A tenant of this apartment building which only houses young women is seeking her landlord, the elusive Mr Gunther (Klaus Kinski). She creeps around the hallway, calling out for him yet receiving no response, then climbs the stairs towards his own rooms. Still no reply is heard, so she walks inside to see the full horror of Gunther's lair, where he has a tongueless woman (Sally Brown) kept in a cage, though before she can take a good look at her surroundings one of his traps is set off and the tenant is impaled on a large spike, killing her. Every night Gunther goads the universe into stopping him with Russian Roulette...
And every night he believes it allows him to go on acting horrendously with a murmured "So be it!". Of course, watching Klaus Kinski play his usual villains these days has a lot of uncomfortable associations if what his daughters say about him is true: as if hiding in plain sight as a sexual deviant, he had written much of his derangement down in his autobiography, but had received little but indulgent bemusement from his fans who saw his jottings as evidence of his madness, but not something to be taken seriously. If knowing what we know now put you off ever watching one of his movies again, that would be quite understandable.
However, he is a cult actor for a reason, and there was no denying his strange magnetism as a performer. For many, knowing that they were watching a man who by all rights should have been classified as a psychopath with an unpredictable and volcanic temper to match lent his performances an edge that just wasn't there in seeing other, more accomplished and far saner actors, and so it was in Crawlspace, a Charles Band production in Italy and one of Kinski's last works before his death where you couldn't help but try and compare the mentally wretched character he played with the dubious personality behind the portrayal: how much of this was actually acting, and how much was the real person showing through?
Here Kinski essayed the role of a crazed pervert (typecasting?) who only lets out his apartments to attractive young women, all the better for him to spy on them from within the walls, the "crawlspace" of the title. He doesn't stop there, as he has a tendency to bump them off too, though not before persecuting them with rats which he looses into their rooms, and also devises methods of murdering people with overcomplicated contraptions such as a chair with a hidden spike in it to spear the sitter. As if that were not bad enough, his late father was a Nazi war criminal who Gunther wants to better as an equally nutzoid surgeon, and he likes to run newsreels of the Nazis for a diversion from his depraved schemes.
This could have been eighty minutes of Klaus acting thusly, but there was a heroine who almost perfunctorily acts as Gunther's would-be nemesis, as if writer and director David Schmoeller kept having to be reminded that there had to be some heroic character to counter the bad guy's antics. She was Lori (Talia Balsam), a plucky type who nevertheless couldn't eclipse the sleaze that the rest of the film wallowed in, this is spite of it looking like a fairly glossy TV movie of the day, only with, you know, torture devices, severed body parts, psycho voyeurism so forth. As it is, Crawlspace doesn't have an abundance of fans, but those who appreciate its warped qualities are likely responding to the manner in which it blithely went to places most horror movies hadn't bothered with since the seventies, with more than a nod to the self-consciously extreme shockers of coming decades. Really it was too stupid to be offensive, and that camp value might have diminished with Kinski the star, but it was present. Music by Pino Donaggio.