CRAWLSPACE (1986) (Blu-ray)
Director: David Schmoeller
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

Another film with yet another creepy starring role by everyone’s favorite cantankerous European character actor -- Klaus Kinski -- CRAWLSPACE, a 1986 release from Charles Band's Empire Pictures, gets the Blu-ray treatment courtesy of Shout! Factory’s Scream Factory line of genre pictures.

Karl Gunther (Klaus Kinski, SLAUGHTER HOTEL) owns and operates an apartment building (in what seems to be America), only renting rooms to young women, and refusing any male tenants. But Karl is a complex being, the son of a Nazi surgeon who got the murder bug as young physician and following in dad’s footsteps. In the attic are a number of torture contraptions which he created, as well as a mute woman (Sally Brown) who he keeps in a tiny cage like some horror out of a concentration camp (she passes notes to him, requesting that he kill her). It is there that he writes in a diary about his continuing obsession with and need to kill. In his kitchen, he ritualistically plays Russian roulette with the outcome determining whether or not he continue his rampage (he ends the game concluding “So be it” out loud). With a house full of mostly bimbos with big 1980s hair, he has the place equipped with secret passageways and kinky murder devices, and at night he lurks through the roomy air ducts as a voyeur who studies the girls' actions and makes strange tapping noises (which he blames on the rats he lets loose on a frequent basis), eventually killing the ladies in nasty ways. His latest tenant, the mousy student Lori (Talia Balsam, daughter of Martin) is soon to discover his dark secret, but hopefully she won't fall into one of his many death traps.

Like John Carradine and Cameron Mitchell, Kinski made a lot of movies, and a lot of trash, and CRAWLSPACE certainly is on the trashier side. Shot at the Empire Studios in Rome, it at times has a European feel to it, but the a number of camera styles seemingly inspired by then-popular MTV music videos assures us that its an American production. Director David Schmoeller (TOURIST TRAP, THE SEDUCTION) does manage to build suspense and a sense of uneasiness throughout, and the score by Pino Donaggio redeems the film somewhat. Even though it might have inadvertently been a precursor to the “torture porn” horror flicks of recent years, CRAWLSPACE would have likely been forgotten if it wasn’t for Kinski. With a well-developed character at hand, the actor is in rare form here, ripping apart rats, tearing tongues out, projecting old Nazi film reels, applying women’s eye and lip make-up to himself, donning Nazi regalia, and just being a general, voyeuristic nutcase. There's a cartoonish chain-smoking Nazi hunter (played by Kenneth Robert Shippy) who wouldn't be convincing in even the worst 1980s sitcom, and John Buechler supervised the gore effects which are mostly the aftermaths of torturous deaths. Tane McClure (daughter of the late B-movie hero Doug McClure here billed simply as “Tané”) here plays the sexiest of the film’s apartment tenants, an aspiring singer who creates kinky bedroom scenarios with her aggressive boyfriend (David Abbott, THE KARATE KID).

Running just around 80 minutes, CRAWLSPACE was first available on DVD as part of MGM’s “Midnight Movies” series, and due to its title, paired with THE ATTIC, with that disc now being long out of print. Scream Factory’s uses MGM’s newer HD transfer for the Blu-ray, and the visual results are splendid. The film has been presented in 1080p in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Detail is excellent, colors are nicely saturated and there’s no excessive print damage or speckling, so there’s nothing to complain about. The DTS Master Audio 2.0 mono mix is suitably bold. No subtitle options are included.

Writer/director Schmoeller goes solo for an audio commentary, mentioning that he originally wrote the screenplay to center around a Vietnam War vet, but that the producers wanted something different, and hence it deals with the crazed son of a Nazi. He goes on to give a lot of background info on the film, his association with executive producer Band and the Italian producer Roberto Messi, his cameo in the film and of course, tales of the un-agreeable and eccentric Kinski, who apparently had the cast and crew traumatized. “Please Kill Mr. Kinski” is a nine-minute featurette originally shot in 1999. It has Schmoeller talking to the camera from his desk in an amusing delivery style, as he tells of the enormous trouble Kinski was on the set (“I needed the bastard to finish my movie”, he exclaims) and that he was almost fired and it was even suggested by the production he be killed for the insurance money! Kinski fans take note: there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes footage to prove the actor’s erratic behavior and in foul-mouthed fashion, affirming his detest for directors. Schmoeller does conclude things by stating that the actor was “great to watch” as a screen persona. “Tales from the Crawlspace with John Vulich” (8:33) is a new HD featurette, with the effects man describing being a 21-year-old working on location in Italy, and of course meeting Kinski. His recollections about working with the notorious actor are much different than the director (though he was interacting with him on a different level), saying that he had charisma and a crazy energy about him. He describes his effects work on the film as a memorable experience. Rounding out the extras are the original theatrical trailer and two TV spots. (George R. Reis)