Terrifying Tuesday: Crawlspace (1986)

There are a lot of things that movies can teach you, and some are lessons to live by. Things like don’t piss off mutant rednecks, stay out of creepy houses even if the door is open, and never ever bend down to look into anything. There are occasions where the lesson that the film needs to convey seems more like it should be common knowledge. Never ever move into a place if your landlord is Klaus Kinski. 

Crawlspace (1986) starring Klaus Kinski, Talia Balsam, Tane McClure, Kenneth Robert Shippy. Directed by David Schmoeller. 

There’s an apartment for rent at Dr. Karl Gunther’s boarding house, but that’s only because Karl (Kinksi) has just dispatched his last tenant, a beautiful young woman who he “really liked”. In fact all the residents of the apartment house are young women, and Karl likes to keep an eye on them, a really close eye. He looks in on the girls by moving around the air duct before retiring to write in his journal where he catalogs the murders he commits and his fascination with death. 

At one time, Karl had been a prominent doctor who practiced humane euthanasia, but after discovering about his fathers past as an executioner for Nazi Germany, he begins to find himself following in his father’s footsteps and leaving a path of dead bodies. Now he watches and waits, fashioning an array of deadly toys and traps, ready to kill and ready to die. 

The Bugg Picture

I’ve been checking out a lot of Kinski lately for an article I have coming up soon for BthroughZ, and a couple of days ago I had my first viewing of the Herzog classic Aguirre, Wrath of God. So with a few of the notoriously ornery German’s films under my belt, I thought it was high time I watched one of the films that Kinski did for the paycheck. There are quite a few of these, but I had heard stories of the difficulties Puppet Master director David Schoeller had with the actor. In fact he made a short film on the subject called Please Kill Mr. Kinski which can be found on the Tromadance Vol. 1 DVD  or just watch it below where I found it on YouTube. 

So with the notoriety that the director experienced with this film, I expected the worst going in. What I forgot was that however difficult the actor might be, Klaus Kinski has the ability to bring up the quality of a film with his performance, and he proves it once again here. Karl Gunther turns out to be a very interesting character study and a memorable screen madman. Wisely, the film doesn’t even really bother to bring much characterization to the Doctor’s victims, instead giving Kinski plenty of breathing room to bring the creepy. And bring it he does. Whether he’s torturing the tongue-less girl he keeps in the attic, watching the Soap Opera actress who lives there sing a song, or burning his hand just for kicks, Gunther is full of menace and perversity which nearly seems to emanate from Kinski’s blue eyes. Especially powerful are the scenes that follow his murders when Karl plays Russian roulette. Each time when he escapes self imposed death, he simply says, “So be it.” These scenes illustrate Gunther’s loose connection to the mortal coil, and further go to show how obsessed with the nature of death he has become.  

The film itself is another beast apart from Kinki’s presence. Many of the scenes without him tend to drag on, but once the action gets started and the conventional slasher elements kick in, it turns out to be a fun and unpredictable ride. Schmoeller even manages to work in some of the dark humor present in his films The Puppet Master and Netherworld. Crawlspace was of course also brought to you by Charles Band and his pre-Full Moon venture, Empire. So that’ll give you some idea of what we’re dealing with here. This is a difficult star in a movie with the shoestring budget, and while the former enhanced the film, the latter is where it falters badly. 

Little of the diabolical Doctors violent sprees get shown, and while he keeps trophies of his kills, they look no better than what you could buy at the local 5 and Dime. So here we are presented with Kinksi as a psycho, deviant doctor, but in essence we have to take his word for it. I would have loved to see the gore meter set up a notch on this one, and if it had happened, you may well have seen something really classic. 

As it is, Crawlspace is a middle of the road film. If you’re into watching Kinski do his thing, then that’s exactly what you’ll get, and chances are you’ll enjoy. It adds a special layer to the film knowing how difficult Kinski was with I director so I’ll give a paraphrased example. After several days of already strained shooting, David Schmoeller called cut to one of Klaus’ scenes. The actor doubled over and held his head screaming “Cut! Cut! Cut!” over and over again. So the director, trying to keep his star happy, inquires what is wrong to which Kinski replies, “I’ve made over 200 films and every time always directors calling cut, cut, cut!” Schmoller while barely retaining his composure says, “Well, Klaus, what would you prefer I say.” Kinski rose up and looked at his director, “Say nothing, and I will stop when I am finished.” 

Bugg Rating 


  1. I've always wanted to see this. That quote at the end is hilarious. Gotta love Kinski.

  2. I've never seen this one, but I've wanted to. This post definitely has me wanting to see it. Kinski had such a great screen presence. I always enjoyed watching him on the screen. He was always entertaining whether the film he was in was good or not.


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