CRAWLSPACE. 1986. WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY DAVID SCHMOELLER. MUSIC BY PINO DONAGGIO. STARRING KLAUS KINSKI, TALIA BALSAM, SALLY BROWN AND KENNETH ROBERT SHIPPY. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
Have you ever had a bad landlord? You have? What did he do? Did he drag his heels when it came to fixing the leaky faucets and faulty wiring but he came down on you like a ton of bricks whenever you were a minute late with the rent? Okay. Let me tell you something. Unless you’ve had Klaus Kinski from the sick horror/thriller CRAWLSPACE as your landlord, you haven’t really had a bad landlord. In fact, unless you’ve had Klaus Kinski from CRAWLSPACE, you don’t really even know you’re born…
Legendary actor Klaus Kinski plays retired German doctor and landlord, Karl Guenther. He only rents out his rooms to young, pretty females. In the creepy crawlspaces that criss-cross his house, he spies on his tenants while they have sex with their boyfriends, bathe or study or play the piano or just hang out together, giggling about girly things. Sometimes he kills them. Sometimes he kills their boyfriends and preserves their body parts in his attic-cum-laboratory. Are you getting my drift…? Are you starting to understand how a really bad landlord operates…? Okay, then.
Wait, there’s more. He keeps a terrified young woman in a cage in his attic. He’s cut her tongue out and refuses to put her out of her misery by killing her because she’s ‘company’ for him. His house is littered with unbelievably sick booby-traps. He’s a bit of a masochist, too, liking to hold his hand over the gas flame until it blisters, then bursting the blisters with the blade of a knife. He keeps dozens and dozens of rats, and likes to randomly release them around the house to scare the living daylights out of his female tenants.
He’s a queer fish, this Gunther. He applies liquid eyeliner with an enviable precision, but he can’t seem to get the hang of lipstick. He writes in his diary about the sixty-seven or so patients he ‘mercy-killed,’ though as they never asked for this favour and some of them seem to have been perfectly healthy when they died, I seriously doubt whether he has the right to use that particular terminology.
His father was a Nazi war criminal executed in 1945 for his crimes against humanity. Guenther himself likes to stride around the place garbed in full Nazi gear while watching old film footage of Hitler doing his rather dubious ‘thang.’ He toys with the idea of suicide but never quite gets around to it. The poor woman in the cage would certainly die a horrible slow death if he wasn’t around to feed her.
His mind is clearly diseased. He’s one of the most messed-up characters I’ve ever come across in a horror film and yet, with his background, it’s not difficult to see how this came about. Watching such a putrid mind in action is both disturbing and fascinating. I give this film ten out of ten for its ability to hold your attention from beginning to end. Yes, shock is layered upon shock is layered upon shock, but they’re not ‘shocks for shocks’ sake.’ It’s all part of the rich tapestry of the inside of a mind damaged beyond repair.
Anyway, one day Guenther gets an unwelcome visitor from his past. It’s a chap called Joseph Steiner whose brother is one of the patients murdered by Dr. Guenther. He swears to bring Guenther to justice and he even tries to enlist Guenther’s newest tenant, a young college student called Lori Bancroft, to help him in his mission. This is bad news for Lori, who doesn’t want to be involved. It’s even worse news, sadly, for poor old Joseph Steiner…
Klaus Kinski is superb as the softly-spoken, gently smiling Dr. Guenther. He pushes his two front teeth endearingly forward all the time in a way that causes him to resemble the rodents he cultivates. Sixty-four years old at the time of filming, he looks good for his age. Still white-blonde, still trim, still handsome and still one of the most formidable actors of his age.
The director plays a funny cameo, by the way, as a disgruntled would-be tenant who gets knocked back by Guenther because he has- ahem- the wrong equipment between his legs. Overall, this is one of the best horror films/video-nasties I’ve watched in a long time. If you think you have the stomach for it, watch it now.
I’ll say one more thing. Remember that scene in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969) where the beautiful Katharine Ross is disturbed in her bedroom by Robert Redford and we think she’s going to be raped by a total stranger but it turns out that he’s her boyfriend and they’re only playing sex-games…?
Well, CRAWLSPACE totally borrows from this scene for a scene of its own but it’s quite funny the way they do it. It’s probably the one giggle in an otherwise grim, bleak study of a mind that could have been utterly brilliant but which instead has all the stink and squishy, wormy sogginess of a rotten apple at its core. That’s all from me for now. Talk to you again soon, I hope, dear readers.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based performance poet, novelist, film blogger, sex blogger and short story writer. She has given more than 200 performances of her comedy sex-and-relationship poems in different venues around Dublin, including The Irish Writers’ Centre, The International Bar, Toners’ Pub (Ireland’s Most Literary Pub), the Ha’penny Inn, Le Dernier Paradis at the Trinity Inn and The Strokestown Poetry Festival.
Her articles, short stories and poems have appeared in The Metro-Herald newspaper, Ireland’s Big Issues magazine, The Irish Daily Star, The Irish Daily Sun and The Boyne Berries literary journal. In August 2014, she won the ONE LOVELY BLOG award for her (lovely!) horror film review blog. She is addicted to buying books and has been known to bring home rain-washed tomes she finds on the street and give them a home.
She is the proud possessor of a pair of unfeasibly large bosoms. They have given her- and the people around her- infinite pleasure over the years. She adores the horror genre in all its forms and will swap you anything you like for Hammer Horror or JAWS memorabilia. She would also be a great person to chat to about the differences between the Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Cut of The Wicker Man. You can contact her at:
1) ‘… BY A WOMAN WALKING HER DOG…’
2) A WRITER’S JOURNEY
3) ANNA MEETS COUNT DRACULA
4) ANOTHER FIFTY REALLY RANDOM HORROR FILM REVIEWS TO DIE FOR…
5) CANCER BALLS
6) CATCH OF THE DAY
7) FIFTY FILTHY-DIRTY SEX-POEMS YOU MUST READ BEFORE I DIE.
8) FIFTY REALLY RANDOM HORROR FILM REVIEWS TO DIE FOR…
9) THE DEVIANTS
10) VISITING DAY