• Crawlspace

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: December 17th, 2013.
    Director: David Schmoeller
    Cast: Klaus Kinski, Talia Balsam
    Year: 1986
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    The Movie:

    So be it.


    When David Schmoeller's infamous midnight movie starring the inimitable Klaus Kinski was first delivered on a German Blu-ray last year I was shocked. Not displeased mind you - I'm a fan - but mildly shocked. I'd say I was even more shocked when Scream Factory delivered one slated for release this month except by then they had released Sean Cunningham's THE HORROR SHOW so all bets were off.

    Let us dispense with the plot banalities first. This is a formula script concerning apartment complex owner Karl Gunther who operates a nondescript building that seems to rent exclusively to attractive young women. We know something is off right away when Karl rudely dismisses a potential male renter (director Schmoeller in a witty cameo) but offers the room minutes later to young lady Lori Bancroft (Talia Balsam). Karl's backstory is exploitation 101 - the son of a murderous nazi doctor who performed butchery on innocents during WWII he has developed the twin passions of murder and peeping. Gunther is working out his daddy issues by rigging the apartment complex with killer booby traps and spying on his undressed tenants. It is quite the typical slasher plot in many respects - even down to the captive woman he keeps hidden in a cage (who in a Fulciesque eurosleaze touch has her tongue ripped out). But they say the devil is in the details and that is where CRAWLSPACE delivers.

    Klaus Kinski - in real life - was almost certainly certifiable. Prone to insane rants and paranoia mixed with delusions of godlike grandeur he drove virtually every director and film crew who ever had to deal him completely nuts. Call him the reverse Max Von Sydow. But Kinski was also brazenly charismatic and the camera loved him. He also had an unerring knack for getting into the skin of cruel characters and adding personal intimate touches to them. There is a moment in CRAWLSPACE when Kinski's landlord shows up to chat with a pretty tenant and he is wearing a ludicrous open white shirt. It's a pure 70's lounge lizard disco king look that should elicit immediate laughs. But it doesn't. With his crocodile smile and weird predatory manner Kinski is just plain terrifying. Kinski refused direction of any kind on the set and even dressed himself without help from wardrobe. What you see in CRAWLSPACE is all what Kinski personally decided to deliver. Schmoeller crafted a decent film because he's a good director but he didn't "direct" Kinski. He just pointed the camera at the madman.

    Our pretty heroine starts to piece things together and the bodies start piling up along the way and CRAWLSPACE handles the suspense beats well enough. There is some nifty camerawork of Kinski crawling around in the ducts of the building too. Gunther's "penance" after each murder is particularly chilling. He sits in a cold and antiseptic white room with a revolver loaded with one bullet. After cutting his finger and bleeding on the ammunition he loads the gun and plays one round of Russian roulette. When it doesn't blow his evil brains out he quietly says "So be it."

    Schmoeller tried to fire Kinski but the Italian producers wouldn't let him. As awful as the experience was for the director and crew it is a good thing that didn't happen. Without Kinski CRAWLSPACE would have been remembered as a solid thriller/slasher programmer. With him it is something much more memorable.


    Scream Factory deliver a very nice 1080p AVC encoded 1.85.1 transfer that only has one mild flaw - some slightly wonky black levels in some of the darker scenes. Color and detail are strong. Flesh tones look good and no obvious digital image tweaks are visible. Grain is present but natural looking. This is a sold natural presentation similar to last year's German disc.

    The audio track is a DTS-HD 2.0 Mono lossless affair free of any obvious defects. It is limited in range due to its age and base source material but perfectly listenable. Important sounds tend to be centered and dialog is clear. The only problem is Kinski's intentionally soft spoken dialog at times. You'll need to crank the volume once or twice because Scream did not provide subtitles.

    The most important extra is director Schmoeller's audio commentary. Everything you wanted to know is here with a very nice and humorous focus on the insanity of the film's leading man. Schmoeller is a natural and chock full of great tidbits. Also included is Schmoeller's infamous "Please Kill Mr. Kinski" short film. This is best enjoyed with no spoilers so have at it. Do note that the short has some interesting period behind the scenes footage to add to its appeal. Fx man John Vulich sits for a brief but interesting interview where he discusses meeting Kinski and a few other topics of interest. There is also the film's trailer and two television spots included.

    The Final Word:

    CRAWLSPACE is one of the more interesting examples of a type of formula film that so defined the era of 80's horror. Decently acted and plotted if a bit predictable on the mechanics it does have one utter ace in the hole. Klaus Kinski, unchained and letting it rip in fine exploitation style. He is one great creepy German nightmare here. A can't miss for the horror fan with a taste for the sleazier side.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!