Klaus Kinski was a brilliant actor when he wanted to be. Look to films like 1982’s Fitzcarraldo or, of course, his turn as the titular bloodsucker in 1979’s Nosferatu the Vampyre. A notoriously difficult man with a penchant for butting heads with any man crazy enough to sign up to direct him (especially in those he sensed weakness), Kinski would often prove such a volatile and disruptive on-set force that, in some instances, he would ultimately “direct” himself. The famously over-the-top actor would go into overdrive in these instances, sabotaging not only the film, but his own performance, hamming it up to such an extent as to become a parody of himself. Such is the case with Crawlspace; a low-budget, oftentimes-silly-yet-bizarrely-watchable tale of a voyeuristic landlord who “looks after” a stable of hot babes in an L.A. boarding house.
Crawlspace opens with a curious blonde babe ascending a flight of stairs toward an open door. When she enters, she sees an apparently caged woman dressed in gray rags amidst a workshop of various torture devices and cutting implements. As she reacts to the sight of the imprisoned woman, Karl Gunther (Kinski) enters the scene, looking truly remorseful as he explains how much he liked the nosy neighbor, before dispatching her with a conveniently placed hydraulic spear that skewers her from the wall behind. Yes, the film wastes no time establishing Kinski as the “bad guy”, but, in case you came in late, we’re thrown right into another situation, this time involvinga gorgeous big-haired 80s beauty dressing up in sexy lingerie while an assumed pervert watches from the bushes. He is not alone, however, as Karl is also watching, hidden in his apartment building’s oddly oversized air-conditioning ducts. Moments later, the buxom babe hears her apartment door creak, and is blitz-attacked by the bush-dwelling perv, who forces her onto the bed at knife point, and begins to have his way with her. Karl watches with great interest but no real concern as he, like the rest of us, has already figured out that this is just a good ol’ fashioned rape fantasy game between the blonde bimbo and her sleazy boyfriend.
Anyhoo, now that Karl has a new vacancy in his boarding house, he finds an eager renter in Lori Bancroft (Talia Balsam) , who, as a borderline androgynous journalist/feminist helps fill in a glaring gap in his collection of 80s archetypes, which also include the above mentioned sophisticated sex kitten, Sophie (Tane McClure), the southern transplant/fish-out-of-water, Harriet (Barbara Whinnery), and ditzy, gold-digging “actress”, Jessica (Carole Francis). The four girls bond immediately over piles of junk food and booze, while Karl watches, forever alone, from his crawlspace.
Things get more complicated for Karl when a man claiming to be the brother of a patient Karl “euthanized” during his stint as a doctor in South America pays him a visit, and threatens to expose not only his murderous medical record but Karl’s father’s role in the Nazi party during World War 2, going so far as to show Karl a picture of his younger self all dolled up in full SS regalia. This sends Karl over-the-edge (as if he weren’t already), resulting in a bloody killing spree that includes lots of lipstick, eye shadow, and dead kittens.
Crawlspace is a bit of a mess, but it’s still highly enjoyable stuff, if only for Kinski’s hilariously over-the-top performance and obvious disdain for the material. He emotes his way through the film like a silent movie actor riding a coke high, licking his lips, batting his eyes, and running through an arsenal of facial expressions, oftentimes all in the same scene. When his Klaus goes good and truly off the rails, he transforms into something of a gothic Nazi Sting, with spiked hair, lipstick smeared mouth, and enough eye shadow to shame a family of raccoons. Most of these scenes involve Karl standing outside windows under spooky lighting and glaring inside while his terrified tenants scurry up and down the stairs looking for an exit. None of its particularly scary or even all that good, but, after watching the included vintage featurette, Please Kill Mr. Kinski, in which director, David Schmoeller, recounts his experiences with Kinski just after the actor’s death in 1991, it’s a miracle any of this made it on film at all. By Schmoeller’s account, Kinski was an insufferable bastard throughout the production (the generous amount of behind-the-scenes footage verifies this), and, when he learned that Schmoeller and his producers were trying to have him removed from the film (and, if one is to believe Schmoeller, his Italian producer wanted to have Kinski killed to cash in on his insurance), Kinski reacted by becoming more vicious and difficult, until, finally, Schmoeller threw up his hands and let Kinski direct himself!
Scream Factory dusts off Crawlspace and brings it to Blu-ray in an impressive 1.85:1 transfer that is near pristine for a nearly thirty year old film, with just a few flecks and negligible print damage. The image is surprisingly vibrant, but a touch soft around the edges. Fine detail is evident in close-ups, however, especially Kinski’s road-map face and the film’s well-lit scenes. When things get dark, however, the image is a bit muddled and detail is all but lost. Still, overall Crawlspace looks pretty darned spectacular given its vintage. The DTS MA 2.0 track is more than serviceable, with robust bass and suitably crisp highs with nary a hint of brittleness or distortion.
Extras include the aforementioned 1991 featurette with Schmoeller (SD), as well as an equally humorous and informative audio commentary by the director. Also included are a new interview with make-up artist, John Vulich (HD), and a collection of trailers and television spots.