It KEEPs me sharp, on the edge, where I gotta be.

Michael Mann’s my man. I really liked his other flicks like Heat, Manhunter and Collateral. I thought Ali was his worst movie, but even that one was pretty damn good. I’d seen all his feature films except for The Keep, which I always kept putting off because I couldn’t find a widescreen copy. I mean, it wouldn’t bother me if the only version of some shit like Cheaper By The Dozen 2 was pan-and-scan, because you know there was little to no artistic value involved in the first place, and it’s not like I’d want to watch that bullshit anyway. But half the enjoyment of a Michael Mann film is in the visuals, so I decided to wait until either a DVD came out or I found a widescreen copy in another format somewhere. I’m glad I waited, because thanks to the letterboxed laserdisc dub I acquired last week, I ended up watching a disappointingly shitty movie in its proper aspect ratio.

The Keep is Michael Mann’s second feature film, following his badass flick Thief, and it’s a real comedown from his previous production. I’m pretty sure homeboy didn’t get into the game by starting in music videos, but this movie plays like the worst case scenario of getting a music video director to make a movie. You have great looking visuals but not much else going on up here. Watching this all I could think was maybe Mann had lost his mind for the length of the production and had forgotten how to tell a story and all that he could remember was the visual side to making movies.

This movie takes place in 1941, and we follow the fuckin’ Germans arriving at some village in who-the-fuck-knows-where. The captain is played by the main dude from Das Boot, and he’s a pretty decent guy for being a fuckin’ German in the army during WW2. He would probably fit in with Tom Cruise and the Valkyrie Squad. The movie shows us that he and his men are okay because when they come marching in, it’s handled rather calm and matter-of-fact. Das Boot and his crew go to a huge fortress/keep at the end of town where some old caretaker greets them and gives Das Boot the same shit you hear these old caretakers tell people in haunted house movies. You know, that “nobody ever stays more than one night here” and all that kinda stuff. Das Boot is like “whatever, old dude” and he and his men decide to turn the keep into their temporary pad. The keep is a pretty spooky place, dark and dank and with all of these blocks lining the walls with metal crosses on each of them. Das Boot looks over the joint and figures out from the construction that this place wasn’t built to keep people out, but to keep something in. He asks the caretaker about it, and the old dude is like “I don’t know, man. I just work here.”

But some of the other soldiers think this place might be hiding treasure, so a couple of them decide to play Goonies in the middle of the night and go hunting for it. They dig out one of the blocks on the wall and find another block within, also with a cross. That block suddenly falls backwards, sliding until it drops through an opening, and one of the soldiers is sucked in and almost falls over the edge as well. He peeks out into the vast darkness and all we can see are a set of stone pillars way on the other side. Then some special effects combo of smoke & lights shoot out in the direction of the soldier. The special effects do something to do the soldier that leaves him missing his upper torso, then blow apart his partner. Maybe if they had Chunk with them this shit wouldn’t have happened.

When Das Boot finds out, he wastes no time and radios a request for him and his men to be allowed to get the fuck out of there. His request is denied and instead his superiors send Gabriel Byrne and his posse to check out what’s going on. The Byrne Posse rolls into Keepsville dressed in spiffy black uniforms with swastika armbands, and the first thing they do is shout at all the villagers and beat on them with their rifles, which I guess is the movie’s way of telling you these are the bad Germans. In case you didn’t get it yet, Herr Byrne has three villagers pulled out of the crowd and executed, followed by Das Boot screaming his disappoval after failing to stop it.

Herr Byrne is convinced that the soldiers were killed by partisans hiding amongst the villagers and starts putting the smackdown on everyone to give ’em up. They find some weird writing on one of the keep’s walls and the village priest tells Herr Byrne that the only guy who could translate it is a Jewish professor named Dr. Cuza, who is currently being held in a death camp. This is true, but it’s also an opportunity by the priest to get his bro out of that hellhole. So Dr. Cuza and his daughter are pulled out of the death camp and sent to the keep, where Herr Byrne immediately gets all Angry Yelling Nazi on them upon his arrival. You know what dude, you can always try asking nicely at first. Cuza translates the writing: I Will Be Free. Byrne thinks this a message to the Nazis from the partisans, but Cuza tells him that the writing is written in a language that’s been dead for 500 years, so it couldn’t be those motherfuckers.

We cut to Greece, where some dude wakes up in the middle of the night with glowing eyes and a bunch of special effects surrounding him. I had that once, but that was because I did some mushrooms the night before. Never again, I say. Anyway, he senses something wrong and leaves immediately, chartering a boat to take him somewhere. This dude with the freaky eyes has some weird name I can’t remember and is the closest thing we have to a main character/hero in this flick.

