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By Doug Brunell | November 4, 2004

When it comes to Michael Mann, critics tend to like him. Fans feel the same way, too. All are quick to point out that “Miami Vice” and “The Insider” are excellent pieces of work that highlight the director’s talents. There is something from Mann’s past, however, that never comes up when his name is mentioned. Nobody even hints at it. It’s just like how no reporter during a press conference ever says, “So, President Bush, you still take a drink now and then?” What is this shameful thing whose name must not be spoken lest we wake the Elder Gods?

“The Keep.”

I like Michael Mann. I think he’s a vibrant, intense director whose work, while praised by critics, still doesn’t get enough attention. With that in mind, I think Mann’s “The Keep” (1983) is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, and it’s all the more disappointing because he was at the helm.

F. Paul Wilson’s novel, from which the film is based, was an intriguing book. I read the paperback as a young lad and was swept away by the horror tale. When I heard it was being made into a movie, I was about as excited as a pre-teen could possibly be. It never came to a theatre near me, however, so it wasn’t until recently that I got to see it — twenty-one years after it was released.

I wish I would’ve forgotten it even existed.

The film stars Gabriel Byrne and Ian McKellen, though in hindsight anyone could’ve filled their roles. As mentioned earlier, it is directed by Mann. As I saw these names on the opening credits, I figured I was in for a treat. When I saw the credit for the score appear on the screen, however, I knew I was doomed. Tangerine Dream. A little voice inside my head said, “This is going to be bad. Tangerine Dream cannot be a good thing. Why do you think you never see this movie in video stores? This will be an accident you’ll wish you would’ve avoided.” I still get the sweats thinking about it.

My little voice was being kind. The film is a mess. It’s as disjointed as any acid trip movie, and it moves at the pace of a Florida retiree with a bad leg. It also makes little to no sense. I can forgive the cheesy special effects (it was the ‘80s), and I can even overlook the score, but I can’t let go of the fact that the man behind “Miami Vice,” “Crime Story” and “Manhunter” was responsible for this travesty. There oughta be a law.

Every director is allowed to screw up once or twice. That’s a given. Hits are only hits when you have misses. “The Keep,” however, is a huge miss. It’s the semi-truck swerving out of control on a mountain highway kind of disaster. And oddly enough, it’s such a gigantic mistake that the fact that Mann was associated with the film seems to have been erased from our collective memory. I’ve talked to a few Mann fans about this film, and none of them knew he directed it. None of them had even seen it.

Must be the fluoride in the water or something. Maybe some kind of subliminal brainwashing in “The Insider.” I don’t know how it happened, but people forgot about this. Unfortunately, I haven’t been as lucky.

I still like Mann despite this disease of a movie, but there’s only one reason why: He can’t possibly do another film this bad in his entire career. Hell, he could direct “Home Alone 26: Testicles, Tea and a Dead Mute Boy,” and that still wouldn’t be as horrible as “The Keep.” He could go back to television and create a reality show centered around NAMBLA, and “The Keep” would still be worse. I know that Mann, or any other director for that matter, can’t do two films that awful in one career. It isn’t human.

You can choose to ignore me and rent this puppy (and I think some of you are already planning to do that very thing because you are masochists and your lover is out of candles and alligator clips), but you have been warned. You can’t blame me when your evening is ruined by this cesspool of a movie. I watched it because I’m an idiot. You’ll have no such clever excuse.

Discuss Doug Brunell’s “Excess Hollywood” column in Film Threat’s BACK TALK section! Click here>>>

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