Thursday, March 22, 2012

Skin Crawlspace: "Crawlspace" (1986)

David Schmoeller writes and directs this angry little slasher film that should have been better than it was.

Dr. Gunther (Klaus Kinski) runs an apartment building. He strictly rents to attractive young women, and watches them from a giant crawlspace that runs the length of the building. But that's not all... He also has Martha (Sally Brown) locked in a cage in his attic. He kills the assorted boyfriends of his tenants. His father was a Nazi, and he has carried on this obsession with death by meticulously documenting all of his murders in Argentina and the United States, inventing torture and murder devices to use on unsuspecting people, and playing Russian roulette every morning before breakfast. Journalism student Lori (Talia Balsam) moves in, and Gunther takes a special interest in her, before finally going completely off his rocker.

Klaus Kinski has one of the faces that always enabled him to portray "the bad guy" really well. He looks like the ideal sadomasochistic lunatic bent on killing. Kinski is the only reason to see "Crawlspace." He does an excellent job portraying Gunther, and the film is told from his side, not the assumed heroine Lori. The rest of the cast tries, but they were not given much to begin with. Poor Kenneth Robert Shippy portrays the brother of one of Gunther's victims, but he sometimes comes off more creepy than Gunther does. The rest of the tenants are all picked because they are cute (as Gunther did), and they do not have much more to do than die.

Schmoeller does score points with his direction. The editing is very good until a badly done crawlspace chase toward the end, where you can see the actors roll along on small trolleys, before Gunther laughably grabs a giant device to give chase. The film is eighty minutes, and it feels stretched. This may have worked better as a short. The budget is tiny, only a handful of characters and basically no exterior shots, but the gore effects are good.

I was hoping for a film along the lines of "Apt Pupil," given the basic plot of "Crawlspace." As times marches on, modern Nazi war crime stories are becoming a thing of the past as major players in the Holocaust pass on. This should have been a tight psychological thriller, instead of following the formula of "cute girl and boyfriend have sex, one dies at hand of maniac." Kinski seems up to the role, Balsam looks like she would rather be somewhere else, and flashes of characterization and suspense are lost in some goofball plot devices like the executive toy that attracts victims like Dobermans to a flank steak.

"Crawlspace" is yet another missed opportunity on the four lane highway paved with missed opportunities that the horror genre has turned into. (* *) out of five stars.