In the meantime, Dr. Cuza and his daughter are being held in the keep. Dr. Cuza is old and frail and confined to a wheelchair, so his daughter is always looking over the old dude and making sure he’s all right. She leaves to get her old man some food, but to do this, she has to walk through the soldier’s quarters and deal with all the staring and whistles and catcalls. If this was just a bunch of construction workers, I’d be like Whatever, Men Are Pigs. But these are a bunch of assholes who are working on the goal of exterminating her race, yet have no problem wanting to fuck her, which just adds to their overall cocksucker-ness of their character.

Sure enough, on her way back our girl gets attacked in a dark passageway by a couple of black-clad Nazis and it looks like she’s about to get raped and I’m about to hit Fast Forward on my remote. You see, I can see guts being torn out or heads ripped from bodies or aliens vomiting into bowls for their fellow aliens to drink, but I can’t handle scenes of women being violated. I guess I’m a pussy when it comes to that kind of shit. Sorry, that’s just me. On the other hand, I think scenes of guys being raped in movies is Pure Comedy. Make of that what you will.

Thankfully, these assholes don’t get a chance to stick their wienerschnitzel into our girl, because some cloud of smoke with red eyes shows up and KA-BOOMS their motherfucking heads open. The cloud then carries our unconscious girl back to Cuza’s cell, where it then puts it’s red squiggly-lined hand over Dr. Cuza and knocks him out too. Dr. Cuza and his daughter wake up later on and find that the old prof doesn’t look so old anymore, plus he can stand and move around again like in his younger days. Cuza knows his sudden rejuvenation is the Red Eyed Cloud’s doing and since it also saved his daughter and likes to kill Nazis, then whatever it is, it’s definitely on the Good Side of Things.

Cuza’s daughter is released from the keep, so she decides to stay close to Papa by getting a room at the village inn. When she enters, she finds it’s already occupied by Mr. Freaky Eyes from Greece. He’s got this long case with him that you just KNOW is housing some kind of badass weapon inside. She explains her situation to him, and he’s like “well then you should stay with me” and next thing you know they’re gettin’ it on Zalman King style. That kinda shit never happens to me. If I tried that with a chick who was booked in the same hotel room as me, she’d probably bust out the pepper spray and clear out my sinuses the hard way.

Back at the keep, Dr. Cuza bumps into what looks like a cartoon bodybuilder who’s had his skin removed like that chick in Hellraiser III. Turns out it’s the Red Eyed Cloud, now slowly transforming into something else. This demon-looking motherfucker has muscle and sinew partially covering its skeletal frame. It still has the glowing red eyes though, and a glowing red mouth to match. It looks really cool, but if I was to see that thing in real life, there wouldn’t be enough feces rocketing out of my ass to measure how fuckin’ freaked out I’d be. Dr. Cuza brings the demon up to speed, telling it how millions of people are dying because of these assholes in black who are all working for some piece-of-shit mono-testacled vegetarian over in Berlin. The demon tells Cuza that there’s a talisman hidden in the keep, and if Cuza can find it and get rid of it, the demon can finally escape from his prison and he can then go out and kill every fucking Sieg Heil-ing motherfucker in Europe. Cuza’s like “Shiiiit, if that’s what you aim to do, then you know I’M fuckin’ down” so it’s a plan.

Dr. Cuza meets up with his daughter in the village to tell her the good news, but Freaky Eyes comes out and wet blankets their hugs & kisses by explaining to him that he knows everything that’s going on. He tells Cuza that the creature he’s hooked up with is actually a pretty evil motherfucker itself and letting this thing escape and destroy the Nazis would only succeed in replacing one kind of evil with another kind of evil, so uh, leave that talisman alone. Cuza’s daughter wants to know what’s up, so Freaky Eyes tells her that he’s been around “for ages” and now that this demon is looking to get out, it’s his job to destroy him. Cuza’s daughter is all “I wish you told me you were nuts before I slept with your crazy ass”.

But since Dr. Cuza is all gay about his new demon friend, he ends up ratting on Freaky Eyes to the Nazis, who promptly show up to take him in. There’s a minor scuffle that ends with some major gunfire — all of it going into Freaky Eyes’ chest. Glowing green blood spills out of Freaky Eyes’ bullet wounds and then he falls off a cliff, so it looks like he’s out of the picture.

Again, Das Boot doesn’t approve of the Nazi method of dealing with people, so he and Herr Byrne get into a shouting match about it. Remember, these guys are both working to take over the world, but at least Das Boot is a nicer guy about it. “Your sentimental suffering makes me SICK!” yells Herr Byrne. The gist of this whole argument is that Das Boot does what he does because he has to, while Byrne is a psycho who likes killing and torture and all of that other German stuff. At least that’s what I got. I don’t know if it’s the movie itself or my copy of it, but a lot of the dialogue in this movie is way too low, sounding all “uh sumenna sabbidah closh closh da closh” and I have to turn the volume all the way up but then someone closes a door and that shit goes SLAAAAMMMM!!!! and now I’m rushing for my remote to lower it, but then they start talking all low-voice mumbley again. What the fuck, man? There’s no subtitles or closed captioning in this bitch, either. Now I gotta watch this flick holding onto my remote the whole time, constantly raising and lowering the volume. Anyway, the scene ends with Herr Byrne taking offense to being called a murderer by Das Boot, so he responds by shooting him dead.

