Mini-Review: Crawlspace (1986)

Starring Klaus Kinski, Talia Balsam, Barbara Whinnery, Carole Francis, Tane McClure, Sally Brown, Jack Heller, David Abbott, Kenneth Robert Shippy

Directed by David Schmoeller

Expectations: It looks like it has potential, but I’m not expecting much.


To say that Crawlspace is a weird movie is an understatement. Instead of creating characters you love and then slowly killing them off as most horror films do, Crawlspace focuses its attention almost entirely on the murderer played by Klaus Kinski. Don’t worry about spoilers, the first scene lets you in on his dirty little secret. By focusing on Kinski, I get the feeling that I’m supposed to identify with him and that later in the film he might perform some redemptive act with his dying breath. Thankfully, Crawlspace isn’t nearly so predictable and Kinski is all evil, fulfilling the premise of following his character to the bitter end.

Beyond Kinski crawling around the giant ventilation system of his apartment building spying on/killing people, there’s not much of a plot in Crawlspace. This makes the film pretty hard to enjoy and be interested in. If the FX moments were more plentiful than I could forgive the lacking plot, but there’s not nearly enough for this. In addition to being rather bare in the story department, the fact that Kinski is an ex-Nazi continuing his deranged work and fulfilling his sick desires comes off as clichéd and obvious. Of course he is, because every wild-eyed film German since WWII has been. Nazis are the ultimate on-screen villains, but they need some innovation or variation once in a while to keep it interesting. Perhaps Crawlspace was an innovator in the “crazy German who fled the war crimes rap to become a serial murderer in America” genre at the time, but if so, its magic doesn’t hold up.

With that all said, Kinski is easily the most interesting actor and character, so it only makes sense to focus on him. No one else in the film is really given anything to work with. This really hurts the film in the end, as during its climax the viewer doesn’t care about the fate of the girl in any way other than a gut primal instinct. Crawlspace is similar to an empty coloring book in this way. If I colored in her character in my head the scenes could have had an emotional impact, but without that extra work on my part the scenes are but outlines of their potential. Visually, the chase through the crawlspace was pretty awesome though, I gotta say. Technically the film is shot very well and it definitely has some great moments of terror and thrills, but overall it’s kind of boring and lacking in a lot areas.

Next week, I take on Full Moon’s sci-fi western flick from 1994, Oblivion!

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