Crawlspace Blu-ray Review
Written and directed by David Schmoeller
1986, Region A, 80 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on December 17th, 2013
Klaus Kinski as Karl Gunther
Talia Balsam as Lori Bancroft
Barbara Whinnery as Harriet Watkins
Carol Francis as Jessica Marlow
Tané as Sophia Fisher
Sally Brown as Martha White
Kenneth Robert Shippy as Josef Steiner
Karl Gunther used to practice medicine in Buenos Aires, but circumstances forced him to flee and now he owns an apartment building somewhere in the United States. He is very selective when it comes to renting rooms and, as an unwritten policy, only provides housing to attractive young ladies. Gunther comes with a lot of quirks and psychological baggage, his late father was a Nazi war criminal who encouraged his son to follow his tradition of medical experiments. Karl keeps a woman confined in a cage in his office for companionship, although he has removed her tongue, so conversations are rather one-sided. His time is spent designing elaborate torture devices for anyone whom he feels has overstayed their welcome. In order to keep things balanced, each negative act is followed by a solo game of Russian roulette and as long as Karl walks away from the table, he feels vindicated in his behavior for the day.
Another fun way to pass the time involves spying on his tenants from within the gigantic and impeccably clean ventilation ducts. Karl even has a nifty transport device (pronounced: sled) that allows him to travel at high speeds throughout the building. Not everything in his life is awesome, however, as Lori, the new renter, is different from the other ladies in the complex in that she has a brain. If she hears a strange noise (like a man crawling around within the walls), she is likely to investigate it. If there are rats inside an apartment, she is probably going to complain...the bitch. If one troublemaker weren't enough, a man named Josef Steiner shows up with suspicions concerning Karl's speedy exit from Argentina. Gunther puts on some cosmetic makeup and mayhem ensues.
In 1985 producer Charles Band (From Beyond) had recently taken control of the former de Laurentiis studios in Rome, and was making countless low-budget horror films. Having just completed Troll, a movie set in an apartment building, Band decided to quickly make another film using the same sets and contacted writer/director David Schmoeller (Tourist Trap) for ideas. Schmoeller pitched a tale of a Vietnam vet spying on and killing women in their apartments using assorted homemade weaponry. Band liked the idea and agreed to produce the picture, but with Polish actor Klaus Kinski (Schizoid) cast in the lead, the scenario was altered so that the character was the aging son of a Nazi.
Crawlspace is an oddly-structured film that focuses all of the attention on the psycho-killer and not the victims. There is a passing interest in making the ladies distinctive, yet none of them are particularly well-developed characters, and neither for that matter is the character of Steiner. All of these people are simply obstacles that intrude on Gunther's quiet time and ultimately serve only as murder victims. The landlord's best scenes are with Martha, the caged mute, where he is either reflecting on his father's legacy or watching Nazi propaganda films. The character Karl Gunther is complex and requires a certain type of actor to successfully bring him to life on screen.
Schmoeller has publicly shared stories of his time working with the notoriously difficult Kinski, a volatile man who reportedly hated directors and was prone to violent outbursts and was the subject of the documentary My Best Fiend with Werner Herzog (who successfully directed him in six features including Nosferatu and Fitzcarraldo). As documented in Schmoeller's short film Please Kill Mister Kinski, the actor refused to acknowledge such traditional direction as “action” or “cut” without lurching into a frenzy. Soon, members of the crew began asking the director to either fire or kill Klaus Kinski (pronounced: asshole).
Fortunately, the rest of the cast and crew were more professional and despite some pacing problems, the finished film is moderately entertaining. Cinematographer Sergio Salvati (Zombie, The Beyond) gives the piece a distinct look that does not betray the tiny budget. Perhaps the strongest addition to the production is the work of legendary composer Pino Donaggio (Carrie, Blow Out), which lends a nice tension to the proceedings. For better or worse, the real reason to watch this film is Kinski. His performance is pretty stellar and teeters on going over the top, but no matter how silly or creepy he may be, audiences cannot take their eyes off of him. Honestly, how many movies offer the chance to see a high-speed chase on a sled through a ventilation system?!
Video and Audio:
Crawlspace has aged very well and this transfer gives the appearance of a much more recent production. Presented here in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the picture is sharp with strong colors and deep black levels. Small object detail is occasionally surprising and flesh tones remain natural throughout.
The default DTS-HD MA 2.0 track offers a solid presentation that preserves the original stereo mix. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion, which is good considering there are no subtitle options on this disc.
Scream Factory has assembled a few nice supplements starting with an audio commentary with David Schmoeller that is equally entertaining and informative. He does not shy away from the more arduous aspects of the troubled production, but does not harp on any one aspect either. Perhaps the passing of time has softened the bite of some of the more scarring elements from the shoot.
The best piece on the disc is the inclusion of Please - Kill Mister Kinski (9 minutes), a short film Schmoeller made in 1999 chronicling his run-ins with the actor. I highly recommend checking out this entertaining time capsule, as the stories are awesome.
Make-up effects artist John Vulich discusses his time on set in Tales from the Crawlspace (9 minutes), a fast-moving interview that shines a nostalgic light on the plethora of low-budget horror films being shot in the 1980s. His recollections of working with Kinski differ from Schmoeller's, but admittedly he was under less pressure when dealing with the actor.
Rounding out the special features on this disc are the original theatrical trailer and a pair of TV spots.