Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Movie Review: Crawlspace (1986)

Crawlspace is a good reason to rent from women and not the creepy old Nazi-wannabe.

The plot: Klaus Kinski is Dr. Karl Gunther, the disturbed killer who likes renting his apartments to pretty young ladies. He crawls around in the air vents, spying on them, and spends a lot of time in his secret room in the building where he keeps a girl in a cage, writes in his journals, and builds instruments of murder. College student Lori Bancroft soon moves into the building and is sure to become his next victim.

I'd never heard of Crawlspace or Klaus Kinski before and how wonderful that my introduction should be wrapped up in this unknown, tiny package of semi-awesomeness. It's a small movie with minimal location. All scenes take place in the apartment building - a few of the apartments, his secret rooms, the vents - and it seems like one of those movies that was shot in a week without much trouble. Kinski gives a subdued and creepy performance while the other actors are only average at best and nothing too memorable.

The movie is not particularly violent or gory and Gunther's murder methods are more like booby-traps than the death sequences you'd probably expect. The first scene gives us a good taste of this when a tenant ventures into Gunther's secret room and is quite gruesomely impaled when she stands in the wrong spot.

You see, Dr. Gunther was once a real doctor who was inspired into euthanasia from reading the diaries of his Nazi father. But euthanasia was not exciting enough and he soon realized he was a killer and he liked it. We get a lot of scenes of Gunther writing in his diary (and why must he recite each word so freaking slooooooooowly?) talking about how much he likes the killing and whatnot. He also watches some old Nazi footage of Hitler, and in one creepy scene he puts on eyeliner and red lipstick with his Nazi hat and yells "Heil Gunther!" at the projector screen. Kind of awkward. So I'm guessing this is saying that he wants to be a Nazi like his daddy and try to do some of the stuff they did at the concentration camps? The girl in the cage looks like she could be one of those prisoners, with how skinny she is and her super-short cut hair  and drabby clothes and the way he has already cut out her tongue to keep her quiet.

Gunther is also fond of his rat friends, and they provide some cringe-inducing moments throughout the film. I never knew rats could be such good actors. One of them has a great death scene where Gunther is caressing it in the vent and then just squishes it or something and his little rat guts fill Gunther's hand. Ew. Another rat gives a memorable performance when Gunther sets one loose in the vent near Lori's apartment. The rat sort of grabs the grate of the vent and almost screams at Lori, with its nasty buckteeth and beady red eyes. Evil creatures, I tell you. Pure evil, Nazi master or not.

They try to throw in a side story with a guy who comes to talk to Gunther because he believes Gunther murdered his brother. He gets too close, however, and Gunther has to take care of him which ends his already small and unimportant role in the film. This dude gets the best death probably EVER, when he sits in one of Gunther's booby-trapped chairs, which is rigged with a sharp poker that shoots straight up out of the seat when he presses the disguised button. Reminds me of that scene from one of the Ghoulies movies where the guy gets his ass bitten by the ghoulie in the toilet, remember? You don't really see it happening, you just see the look on his face and TRUST ME, that's enough. Unfortunately, my imagination can handle the rest.

Even with the flimsy side story, the plot of this film is as thin as 1-ply toilet paper and therefore ends too quick. There's nowhere for it to go so we get your basic everyone else is dead so now we have big chase scene with final girl ending in the killer's own death thing. It is kind of disgusting how Lori tries to escape through Gunther's own "crawlspaces" and he releases a cage full rats after her. Other than that, the chase sequence is quick and uneventful really, with Lori getting away too easily and Gunther disposed of just as easily. This could have been so much more elaborate and suspenseful but they completely missed the boat.

Not a fantastic movie but worth a look if you're bored some day. There's a few great death scenes and a great performance from Klaus Kinski to look forward to.


  1. If you haven't already seen it, you should check out the insane Kinski in Herzog's remake of Nosferatu. It's fairly slow and ponderous, and some of the acting leaves alot to be desired, but Kinski is truly creepy as the Count.

  2. Kinski is one of those actors where so many stories circulate about what a nutjob he was (some of them originating from Kinski himself) that it's hard to know where the man end ends and the myth begins. I'd second second Cyclops' recommendation of the Nosferatu remake- it's not a great film (or even a very good one) but Kinski is fantastic in it.

  3. Is this movie on dvd? I want to see it really bad. I would recommend Herzog's documentary on his relationship with Kinski. Its called MY BEST FIEND. His greatest movie however is THE GREAT SILENCE. I cannot recommend that one enough. Its a western but I think every horror fan should see it.

  4. I used to have a creepy crawlspace in the house where I grew up....
    I don't care if this movie is a let down, I'm checking it out!

  5. I have a crawlspace in my house and it just so happens to be right under the stairs. :D

  6. I've only seen 2-3 Kinski/Herzog movies. I guess it's finally time for checking out some non-arthouse Kinski-flicks :)

  7. You guys and this movie have got me really interested in more Kinski. Must find more Kinski!

  8. highly recommended: the stunning "Fitzcarraldo" and the outstanding "Woyzeck"