Crawlspace (1986)

Dr. Karl Gunther (Klaus Kinski) has retired from his post as head resident at National Hospital in Argentina, and is now running an apartment building that rents exclusively to young women. Unknown to them, he is also watching them through the air vents.

As it turns out, Dr. Gunther is the son of a Nazi war criminal, and he spent a good amount of his practice euthanizing his patience, whether they needed it or not. Turns out he liked it, and has tricked out the apartment complex to torment his tenants in preparation for their eventual murder.

Our story begins as a current tenant stumbles on to the good doctor's secret lair, complete with a tongueless woman named Martha (Sally Brown) locked in a cage and treated as a pet. She is quickly dispatched by a metal spear rigged into the ceiling.

We are then introduced to the other tenants. Sophie (Tané Cain) is a soap opera actress who sings horrible piano ballads, cuts holes in her bra and acts out rape fantasies with her boyfriend. Jessica (Carole Francis) spends most of her time trying to get a rich boyfriend, while Harriet (Barbara Whinnery) spends a lot of time eating. They are joined by a new tenant, college student Lori Bancroft (Talia Balsam), who becomes Dr. Gunther's latest obsession.

Not all is blood and roses for Dr. Gunther, however. Josef Steiner (Kenneth Robert Shippey), the brother of the last person killed in Argentina, has found him after a three-year search with the goal of bringing the doctor to justice.

In some ways the film is effective, mostly when Kinski is left alone to do his thing. The women, except for Talia Balsam and Sally Brown, are little more than annoying fodder, as are their boyfriends. I was more upset when the cat bought it than I was seeing their bodies littered throughout the complex.

Another problem is that I can't help thinking the apartment set is the same one from another Charles Band production, Troll. That one was also filmed in Italy at Empire Studios with a largely Italian crew. Crawlspace is definitely the better of the two, since it is able to concentrate more on a realistic situation than rubber monsters.

As for the level of gore, it is rather tame for its subject matter. The killing at the beginning is the most graphic, although Steiner's death (think an old Metallica t-shirt, only a chair instead of a toilet) is probably the one that will make most people squeamish. For the most part the deaths take place off screen. This leaves the film relying heavily on atmosphere, with almost no exterior shots throughout the movie. This would have worked better if I didn't expect the Troll Song to start up at any moment.

This film is not horrible, but it had much more potential and, like most things Charles Band has touched, manages to fall way too short.

Crawlspace (1986)
Time: 78 minutes
Starring: Klaus Kinski, Talia Balsam, Sally Brown
Director: David Schmoeller

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