Karl Guenther (Klaus Kinski) is the son of a Nazi doctor who runs an apartment house full of women. When he’s not spying on the ladies from the ventilation ducts, Karl builds death traps and puts rats in their rooms. Karl is addicted to killing and bares his soul to a woman he keeps in a cage. He knows she won’t reveal his murderous secrets because he cut out her tongue.
Crawlspace works well as a slasher. There’s a decent body count, bits of human anatomy kept in medical jars, and a little kinky sex for the guys in the audience. The death traps are creative but most of the cast is weak. None of this really matters. Klaus Kinski’s performance is the real reason to watch Crawlspace.
By this point in his career, Kinski had stopped playing characters and started playing himself for every role. Kinski would also “help” his directors finish films by telling them the right way scenes should be shot. I won’t go into detail about Kinski’s behavior towards his female co-stars, but I’m sure most of them are still seeing a therapist every week to help them forget.
The making of Crawlspace was such a troubled production that director David Schmoeller made a documentary short called Please Kill Mr. Kinski! An Italian producer decided Kinski wasn’t worth the trouble, better to kill him for the insurance money. Schmoeller objected to this plan, he needed Kinski alive to complete Crawlspace. By the end of shooting, the cast and crew were begging to kill Kinski.
It’s difficult to watch Crawlspace as just another slasher. The presence of Klaus Kinski makes the story pointless. Kinski is the story. There are no other actors in the cast, just puppets for Kinski to play with. Schmoeller’s contribution to the script and directing is of little value. The only man who could direct Klaus Kinski is Klaus Kinski.