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Kinski, 'Crawlspace' Duck Credibility

September 27, 1986|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

Pity the poor slasher movie director. Faced with a gore glut on the market, he or she has to keep devising newer, more loathsome ways of cutting up actresses and spreading fear and nausea through the world's moviehouses.

And most of the time, as in "Crawlspace" (citywide), after all that toil, the director comes up only with one more reprehensible, sleazy, pointless piece of trash--fit only for the slag heap of slash.

In "Crawlspace" (R) we are introduced--much against our will--to the crazed Karl Gunther (played by Klaus Kinski with bulging eyes and a sibilant hiss). He runs an apartment house for lonely, hot-blooded young starlets, complete with a crawlspace through which he can slither at will and peek through the air vents.

Gunther, son of a Nazi commandant, has apparently developed a taste for murder while administering mass euthanasia at a Buenos Aires hospital. Now he has an attic--complete with his own concentration camp victim, Nazi war documentaries and a diary in which he scribbles philosophical ruminations on the addiction and exaltation of murder. When not thus occupied, he plays Russian roulette, snakes around the crawlspace, bangs on the vents to torment his tenants, plays with rats, kills passers-by and sticks their eyes into jars of formaldehyde.

Naturally, there's a damsel in distress, Talia Balsam as Lori Bancroft. And, naturally, she becomes the prime target for this heinous, crawling fiend. (Talk about horror: When Gunther takes off after Lori, we know she can't possibly get away. This is an Empire Picture shot entirely at a Rome studio, and there are no exteriors!)

Writer-director David Schmoeller's story construction is so inept that the movie seems to begin during the middle. (Afterward, you could scramble the reels with no loss of impact.) Schmoeller is also, like many another slasher specialist, a cinematic kleptomaniac--scenes from other movies (even "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid") keep appearing and disappearing crazily. Other than Kinski--who projects such inner tension that you wonder if he's trying to suppress laughter--and the sharp cinematography of Sergio Salvati, this movie has nothing worth praising even with a faint damn. You could probably spend a better 90 minutes crawling through steam tunnels.

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