REVIEW BY-DEVIN KELLY
CAST: Klaus Kinski, Talia Balsam, Tané McClure, Barbara Whinnery, Carole Francis, Sally Brown, David Abbott, Kenneth Robert Shippy, Jack Heller, David Schmoeller
DIRECTOR: David Schmoeller
PRODUCER: Roberto BessiEmpire Pictures
RUNNING TIME: 80 min. 02 seconds
VIDEO SOURCE: Lightning Video International
Ah, good old Empire Pictures (it’s usual onscreen credit name – but actually Empire International Pictures). Mid-eighties horror and schlock aficionados certainly would have a bell or two ring at the mention of Charles Band’s Italy based production studio. From the early eighties and onward before the company’s demise, Charles and his merry band of B-pushers were the cats behind some darn good eatin’ for fringe cinema buffs. A handful of these fell onto the border of the much referred to, “Euro-Cult Film” (a phrase coined especially by the rabid fan base posting around the Internet about these select films from Italy and elsewhere). Acquired-taste Empire flicks that no doubt Cinema Nocturnites would surely seek out – such as GHOULIES 2 (1987), ZONE TROOPERS (1987), CATACOMBS (1988), and TRANSFORMATIONS (1989) – all included partial Italian crews, some familiar Italian supporting players and were filmed in Italian locations. More than a couple of these hired on the outstanding Sergio Salvati as cinematographer, were produced by Roberto Bessi (producer of earlier spaghetti and post-nuke stuff like, MY NAME IS SHANGHAI JOE (’72) and WARRIOR OF THE LOST WORLD (’83)), and with production design by Giovanni Natalucci (FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE (’75)). Really, there’s nothing holding back from calling them U.S./Italian co-productions.
Among these as well, is David Schmoeller’s CRAWLSPACE (1986) – a must for anyone as fascinated as myself by the unnerving, perplexing, eccentric and perhaps, misunderstood uniqueness of Klaus Kinski (NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (’79), COBRA VERDE (’87)). This is for certain Kinski’s film – so much so that it sounded to be that way while filming also, as it seems director Schmoeller could do little but suggest to the “artiste”. The veteran, German-raised actor (who by this time was 60 years old and had appeared in over 100 films) here takes on the role of disturbed, banished Dr. Karl Gunther. The doctor decided to take the power of his profession a touch far and proceeded to randomly euthanize several of the patients in his care while practicing in Buenos Aires. Now we find him continuing along those lines in the U.S. (actually Italy - we never see an exterior shot), only this time unleashing nasty death traps on the unsuspecting ladies renting at his quiet boarding house. "I used to kill in the name of science. Now I kill because I am addicted to killing", he writes in his diary. When he’s not feeding his urges to end life and following the fascist teachings of a Nazi father, the sick Dr. Gunther shimmies along through the house’s ventilation passages, spying through vent covers on his tenants, releasing rats into their rooms, and tap-tap-tapping his switchblade to lure them close. All this crap and he doesn’t even offer free cable?! Geez! Seriously though – without the undeniable presence of Klaus Kinski, CRAWLSPACE wouldn’t have the same appeal.
Anybody who knows Kinski can bet that with his name attached to almost anything not exactly stellar, at the least he’s going to sustain your interest over most else. Schmoeller does bring forth some good ideas here – almost creating an early SAW-like atmosphere in the inclusion of all of the main villain’s specially devised, life-taking devices - still, even Klaus takes the cringing effect away from those with his casually brooding performance. Perhaps in the case of Schmoeller, even more interesting above his direction and ideas for the film, would be sitting back with his 9 minute documentary on the making of CRAWLSPACE, titled PLEASE KILL MR. KINSKI (1999). No doubt, if there ever was a CRAWLSPACE special edition released to DVD (and no, the MGM disc doesn't cut it as any kind of collector's edition), this documentary as an extra would make it worth the price alone. The rest of the cast kind of just goes through the motions, with some showing stronger talent over others. Talia Balsam (THE INITIATION OF SARAH ('78), THE SUPERNATURALS ('86)) is the top heroine here, bringing a nice aura to her character as happy go lucky student, Lori Bancroft, but not delivering enough spark to run screaming like a banshee from Kinski. She more rather just avoids him than plays the full on terrified victim during the final moments. She does share some entertaining inside dialogue during one scene when he's showing her the apartment, stating about her last place, "I'm convinced the man across the hall was a vampire". Of course, this is a nod to one of Kinski's most famous roles, NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979). In case you weren't aware too - Ms. Balsam is the daughter of veteran actor, Martin Balsam.
Top marks definitely go out to unknown, Sally Brown, as Dr. Gunther's severly traumatized and tongueless lady in a cage, Martha. Her desire to escape or die comes across tenfold in her haunting expression, looking like a concentration camp refugee at Auschwitz. Gunther treats her as if she had been there so long, she's almost now become his companion in a sick way. One twisted scene has her pass off a note to Kinski, simply asking for him to please kill her, to which he calmly replies with a sickly compassion, "I can't kill you. Who would I talk to if you are dead?". Also, let's not forget the gorgeous Tané McClure (DEATH HOUSE ('87), DEATH SPA ('88), CRUEL INTENTIONS 2 ('00)) as sexy Sophie, who not only looks great and brings some spice to the picture in her role-playing scenes with David Abbott (THEY ('02)), but features in one of the better deaths where she finds herself unable to get away from the piano she loves so much - literally! Tané is another actress in the cast with a very famous father, for years watching her Dad, Doug McClure, make a big name for himself. Tané, being a singer when not acting also, actually did perform those songs you see her playing during the scenes in her apartment. The Pino Donaggio score at times I found, somewhat echoed 'Sweetly' from 1979's HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK. With all that's been said, even if you don't like horror or any of the actors invloved and happen to see this - one cannot deny what a jaw-dropping, bizarre and one of a kind sight before us it is of a lipstick smeared, eyeliner dripping Kinski saluting film projected footage of Adolph Hitler as he dons Nazi regalia and bellows out, "Hail, Gunther!". If that's not a selling point, I'm convinced you've never even heard of the man.
"Killing is my heroin...my opiate...my fix."-Klaus Kinski (Dr. Karl Gunther)
3/5 BITCH SLAPS
*Read Devin's Interview With CRAWLSPACE Cast Member Tané McClure HERE*
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