Karl Gunther (Klaus Kinski) is not a good man. Even before the opening titles, we witness him dispersing of a female victim in violent fashion and then indulging in a round of Russian Roulette with himself. As the barrel he fires against his temple turns out to be empty, he mutters "so be it".

He lives to see another day. Which means he gets to rent his swanky apartment to a new tenant. As we observe, he only lets the place to women. Enter college student Lori (Talia Balsam), who is impressed by a single viewing of the apartment and swiftly moves in.

As Lori settles in and gets acquainted with the other female tenants living in Karl's building over a few tequila milkshakes, he watches them from inside the building's air ducts. This is in-between his private moments where he keeps a diary about how being the son of a Nazi surgeon during the Second World War has twisted his mind - "I'm addicted to killing, it's the only way I can feel alive" - and force-feeding prisoner Martha (Sally Brown) who he keeps caged in his bedroom. As I said, Karl is not a good man.

On the contrary, he likes to alternate his time between spying on his tenants fucking their male guests, infiltrating their apartments randomly with rats and watching archive film reels of Hitler.

Occasionally he'll kill anyone who gets close to discovering his secret pastimes, and enjoying a further round of Russian Roulette after each murder. Into this scenario comes Nazi war criminal hunter Josef (Kenneth Robert Shippy) who believes Karl may have been responsible for his father's death.

When Josef starts snooping around, this raises Lori's suspicions. But Karl is always one step ahead ...

An early film from producer Charles Band's Empire Pictures company, CRAWLSPACE marked the third feature effort of writer-director David Schmoeller (TOURIST TRAP; PUPPETMASTER). With the assistance of Band's support, Schmoeller enlists some fine participants here: Pino Donnagio provides a lively, often melodramatic score; Sergio Salvati adds dimension to almost every scene with his assured, colourful and thoughtfully prepared cinematography.

Of course, the real coup in this production is the casting of Kinski. For a low budget horror filmmaker, it must've been a dream come true to get the star of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and FITZCARRALDO on board. It was, however, a dream that soon turned into a nightmare.

As has been famously documented in the past, Klaus Kinski was not a good man either. He treated people like shit, women were little more than sex slaves to him and directors were often reduced to tears by his reluctance to abide by anything they asked of him. Fair play to Schmoeller though, he stuck to his guns and was determined to get his script made into a film. He tried sacking Kinski but was told by the producers that this wasn't an option: instead, he filmed around the maniac as best as he could and, amazingly, managed to get a pretty cohesive film made out of the performances he could wrestle from Kinski.

It must be said, Kinski is the type of actor who - despite his despicable reputation (or perhaps, in part, because of it?) - was watchable at all times. He's no different here: his performance is compelling, his softly spoken creepiness and sleazy visual undressing of his female co-stars sitting comfortably alongside everything we've been told about his off-screen persona. When he boils over into rage, it's equally difficult to see where the real Klaus ends and the acting begins. Consequently, he's thrilling to observe at all times.

The film itself is a little messy in terms of pace and storyline. This is understandable, given the above conditions that Schmoeller was working under. But, as episodic as it may be in its first half, events do come together to produce a more focused final act. And if nothing else, the film is never, ever dull. Daft, yes. But always entertaining and stylishly shot.

What's more, it has a tenant called Sophie (Tane McClure) who's inexplicably prone to singing terrible ballads at her piano, a weird preoccupation with rats as an object of horror, and some of the most unintentionally amusing scenes of peeping Tom activity ever committed to celluloid. Oh, and Kinski. Let's not forget that it has Klaus Kinski too, driving his director mental and looking super sinister when he adorns mascara in the film's demented latter half.

All of these facets combined make CRAWLSPACE an oddly endearing slice of 80s horror that can't help but stand up to repeated viewings.

Ascot Elite bring CRAWLSPACE to region B blu-ray in an uncut release, presenting the film as an MPEG4-AVC file in full 1080p HD resolution.

Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 TVs, CRAWLSPACE looks great here. Very fine grain is evident while DNR and edge enhancement are kept to a bare minimum. The result is a very organic, authentic looking film with strong detail, vivid colours and solid blacks. If you liked, say, Arrow's transfers for the likes of FRANKENHOOKER and MANIAC COP, you'll also like what you see here.

Audio is provided in choices of English 2.0 and German dubbed 2.0. Both have been given lossless DTS-HD Master Audio mixes, and offer clean and consistent playbacks.

An animated main menu page contains pop-up sub-menus, among which is a scene-selection menu providing access to CRAWLSPACE by way of 12 chapters.

Bonus features are unexpectedly plentiful.

They commence with a 45-minute Making Of documentary which is full of interesting on-set footage, some of which demonstrates what a nightmare Kinski could be to work with.

A 10-minute promotional piece from Empire Pictures is an EPK-style featurette from the late 80s which promotes the film's troubled production as much as the end result.

The film's original 76-second trailer is enjoyable in its sensationalistic 80s approach, as are two TV spots.

"Please Kill Mr Kinski" is Schmoeller's excellent 9-minute short film from 1999. In it, the director talks candidly to the camera about how members of his film crew were so incensed by Kinski's tantrums that they seriously thought about having him assassinated. It's a funny, revealing and shockingly honest appraisal of working with a notoriously difficult actor, and is worth the price of the disc alone.

All of the above are presented in standard definition and with English audio. Optional German subtitles are on hand for all extras.

The disc is defaulted to open with trailers for the MANIAC remake, the David Callum-starring TV series of THE INVISIBLE MAN and A LITTLE BIT ZOMBIE. In addition to these, we also get trailers for William Lustig's original MANIAC, 11-11-11, SPLINTER, SHROOMS, THE PACT, WHEN THE LIGHTS WENT OUT, TIMBER FALLS and DER KREUZMORDER.

This release also comes with a most welcome reversible cover. The alternate cover is a lovely reproduction of the original British release artwork, complete with English text and no trace of the huge ugly German classification notice (FSK 18).

CRAWLSPACE has aged surprisingly well, thanks largely to the manic Kinski's rivetingly barmy performance. This disc from Ascot Elite is a sterling effort.

Highly recommended.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Ascot Elite Home Entertainment
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review