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Crawlspace
(1986)
 

Director: David Schnoeller            
Cast:
Klaus Kinski, Talia Balsam, Barbara Whinnery


The fact that this is a Charles Band production will signal probably danger to most viewers. That's because the Band family has been responsible for a number of bad movies, most recently with their Full Moon productions, and in the past with movies like Laserblast. They have occasionally made a good movie, though. The more recent The Pit And The Pendulum and Dark Angel were good, and in the 80s they made Reanimator and Crawlspace. You probably know all about Reanimator, though I won't be surprised if you haven't heard of Crawlspace. It's an odd little movie - well, "odd" is not strong enough to describe it. It's one of those really offbeat movies that you either immediately accept or not, so that automatically takes away much of its potential audience. Also, it's the kind of movie where people might feel guilty about saying that they like it, so there goes some potential publicity. More chance of it being well-known go by the fact that this is a very hard movie to describe - there's not much plot, and you can't really give it a decent description concerning what it's about in just a few sentences. I'll try to write enough for an average-sized review, but it won't be easy.

Landlord Karl Gunther is quite an eccentric guy, not just to the fact that he only seems to rent out his apartments to pretty young women. He's constructed a trapdoor from one of his rooms, which leads to a crawlspace where he can crawl all over the building and peep at his tenants, usually seeing them in states of undress. While in there, he plays various pranks, like letting rats into the tenants' living rooms.

Sounds like a quite mischievous guy, but he doesn't just stop there. Possibly due to the fact that his father was a Nazi war criminal, he experimented with killing his patients while he was a doctor in South America. Now he's moved onto a bigger scale of insanity; he kills his tenants and visitors who don't strike his fancy with various booby traps (glad the scene where the visitor was killed in the chair wasn't explicit), and keeps various parts of their body in glass jars full for formaldehyde. In his spare time, he pops warts on his hand, and plays solitary Russian Roulette. Oh, and he keeps a woman, whose tongue he cut out, in a small cage in his apartment. When she writes a note asking him to kill her, he argues, "Then who would I talk to?"

That's about it when it comes to plot. There is the introduction of new tenant Lori, who we know will survive because not only is she the smallest woman in the building, her hair is nowhere as big-'80s as the other tenants. Later in the movie, the brother of one of Gunther's South American victims comes snooping around. But these and other incidents really don't have any bearing on the little plot there is. Most of the movie is focused on Gunther doing his various twisted activities, and it's not until near the end of the movie that there is any real crisis. Then once that crisis is averted, the movie pretty much ends right there, without us getting an epilogue of any kind.

But the plot is not the main attraction here. That designation goes to Kinski. Though he's well known for giving over-the-top performances, he really takes the cake here. When someone tells him, "You have a face I think I'd remember", they are not exaggerating. Even when he's not talking, his goofy facial expressions make you laugh, and you can't even imagine what he's like when he's talking. He giggles, blushes, and has a crazy grin plastered on his lips. It's obvious that Kinski knows he is coming across this way, but this is one of those rare times where an actor giving a unsubtly broad performance just adds to the fun. He's willing to do anything, including putting on eyeliner and smearing lipstick on his lips. It's laying it on thick, but in this case it's like adding icing to a cake.

The movie may lack plot, and is very close to being pure exploitation, but you can't say for one minute it's boring. In one aspect that's quite an achievement, because 99% of the movie takes place not just indoors, but only in a few rooms. In another aspect, the directorial style is very quiet and static; though it does make it harder to get bizarre material into this atmosphere, it at least makes the advantage of making this material more loopy, craziness in a sea of passiveness. Plus, though there are moments where we have to wait for something, we are not bored while we wait, because we know it will be worth the wait for the next piece of insanity to head our way.

So how should this movie be classified? Well, definitely not for everyone, that's for sure. Thinking about it, I conclude you have to be in two moods to appreciate this movie - not only must you have viewed and enjoyed in your past movies about really sick psychos, but you have to be open for this psycho's antics to be presented not only in an unconventional cinematic narrative, but a really twisted unconventional cinematic narrative. If your curiosity was piqued by the description of the stuff that happens in Crawlspace, then you'll probably find it interesting to watch. Otherwise, stay away.

Also reviewed at: Cold Fusion Video

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See also: If You Meet Sartana..., Madman, Skinner

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