The Keep, 1983

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Major Kaempffer



Directed by Michael Mann; screenplay by Michael Mann, based on the novel by F. Paul Wilson

Paramount Pictures, 1983


Set in Romania during World War II, The Keep is a stylish horror film involving Nazis, a professor in a wheelchair, monstrous evil forces, and lots of fog and smoke. Jürgen Prochnow (Das Boot, Dune) and Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects) are German officers who have commandeered an ancient fortress, unleashing Molasar, the creepy denizen of the castle’s keep. After losing several of their soldiers to Molasar’s unnatural appetite, they desperately enlist the only man who can help them: a Jewish professor (Ian McKellen), now an internee at Auschwitz, whose expertise includes haunted fortresses. ~ Ian McKellen’s website

official poster

promotional images


feature article

The Dissolve: Departures: The Keep, by Scott Tobias

By the evidence here, the real battle between Good and Evil was waged between Mann’s dark, expansive, metaphorically rich fantasy and studio bosses who must have wanted something pulpier and scarier. Mann plainly lost the battle—Wilson’s complaint that it was “visually striking but otherwise incomprehensible” is as close as an opinion comes to a statement of fact—but The Keep is an authentic failure, not a generic one. The Tangerine Dream score may be the primary source of its cult status, but Mann’s achievement in creating his own dreamlike alternate reality alongside a historical one isn’t necessarily diminished by his failure to bring the story across. “The keep” has a presence: castle walls that stretch to infinity, an ancient Evil that forbids lodgers and requires rituals to contain it, the metaphorical heft of standing over a war of unimaginable atrocity. And thanks to Mann, The Keep has a presence, too.


IndieWire Retrospective: The Films of Michael Mann

It’s batshit bonkers and about as far as imaginable from the cool, slick-but-gritty restraint that became Mann’s signature, though the set design and some bravura camera moves certainly hint that there’s more going on in terms of visual style, than a mere journeyman would bring. And there are flashes of something better—some of the speeches given to the ‘good German’ (Jurgen Prochnow) or to the evil SS officer played by Gabriel Byrne, actually bring up unusual philosophical questions before we abruptly cut away to something daft. With a Tangerine Dream score on hand to remind us that though the film may be set in 1941, it was made in 1983, and that occasionally feels like an extended Kim Carnes intro, “The Keep” amounts to the one thing that Mann movies can never otherwise be accused of: camp.

Scott Weinberg/eFilmCritic

The Keep is not a good movie. There are certainly worse choices you could make if you desperately HAD to rent a horror movie from the early eighties. What makes this movie a curiosity (in addition to the director and his wacky use of wind machines and strobe lights) is the cast. Jurgen Prochnow (of Das Boot and Beverly Hills Cop 2) is the nice Nazi sergeant. His plan seems to be to let his entire regiment slowly die before getting the hell out! This is interrupted by the MEAN Nazi who is played with manic glee by Gabriel Byrne! I was stunned to see him here, and it’s actually quite fun to see him doing his Colonel Klink impression and shooting people at will.


After his promising debut with The Thief, this is writer-director Michael Mann’s second feature [from a novel by F. Paul Wilson], testimony again to the one-step- forward, two-steps-back career theory.

Film 4

It is all rather tasteless, and Mann makes big demands of his audience by expecting them to sympathize with members of the SS, while the Tangerine Dream soundtrack jars. Because of its these flaws, you’d happily dismiss it, and yet something in there haunts you. The shadows and fog create an effectively eerie environment for the tension to build, and it just about wins you over. Both stupid and impressive.


behind the scenes

Ian McKellen’s Notes

We filmed in North Wales, in the tiny village of Bettws-y-coed where tourists drop by for a five minute look at the pretty waterfall before driving off to clamber round Caernarvon or Conway castles. On my free daysin Bettwys, it always seemed to be raining and the hotel was damp and drear.

The locations were spectacular whether outdoors in the disused quarry where the facade of the Keep was surrounded by an East-European-style village – or underground in the disbanded slate mines.

Sets for The Keep

additional resources

Wikipedia page

Fansite by Stéphane Piter, including interviews with the cast, excerpts from the script, and more

Joke Interview with director Michael Mann

Thanks to Daniela for pictures and links.

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6 thoughts on “The Keep, 1983

  1. Daniela

    The first time I have seen this movie, I thought:
    “Oh my God, but who is his hairdresser”!
    Ok, I still didn’t know Gabriel Byrne, but I was struck by him: destiny?
    At the beginning, I didn’t like the film (I don’t love horror); now, after to see it again and again (and again….) I can say it is not really a bad film.

  2. Nora

    Thanks for sharing information about this movie I know nothing about from before. I guess I would not love this movie even if Gabriel is in it. But I would like to see it if I got the chanche.
    I usually do not like horror movies or movies with Nazi people in it.

  3. Well, Nora, I’m with you. It’s interesting to see GB’s early work, though, and the cast is great–look at what these actors went on to do in their careers! And Michael Mann has made some wonderful films. So, we enjoy this film as a kind of premonition, I suppose. Oh, and to see this amazing haircut on our Mr. Byrne! :-)

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  5. Patrick

    I disagree profusely with what some of the critics have had to say about The Keep. This film was butchered by Paramount during the editing process, chunks of the film were left on the cutting room floor. The original cut Mann presented to Paramount, is rumored to have a three hour run time, while the only cut ever officially released by Paramount is the 96minute version, despite differently edited t.v versions poping up from time to time, some of which contain one or two extra scenes which hint at an existing longer edit of the film.
    The Keep does have quite a large cult following and its popularity has grown over the years since its original release. Everybody wants to see Mann do a directors cut on this baby, and re-instate and re-master missing scenes etc. The only thing thats wrong with the film, in its current form, is the editing job that was done on it. All of the films problems start and end with the editing job. Unfortunately, it has been over twenty five years since the films release, and so far, there seems to be no move from Mann, or Paramount, in the direction of a re-release of the film onto DVD. This is a great shame, however I would love to hear from Gabriel Byrne just how much footage is missing from the cut of the film thats currently in circulation, versus what was actually shot. Its extremely hard to dig up good reliable information on this aspect of the film as Michael Mann(understandable, hes an incredibly busy man Im sure) is incommunicado to the vast majority of us Keep fans, but Im hoping that maybe good ole G.B might have some knowledge to share and enlighten us with on this particular area of interest?

    • I think there are many out there who agree with you, Patrick. Thanks for your comments. I would love to see a director’s cut of this film and to know more about the making of it. Ian McKellan has some things to say on his website (noted on the mega movie page for The Keep) and I imagine Mr. Byrne could tell us a thing or two as well. Someone will have to bring up this topic at the next Gabriel Byrne Q&A session, whenever that might be! :-)

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