Tuesday, December 17, 2013

CRAWLSPACE (1986) Blu-ray review

Crawlspace (1986) d. David Schmoeller (USA)

Despite having the estimable FX talents of John Carl Beuchler and John Vulich among the ranks, the greatest special effect in this mid-80s shocker from executive producer Charles Band’s Empire Pictures is its wackadoo headliner, Klaus Kinski. The Poland-born star commands every onscreen moment as the offspring of a notorious Nazi doctor, now living a quiet life as the landlord of a apartment building who spends his times spying on his exclusively female tenants and every so often – when they get too nosey – bumping them off with elaborate mechanical traps. Each murder is followed by a round of Russian Roulette, and – after clicking upon an empty chamber – the chilling whisper, “So be it.” Out goes the “For Rent” sign and in come the fresh victims.

Crawlspace represented Schmoeller’s return to Empire, having made his feature film debut with 1979’s criminally underrated Tourist Trap. After dabbling with other Hollywood independents (via Bud Cardos’ The Day Time Ended and Irwin Yablans’ 1982 thriller The Seduction starring Morgan Fairchild), the writer/director traveled to Italy and cranked out several moderate smashes during Band’s heyday, including Catacombs and Puppetmaster. As he recounts on the audio commentary track (and the short film Please Kill Mr. Kinski, also included in Shout! Factory’s just-released Blu-ray), the working environment was less than ideal for Schmoeller’s third feature, with his tempestuous leading man throwing tantrums and refusing direction on any level, forbidding the director to use fundamental words such as “Action,” “Cut,” or even “Klaus.”

Under such adverse circumstances, it's a testament to the star’s magnetic presence and Schmoeller’s tenacity and craftsmanship that the picture is such a rousing low-budget success. A B-movie through and through, it moves like a freight train (or more accurately, like a Teutonic madman on a rolling plank) and has such energy and creative flair that you’d never guess that the crew were openly muttering plans to murder Kinski louder and louder with every passing day.

The cast of female ingénues, which include Talia Balsam (Martin Balsam’s daughter), Tane McClure (Doug McClure’s daughter, billed here as Tané), Barbara Whinnery, and Carole Francis, are engaging and personable body-counts-to-be, while Kenneth Robert Shippey is memorable as a mysterious stranger tracking Kinski down for earlier misdeeds. Pino Donaggio delivers his usual marvelous assemblage of notes, while Lucio Fulci’s favorite lensman, Sergio Salvati, creeps high and low along narrow passageways, even delivering several delicious Spielbergian dolly-zooms.

Besides the glorious widescreen presentation and remastered audio, the real treats are listening to Schmoeller unfold the tales of behind-the-scenes mayhem. His nine-minute short Please Kill Mr. Kinski (which I’ve been enjoying it for years via YouTube) is hilarious, but it’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, as revealed on his commentary. Over the film’s 80 minutes, we are handed down tale after tale of the impossible on-set working relationship, where one never knew who Klaus was going to unload on next, when, or for what.

As we listen, we develop an immense amount of sympathy and respect for Schmoeller, but also realize just how much a magnificent performer, sane or not, can elevate a motion picture. For someone who apparently refused to be directed, and had to be coddled and coaxed every step of the way, Kinski inhabits his sleazy, cheesy role so completely as to be a thing of wonder. Schmoeller puts it best in his short’s closing moments: “...what a compelling actor he was...how great he was to watch. He really was great to watch.”

Other supplementals include the theatrical trailer and TV spots, as well as a fun featurette with Vulich who shares his own Kinski experiences.

Crawlspace is available now from Shout! Factory and can be purchased HERE


--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine

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