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Crawlspace (Blu-ray)

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Crawlspace (Blu-ray)Starring Klaus Kinski, Talia Balsam, Barbara Whinnery, Carole Francis, Tane McClure

Directed by David Schmoeller

Distributed by The Scream Factory


Crawlspace (1986), one of the last films in raving-mad actor Klaus Kinski’s storied career, is less popular for its content and mostly infamous for producing one of Hollywood’s great tales so outrageous you’d swear it was apocryphal gossip. David Schmoeller, writer and director on the picture, was a defeated man. Kinski had gotten the best of him by continually rebuking his authority on set, telling the director how he should be doing his job, and generally making life for all the other crew members a living hell. When Schmoeller told the film’s Italian producer his woes, the next day the producer came back with a simple plan: kill Klaus. And he was serious. He wanted to have Kinski killed, collect the insurance money, and replace him with a more genial actor. As much as Schmoeller wanted this, he advised the head of the studio about the producer’s plan and eventually nothing came of it. But for a brief moment in time, serious consideration was given to intentionally offing a major international star because he was a boil on the ass of all those around him. I sometimes wonder how Kinski would have reacted had he known, though based on some of the tales from Herzog’s sets I doubt he’d had so much as bat an eye at what he would have considered an idle threat. So, while time hasn’t exactly remembered Crawlspace too fondly, it has continued the dissemination of one of Klaus’ most memorable legends.

As a film, just about everything feels like a letdown. Ironically, the one person the production wanted to get rid of is the only one keeping the ship afloat: Kinski. The story follows the exploits of Karl Gunther, the son of a Nazi surgeon, who runs an apartment building which seems to rent exclusively to good looking women. Karl has a custom-built crawlspace located in the air duct system, one which allows him to spy on every tenant in the building. He also has a tongue-less, caged woman held captive in his office because otherwise he’d “have nobody to talk to.” Karl is a very demented man. A new tenant moves into a vacant apartment, giving Karl one more woman to torment. He has little regard for human life, his own included. Each time he kills someone, he plays a game of Russian Roulette – using a bullet with his own name on it – and every time his life isn’t taken he says “So be it” while also becoming more convinced of his status as a god among men. But like any good cinematic psychopath, Karl can’t keep his charade up for too long before he goes completely off the deep end, forcing new tenant Lori (Talia Balsam) into a showdown against a madman.

This is a film that, on paper, looks like it should kill. Directed by Schmoeller, who helmed the woefully underrated Tourist Trap (1979), the film also features a score from Pino Donaggio, effects work from John Carl Buechler’s studio during its prime, cinematography by frequent Fulci collaborator Sergio Salvati, and starring the Mad German himself, Klaus Kinski. How can it go wrong? For one thing, despite being made right in the thick of 1980’s horror excess there is a total dearth of on-screen action. Nearly every single kill happens off-screen, with only minimal effects work being used for a series of smaller, forgettable gags. Not only is there no satisfaction when we get to the requisite heroine-runs-into-every-dead-body gag during the climax, but it immediately begs the question “How the hell did Klaus murder all of these people in a couple of hours?” The opening murder looked to have been setting the stage for a multitude of nasty, Jigsaw-style kills thanks to Gunther’s interest in making homemade murder devices, but unfortunately it’s one of the few kills we get to actually witness. The film does get major points for realizing the infamous Metallica slogan “Metal Up Your Ass” with sphincter-clenching results. Ouch.

This film lives and dies based on Kinski’s performance, period. Sure, it doesn’t hurt that Tane McClure is one gorgeous talented slice of ‘80s rack action. Nor is it a problem that legendary character actor Martin Balsam’s daughter, Talia, is incredibly adorable in a bookish sort of way. Or that all of the other tenants are attractive to varying degrees. These things are welcomed and expected in a horror film circa 1986. But there has to be someone anchoring the picture, and that all comes down to Kinski. He’s a veritable loon in the most charismatic way possible. Gunther has so many disturbing facets that you’ll feel like the film only began to scratch the surface of his capabilities. This is a guy who applies mascara and lipstick to himself, smears it across his face, then puts on a Nazi cap and salutes himself while SS propaganda films play at a high decibel level projected on the wall of his office. It’s like the filmmakers distilled every evil thing you could imagine a Nazi doing, added to the depravity, and then made it flesh via Karl Gunther. Kinski may have been the ultimate terror to work for, but, man, could that guy still deliver an unsettling performance. Similar to his character, the man did things on his own terms, every single time, and his lore in Hollywood will be infamously retold for… ever, probably.

