Sunday, December 4, 2011


David Schmoeller, 1986
Starring: Klaus Kinski, Talia Balsam, Barbara Whinnery, Carole Francis

David Schmoeller’s neglected gem Crawlspace has been rescued from obscurity by Shout Factory subset Scream Factory alongside a release of another ‘80s cult classic, The Beast Within (1982). Released on a newly restored Blu-ray disc this month, Crawlspace is one of the late, great Klaus Kinski’s final cult films and surely one of his weirdest, which, if you’re familiar with the actor’s work, is really saying something. 

Lori (Talia Balsam) is the newest tenant at Karl Gunther’s (Klaus Kinski) neat, orderly apartment building. While Karl and the other tenants - all women - seem friendly, Karl is the son of a Nazi doctor and gleefully continues his father’s sadistic profession. He performs cruel experiments in the attic and throughout the apartment building, where he spies on and murders his tenants. He also sets up a series of devious violent booby traps in the building. 

One by one, Karl begins to dispose of the women in the apartment building and slowly works his way toward Lori. A Nazi hunter (Kenneth Robert Shippy) tracks him down, but is quickly dispatched by a particularly gruesome booby trap. While attempting to flee and hide throughout the building, Lori makes some horrifying discoveries. Will she survive the CRAWLSPACE?

A film that unabashedly makes as little sense as possible, Crawlspace is chock full of sleaze, violence, mean-spiritedness, and a commandingly creepy Klaus Kinski. He seems to have totally embraced his role as an ex-Nazi doctor pervert turned murderer, though Karl is really only the son of a Nazi, wished he was born in more horrible times. Allegedly writer and director David Schmoeller (Puppet Master) had a very difficult time with Kinski on set and the actor frequent went as far as to tell Schmoeller that only Kinski was capable of directing himself. 

Kinski may have been a pain in the ass, but his performance here is truly incredible, certainly at the top of any B-movie insanity list. He plays Russian Roulette with himself, weeps openly, dons a Nazi uniform and smears lipstick across his face, keeps a tongueless woman in a cage, and so much more that I don’t want to spoil. With any actor other than Kinski, this would have been a slightly weird and probably very boring slasher film, as the general plot construct is set up around a madman killing middle aged women in a nonsensically booby-trapped apartment building.

The women of the film don’t fare so well, particularly because they’re mostly played by a cast of inexperienced, middle aged women, none of whom are particularly attractive. The exception is Tane McClure (Heavy Petting Detective) who walks around scantily clad and bafflingly engages in a rape fantasy with her boyfriend early in the film. Most of the other actresses are better known for their television rather than film careers, such as star Talia Balsam (Mad Men) and Barbara Whinnery (St. Elsewhere). 

Directed David Schmoeller also made one of my favorite weird, neglected films from the ‘70s, Tourist Trap (1979), and he does a similar job here despite his complaints that Kinski nearly ruined the production. Surprisingly, the interesting cinematography is from Sergio Salvati, known for his work with Lucio Fulci on The Beyond (1981) and Zombie (1979). Brian De Palma’s regular collaborator Pino Donaggio created the fitting, if very ‘80s score. 

Crawlspace is undeniably entertaining, but may be too exploitative for casual horror fans. It’s willingness to throw logic to the wind and embrace a sort of mind-blowing, sheer balls-to-the-wall insanity is difficult to describe without giving too much away. There is some sex and nudity, but absolutely nothing about this film is erotic. As with Fulci’s New York Ripper (1982), the sex is mean-spirited, confusing, or simply gratuitous. The violence is largely off screen, with much of the nastiness implied, yet hard to ignore. A minor, final note is that there is no true crawlspace in the film, just a terrifying attic and some very large air vents. 

Scream Factory’s new HD transfer, presented in 1080p with the original aspect ration of 1.85:1, looks fantastic and is an improvement over the old MGM DVD. Though the film itself is somewhat dark, the colors and contrast both look great here and there is no obvious print damage. There is a DTS Master Audio 2.0 mono mix that sounds sharp and clear. There is no noticeable damage or distortion. Both dialogue and the score are well mixed, though there are no subtitles included. 

With a notable like Kinski starring in the film, of course there were going to be some interesting extras. First and foremost is the entertaining commentary track from David Schmoeller, who explains how difficult Kinski was on set and the overall stressful nature of the production. Please Kill Mr. Kinski, a short documentary from 1999, further explores this in an interview with Schmoeller. Tales from the Crawlspace with John Vulich is a new featurette where special effects wizard John Vulich (The X-Files, Day of the Dead) discusses his relationship with Kinski and the effects he created for the film. Also included is the original theatrical trailer and TV spots.

Scream Factory’s Crawlspace Blu-ray is definitely an improvement over the out of print MGM double feature (with The Attic) and I hope this release will attract a little more attention for such a neglected film. Chances are few people reading this review will be as over the moon about the film as I am, but all ‘80s horror and/or exploitation fans, as well as Klaus Kinski devotees owe it to themselves to see it at least once. 

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