep gained a strong fan following during the years and it's considered by some to be a cult classic. Fans of the movie have made petitions for release of the original cut and for the movie to finally get a DVD/Blu-ray release.
A new documentary in development, "A World War II Fairytale: The Making of Michael Mann's The Keep", will offer production history, interviews, and other info, and has completed an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign. While the campaign did not reach its final goal, additional funding was raised, and the documentary's producers predicted project completion by the end of 2016, but have recently moved completion to 2017. On Feb 12, 2016 at BAM, an Internet fan question asked whether Mann had plans to re-release his 1983 sci-fi horror film. Mann's answer: “No.....we were never able to figure out how we were to combine all these components that were shot (pre blue and green screen). That one’s going to stay in its…” at which point Mann trailed off.