Renter Beware! Psychotic landlord Karl Gunter wants to charge you an arm and a leg for the privilege of tenancy! Spying on his female renters from an elaborate network of crawlspaces, Gunther lures new victims into his torture chamber with an incessant "tap, tap, tap!" Can a new prospective renter stop this apartment building's rapid turnover rate... or will Gunther continue to make a killing?!?
In 'Crawlspace,' Klaus Kinski, one of the finest character actors to grace the screen, plays über-creepy and eerily unsettling Karl Guenther, a landlord to a small apartment building that only seems to rent to young, attractive women. His unique and strikingly distinct face alone can send shivers down the spine — a compelling and rather mesmerizing profile with large bulging eyes, a tough square jaw, very high cheek bones, and a slightly crooked, pointed nose. But Mr. Kinski brings with that his amazing talent for acting, especially when he puts those exceptional facial features to good use. And in David Schmoeller's low-budget horror thriller, the German-born actor gives one of his most hair-raising performances.
As Mr. Guenther, Kinski acts the old, weird, sleazy building manager whose eyes ogle and practically salivate at the sight of his young female tenants, and who rudely slams the door at men inquiring about apartments for rent. When Lori Bancroft (Talia Balsam), who immediately strikes us as the story's eventual heroine, shows up asking about the same apartment, Kinski's demeanor and hospitality instantly changes. A cheerful, kindly Guenther is like a used-car salesman — incredibly friendly selling the best features but craftily forgetting to mention the various faults and drawbacks. And in this building, the major downside is a manager that intentionally burns his hand on the stove and spies on his tenants from the AC vent.
Right from the start, audiences are made aware of this man's disturbing habits during his off-hours when a former renter walks into the attic and discovers a tongue-less woman (Sally Brown) in a cage. There is no mystery or masked killer in this plot written by Schmoeller ('Tourist Trap,' 'Puppet Master'). Guenther is completely bonkers and devilishly twisted, the lunatic son of a Nazi doctor who now performs his own sadistic experiments on people and invents odd, complicated contraptions throughout the building. In his downtime, he watches Nazi propaganda films while dressed in uniform and wearing makeup. Funny as that sounds, it's also rather creepy, which is thanks to Kinski's performance.
In fact, the whole movie ultimately hinges on the success of Kinski's portrayal, because the story itself is only mildly interesting. Of course, there's Balsam's character as well, and her role is equally important, as she becomes Guenther's obsession. Kinski is already great playing a vile evil sociopath with furious anger raging in his eyes, especially when the mysterious Josef Steiner (Kenneth Robert Shippy) arrives dredging up the past, but every time Balsam's Lori is nearby, his face softens with delight. However, in Kinski's genius, he can't hide the creepy factor. His smile, as friendly and animated as it may at first appear, is actually pretty fiendish, as if failing to disguise a darker, sinister intent. It's as if Guenther imagines what he'd do to Lori while she politely asks about the rat infestation.
Though he doesn't do anything particularly interesting or impressive, Schmoeller nonetheless does reasonably well behind the camera, getting some good performances from his two leads. Still, he fails to make 'Crawlspace' into something truly unique and frightening, outside of Kinski's terrific portrayal of a former-Nazi lunatic. Except for a couple nice twists and turns in the final third act, the movie lacks suspense or any sense of apprehension. Holding the production together and making it the least bit worthwhile is ultimately the wonderful Klaus Kinski doing his creepiest best. He's a sick and twisted voyeur who loves to be watched, and he sure puts on a great show for everyone.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'Crawlspace' to Blu-ray under the distributor's Scream Factory line. The Region A locked, BD25 disc is housed inside the normal blue case. At startup, the disc goes to a generic menu with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
'Crawlspace' creepily spies on Blu-ray with a very good and satisfying 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, a marked improvement over the previous double-feature DVD from a few years back. Resolution and definition are often striking with fine, sharp detailing in the architecture and furniture. Close-ups of Klaus Kinski are highly revealing, exposing every wrinkle and pore with excellent texture and clarity. Of course, the source does tend to show its age in a few spots, looking a tad soft in couple scenes. The 1.85:1 image shows the occasional white speck, but they're so tiny and minuscule that they're also easy to miss. At the 25-min mark, an ugly brown vertical line appears for a few seconds and then disappears.
The rest of the picture displays bright, vivid colors throughout with richly saturated primaries and cleanly rendered secondary hues which have flesh tones appearing healthy. Contrast is spot-on with excellent visibility of background information and brilliant whites. Blacks are also true and accurate with strong shadow delineation and gradations.
Although the cult horror gem arrives with a track that's true to the original design, the DTS-HD Master Audio mono soundtrack overall feels average and fails to truly engage the listener. The issue is likely related to the source than the quality of the codec. Overall, it's not entirely bad, as the mid-range is mostly clean with strong clarity. Only, it's not very extensive, largely feeling uniform and flat, though strangely, the low-end decently palpable and weighty. The whole presentation is narrow and squeezed to the center of the soundstage where bits of noise and hissing can be plainly heard. Except for one or two whispered moments where words are somewhat difficult to make out, vocals are generally clear and intelligible. In the end, it gets the job done but also doesn't offer much to enjoy.
From writer and director David Schmoeller, 'Crawlspace' tells the bizarre tale of a former Nazi youth turned lunatic apartment manager. The whole movie would be forgettable horror thriller if not for the awesome creepy performance of Klaus Kinski as the crazed Karl Guenther. The Blu-ray arrives with a great video presentation but average lossless audio. Supplements are also small yet mildly interesting for loyal fans, making the overall package a nice addition for those already familiar with the movie.