The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Was there ever an actor better suited for horror films than the late Klaus Kinski? He had an undeniably fierce intensity, but he also just physically looked deranged. Although Kinski starred in important films from notable directors like Werner Herzog, Sergio Leoni, and David Lean, his later career found him appearing in low-budget genre fare like Crawlspace, now on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory. His bizarre nature served horror well, in part because it wasn't a stretch to buy him as a lunatic.

Written and directed by David Schmoeller, Crawlspace stars Kinski as Mr. Gunther, the owner/landlord of an apartment building. He rents only to young women, and spies on them from the crawlspaces above the ceilings and between the walls. The place is also jerry-rigged with various gizmos of torture. (The film is, in its own way, a precursor to the Saw franchise.) He even keeps a woman caged in his attic, her tongue having been surgically removed. Gunther's newest tenant is Lori Bancroft (Talia Balsam). She meets with a mysterious man named Josef Steiner (Kenneth Robert Shippy) who has a personal grudge against Gunther and may be interested in exposing his possible connection to Nazi Germany. This sends the evil landlord on a murderous rampage. Lori has to try to escape from his house of tortures.

Kinski was famously hated by directors and co-stars, and his repeated defiance of Schmoeller is well-documented (more on that in a minute). For this reason, it's difficult to say how much of the director's true vision ended up on screen. Crawlspace is kind of a mess, albeit a thoroughly fascinating one. The idea of a madman prowling the walls of a building is creepy, and the movie has multiple shocking scenes, most notably one in which a character sits on a chair armed with a spike that, when triggered, shoots straight up his bum. At the same time, the depiction of many of the secondary characters is almost comical. The Nazi element also seems a little perfunctory; that's such a weighty topic to throw into a genre movie of this sort unless it's going to be dealt with meaningfully. Even if it doesn't completely gel, Crawlspace is compulsively watchable. Kinski brings the creep in a big, big way, and the movie has a raw, unhinged vibe that doubtlessly contributes to its ongoing status as a cult film.

Scream Factory's Blu-Ray transfer looks terrific. The company is known for its truly special supplementary material, and Crawlspace has some gems. There's audio commentary from Schmoeller, who offers up interesting stories about working with Kinski. Also here is his infamous short film Please Kill Mr. Kinski, in which, speaking directly to the camera, he discusses the experience of making Crawlspace with the legendarily temperamental actor. The title refers to the fact that multiple crew members, including the Italian producer, actively campaigned to have the star murdered, so frustrated were they by his refusal to cooperate. Also on the Blu is “Tales from the Crawlspace,” an 8-minute interview with makeup effects artist John Vulich, who offers up a hilarious – and quite possibly accurate - description of Kinski as “certifiably insane” but “allowed to live as a normal person” because he wasn't actually killing anyone. The theatrical trailer and two TV spots are also included.

Crawlspace is a unique and unusual film, one that merits viewing by horror fans for its offbeat tone and hypnotic central performance. For more information on this release, please visit the Scream Factory website.

Crawlspace is rated R for graphic violence, sex/nudity, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes.

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