There’s screams and gunfire coming out from the main area of the keep, so Herr Byrne goes out to take a look-see. He finds the whole place covered in smoke, fog and crispy Nazi bodies, which freaks Byrne enough to let out a girlish scream. To keep Herr Byrne from further embarrassing himself, the demon shows up and sucks the lifeforce out of him. Byrne still manages to let out one more high-pitched yell before he dies, though. The demon is now fully formed and looks like a badass anime villain or something out of Dragonball Z or whatever else you fucking Sailor Moon poster hanging motherfuckers watch.

Dr. Cuza finds the talisman and heads out to destroy it when suddenly his daughter shows up and tells him not to do it. The demon orders Dr. Cuza to kill his daughter and continue on with his mission. Dr. Cuza stops, wondering out loud just how good can this god-like being be if it’s asking him to kill his own flesh and blood that he loves with all of his heart. I don’t know, bro, why don’t you ask Abraham? Well, the demon doesn’t like hearing this questioning so he’s all “You best not question me motherfucker, do what I say or I’ll kill you AND your bitch-ass daughter”. Dr. Cuza realizes he’s been bamboozled, hoodwinked, and run amok by this demon and that maybe the motherfuckers who imprisoned this douche had a good reason to do so in the first place, so he tells the demon to go fuck itself. The demon responds by shooting a laser at Dr. Cuza which turns him old and frail again. Giveth and taketh away, motherfucker.

The demon is feeling all proud of himself until he looks up and recognizes someone entering the keep. It’s Freaky Eyes, fully recovered and now carrying this big metal rod, which I guess is what he had been carrying in that case the entire time. He hooked up the talisman to the front of it and now the shit’s glowing, so you know that means he’s locked and loaded and ready to put this demon down for good. A bunch of purple lasers shoot out of the talisman which makes all the crosses in the keep glow bright. Cuza and his daughter take off and Freaky Eyes shoots a fat purple laser at the demon, which destroys it and sends it back to the hidden cavern it came from. Everything seems cool, until a huge white light shoots out of the cavern and sucks Freaky Eyes into the void as well. So now Cuza’s daughter is single again. Ain’t that a bitch? The End.

Damn. The Keep has a really intriging story (based on a book by F. Paul Wilson, who wasn’t a fan of this flick either) but the shit is so disjointed and weirdly paced it fucks everything up. I was with it for the first twenty minutes, but then it just kept jumping back and forth all over the place and I’d get no fuckin’ sense of momentum or anything. Exposition and motivation take a backseat to shit that ultimately doesn’t matter, like a shot of a boat on the ocean against a sunrise background that goes on FOREVER. Okay I get it, it’s really pretty but what I REALLY want to know is why the fuck did the priest go nuts all of a sudden and start acting all rabid and shit? What about this character? Why did so-and-so do that? That happens a lot in this movie.

I looked it up, and supposedly the original cut is closer to three hours but the studio took it away from Mann and cut it down to its current 95 minutes. I can totally buy that. Among other scenes and moments lost in the shorter version was the real ending to this movie, where Cuza’s daughter goes back to the keep to look for Freaky Eyes. She finds him laying unconscious somewhere, and after he wakes up it’s discovered that since he’s destroyed the demon he’s fulfilled his duty and can now live life as a mortal. It’s then assumed he will live the rest of his days with Cuza’s daughter. Goddamn, that would’ve beaten Highlander’s ending by like three or four years.

But I ain’t talking about the three-hour version of The Keep. I’m talking about the current version that’s only available on VHS and laserdisc. You know how some DVD’s have the option where you can watch the movie with only the music in the background? This would be my recommended way to watch The Keep if they ever made a DVD of it and added that option, because this flick looks and sounds great with its atmospheric & dreamlike cinematography and the cool/cheesy 80’s electronic score by Tangerine Dream. It’s just when you have to make sense of what the characters are saying that the experience is ruined — kinda like Bram Stoker’s Dracula. You could probably intrigue some motherfuckers at a party or something if you played this in the background with the sound turned off, but that’s about it. Because in its current 95-minute version, this flick could only work as a mood piece and not much else, and that’s assuming the director’s cut is a good movie to begin with. For all we know, it’s just as shitty a movie only much, much longer. Hell, the dude might actually like the shorter version. But since Michael Mann’s my boy, I’ll give homebro the benefit of the doubt. And hey, it certainly has me interested in reading the book this was based on, so good on ya there, buddy.

Anyway, rather than a Random Moments vid, I’m posting here what I believe to be the best version of this movie currently available. It’s a music video I found on YouTube that is mostly comprised of the first 30 minutes of this flick:

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