Judge Christopher Kulik never wants to live in a house with its own crawlspace, fearing that some '70s druggie may want to find refuge there.
They wanted a son…he gave them a nightmare!
Not to be confused with the 1986 film of the same name starring Klaus Kinski, Crawlspace is one of those made-for-TV movies from the early 1970s. Wild Eye Releasing is a brand new company dedicated to releasing horror films that have been forgotten, yet have somehow attained small cult followings. Along with Crawlspace, they released one other film as part of their "TV Movie Terror Collection," and that would be The Devil's Daughter, which was reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas last month. Before I get to the plot, I would like to quote Judge Thomas in his review of the The Devil's Daughter: "It's not particularly bad, but it's not particularly good, either. Its strongest asset is that the brisk 73-minute runtime prevents you from thinking too much about the plot. Back in the day, though, I suspect that more than a few viewers gave up on the movie during the commercial break." Well said, Jim, as that could apply also to Crawlspace, with the small exception that it's one minute longer.
Alice and Albert Graves, a middle-aged couple living in semi-retirement in woodsy Connecticut, meet a vacationing young man named Richard Atlec. After doing some work in the Graves' basement, Alice offers Richard to stay for dinner, which he kindly accepts. The next day, expecting for Richard to return to finish his work, the Graves are informed that Richard just quit without notice, not even taking his pay. As it turns out, the Graves discover Richard living in the crawlspace of their house. What should they do? Call the cops? Nah, that might lead to a violent retaliation. Instead, the Graves come to an agreement to let Richard stay until he eventually gets back on his feet.
Albert tries talking to him, but Richard doesn't answer. The weeks turn into months and at Christmas, Albert brings Richard a suit to wear to a special dinner that Alice is making. Richard actually makes an appearance, and soon he starts to feel comfortable with the Graves, even doing some housework for them. However, Richard as a shadowy past that the Graves are not aware about, and it may involved drugs and violence. When Albert sends Richard to get some supplies from the local market, Richard is ignored and later claims that the clerk stole his money. That night, the market is ransacked, and obviously the local sheriff believes it is Richard who is responsible. Naturally, chaos ensues.
While I found Crawlspace utterly predictable and occasionally cheesy (mostly due to the nonexistent production values), it actually comes across as a fair thriller, with decent acting and an eerie score by a young Jerry Goldsmith. This film debuted four years before Goldsmith received his Oscar for The Omen, and even if Crawlspace is not much more than a low-budget TV film, Goldsmith still manages to submit a highly effective score, even if it is much more than the film actually deserves. As a matter of fact, it is the best thing about the film, along with the performances of its lead veterans.
Playing Albert Graves is Arthur Kennedy, a 5-time Oscar nominee who had a fifty year career in television and films, including Peyton Place and Fantastic Voyage. You understand his reasoning behind not contacting the police initially, and that he is only interesting in helping him, even if Richard remains quiet. Matching him as Alice is Teresa Wright, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Mrs. Miniver and is also well-remembered for her role in The Best Years of Our Lives. Wright had a long, illustrious career as well, and her last role proved to be one of her best, in Frances Ford Coppola's The Rainmaker, based on the John Grisham novel. While it seems sad that both of these fine actors got reduced to TV films like these, they still offer respectable performances.
The pivotal role of Richard is played by Tom Happer (Dark Shadows) and while his character's motivations (and background) are muddy and misguided, he still comes off as not bad. While some people don't really care about explanations for someone's erratic behavior, the film seems to tease the audience by suggesting that Richard is intelligent (due to excellent memorization skills), yet he seems also antisocial and unaccepted, but the film never explains why. Granted, you can only put in so much with a 74-minute runtime, though I was hoping for just a bit more insight into what makes Richard tick. Why the hell does he insist upon staying in the Graves' crawlspace like a spider even after he gets to know them? If he is new in town, then why is he treated like crap at the market?
That is ultimately Crawlspace's biggest problem: dangling plot threads and incomprehensible story turns. I just couldn't stop asking questions to many things that proliferate throughout the film. Why does Richard destroy Alice's sewing contraption? Why does he insist on staying in town if he is obviously not welcome? Perhaps the novel by Herbert Lieberman that the film is based on would be able to answer some of these and other questions. It's also possible that the script by Ernest Kinoy (who also wrote Roots) was condensed to fit into a limited TV slot because of budget reasons. Either way, the story had creepy potential, though is ultimately unacceptable because of all the inconsistencies. On the plus side, John Newland's (Don't Be Afraid of the Dark) direction is good, but it still doesn't make up for the script's problems.
As with The Devil's Daughter, Wild Eye Releasing presents Crawlspace with an inferior, horrid print that has so many problems in terms of color and scratches that listing everything wrong would take a lifetime. Endless discoloration, terrible saturation, scratches galore, cigarette burns…you name it, its here. Even though you can hear the dialogue alright, the audio has more cracks and pops than a bowl of Rice Krispies with milk. Then again, those who love this film probably won't care because it's a miracle it ever arrived on DVD. There are no subtitles, audio options, or previews. No special features period (unless you want to count chapter stops), at least on the back of the DVD they offer their website.
In closing, Crawlspace is certainly watchable but never credible. I must give credit to Kennedy and Wright for agreeing to appear in this because if it wasn't for them (as well as Jerry Goldsmith's score), it wouldn't even be worth it. All three of them are free to go, though Wild Eye is found guilty of such a piss-poor print that they are sentenced to the Graves' crawlspace and ordered to stay there until they can give us a DVD with at least some restoration. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Wild Eye Releasing
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