Crawlspace had previously been available thanks to MGM’s defunct Midnight Movies line, paired up as a double feature with The Attic (1980). Now, Scream Factory has delivered it to blu-ray with a solid presentation alongside some worthwhile extras. The picture here is quite nice, with a healthy layer of grain adding to the filmic appearance. Black levels are surprisingly rich and deep, rarely getting hazy or gray. While detail on the whole is above average, finer details and background elements remain unspectacular. There is an abundance of color seen throughout each apartment, allowing for a broad palette with many bold, strong shades faithfully reproduced in high definition. The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track is a bit on the weak side, though. Pino Donaggio’s score is adept at balancing tension and levity, ratcheting up the intensity as Gunther stalks his many victims. I wish there’d been a memorable theme for the film, but Donaggio’s work is always exemplary even when it’s not among his best. The track itself is a bit thin, though dialogue is never difficult to discern or anything. The soundfield is a little confined in 2.0, but I don’t think a multi-channel modernization would do much to aid it. As a low-budget international production, it sounds about as expected.

As usual, Scream Factory makes the most of the supplemental department, providing a few choice features to cover all the bases. An audio commentary with writer/director David Schmoeller kicks things off. He got the gig after producer Charles Band had built an apartment set in Rome and wanted to use it for another film (keen-eyed fans may notice it’s the same building from 1986’s Troll), so Schmoeller whipped up a script and went to Italy. He speaks about Kinski’s difficulties on set, too, though it doesn’t dominate the conversation. His voice sounds a bit shaky at times, but he’s got plenty to say and rarely leaves a gap. “Interview with Makeup-Effects Artist John Vulich” is an eight-minute conversation with one of the guys who worked on Buechler’s crew. His experience was different from Schmoeller, being a young single guy who gets to work in Italy for a few months making horror movies and applying makeup to a (mostly) nice Klaus Kinski. He also explains how he did some of the film’s effects. The real gem included here is a short film, written/directed/edited/etc. by Schmoeller, called Please Kill Mr. Kinski (1999), wherein the director candidly recounts the details of the aforementioned story about Kinski almost meeting an early demise due to his difficulties on set. It’s been available to see online for years now, but it’s awesome that Scream Factory included it here since it’s really part-and-parcel with the feature. You have to watch one before or after seeing the other. The disc’s extras are rounded out with a selection of TV spots and the film’s theatrical trailer. And, unlike most other non-Collector’s Edition Scream Factory releases, this does include reversible cover art, though the art displayed is superior.

Less interesting than the stories surrounding it, Crawlspace is nonetheless a unique horror entry, if nothing else. The peeping tom plot isn’t anything original; the reason to watch is for Klaus Kinski’s absolutely stark-raving performance as the psychopath son of a Nazi doctor. It’s a shame the film didn’t feature a few more gore gags as outrageous as the main antagonist, especially since Buechler did so much nasty work in the mid-80s. I really suggest watching Please Kill Mr. Kinski first; it spoils nothing but you will view the film from a slightly skewed perspective knowing that everyone working behind the camera was quaking either in fear or anger at the torturous days Kinski put them through.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary with writer/director David Schmoeller
  • Interview with Makeup-Effects Artist John Vulich
  • Please Kill Mr. Kinski short film
  • Theatrical trailer/TV spots
  • Reversible cover art

    Film:

    3 out of 5

    Special Features:

    3 out of 5

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    Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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    Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

    Directed by Charles Martin Smith


    I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

    Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

    Now let’s get to it.

    First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

    Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

    I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

    Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

    It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

    And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

    Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

    This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

    And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

    Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

    In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

    That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

    Rockstar lighting for days.

    Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

    Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

    More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

    Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

    Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

    All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

    Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

    • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
    3.5

    Summary

    Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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    User Rating 3.62 (21 votes)
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    AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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    Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

    Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


    ** NO SPOILERS **

    It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

    Spoiler free.

    To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

    That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

    Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

    Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

    Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

    Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

    But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

    But let’s backtrack a bit here.

    Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

    And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

    Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

    With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

    Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

    I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

    Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

    Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

    Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

    On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

    That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

    In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

    While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

    Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

    Bring on season 12.

    • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
    3.5

    Summary

    The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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    User Rating 4.14 (22 votes)
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    The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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    Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

    Directed by Nicholas Woods


    The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

    The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

    The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

    The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

    The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

    The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

    ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

    • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
    • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
    • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
    • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
    • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
    • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
    • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
    • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
    • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
    • The Axiom
    4.0

    Summary

    In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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    User Rating 3.95 (20 votes)
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