With a one-line premise requiring very little back story, Crawlspace provides actor Klaus Kinski with the opportunity to create what may be the goofiest creep in slasher cinema. The rest of the film, with the exception of some of the lighting and set pieces, can’t keep up with Kinski’s manic glee.
Kinski plays Karl Gunther, a landlord with a penchant for spying on and murdering his attractive female tenants. Gunther’s father was a Nazi, and now that he is grown, Karl kills to reconcile his intense shame with his overriding hatred of humanity. The women in his building die by the numbers as Gunther kills his way to the final girl.
Crawlspace would be completely unremarkable without Kinski, who lets his performance careen off the rails in his first scene and never looks back. No actor has ever looked as lewdly menacing spying on a half naked woman. Whether punishing himself by holding his hand over a gas stove or putting on makeup to go with his father’s Nazi uniform, Kinski’s intensity for the role doesn’t waver. He turns a ridiculous character in a laughable movie into a frightening, sadistic imp that somehow inspires actual chills.
Beyond Kinski, the rest of the performances never establish themselves outside of genre clichés. Partially redeemed by a few stylish kills, including a climactic chase scene through ductwork that has to be seen to be believed, Crawlspace is a short, brutish genre film with one terrifying performance that defies description.