Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Tale of Three Kinskis

Klaus Kinski was one of the most brilliant and charismatic actors to ever grace the screen, but largely by his own choice he appeared mostly in trash. He rejected Fellini, Visconti and Pasolini but made four movies with Jess Franco; he turned down Raiders of the Lost Ark to do Venom.

Kinski is best remembered for the five movies he made with director Werner Herzog, but if you saw him in Android, Creature and Crawlspace you'd remember him from those as well.

Android (1982)

"I thought it was a clever little movie. It is the first movie I've done that children might like. The greatest thing in the world is to do something for children."
-Klaus Kinski on Android

In a secret laboratory aboard a distance space station, Klaus Kinski is attempting to create the perfect female android. His current android assistant Max 404 (Don Keith Opper), who's been getting interested in the idea of human reproduction, is alarmed to learn that Kinski's success will mean his own termination. Then three space-criminals arrive to complicate matters.

Despite this unpromising setup, Android turns out to be an utterly charming movie. Most of this charm comes directly from Opper, who plays Max as a lovable innocent. We are told that there has previously been a bloody android uprising and that they are now banned, hence the isolation of Kinski's research, but it's impossible to imagine Max turning into a cold, soulless killer. Opper walks in a strange stiff-limbed gait, speaks his mind with a naive bluntness, and is socially awkward without being the least bit shy. It's a terrific performance, and he manages to steal the limelight from Kinski throughout the movie - something that's usually unheard of, and it's all the more impressive because Android was Opper's first movie.

Not that Kinski is sleepwalking through his role. He has less screen time than Opper, but the scene where he confronts the new arrivals to the station and then suddenly realises that one of them is an attractive woman is one of the highlights of the movie.

Though the movie borrows ideas from Blade Runner and both sets and special effects sequences from Battle Beyond the Stars, Android is ultimately one of a kind. Rock drummer Brie Howard, in her only decent movie roll, is pretty good as the object of everyone's various desires. Kendra Kirchner, in what seems to be her only acting role, makes a major impression in just a few scant minutes of screen time; her first line of dialogue (a quote from Shakespeare) is electrifying in context.

The other two guys are only adequate, and nobody else is in the movie, but who cares? Android is a good movie and a really fun surprise. I was emotionally invested in the characters, and that never happened in either of the other two movies I'm talking about today.

Creature (1984)

"Klaus Kinski is dead now, and the world is a better place for it."
-William Malone, director of Creature

A spaceship is sent to find out what happened to a space station that mysteriously blew up while surveying Saturn's largest moon Titan. There they encounter an enigmatic sandwich-eating German scientist called Rudi (Klaus Kinski). They also encounter an alien monster that likes to implant parasites into people's brains so it can invite their friends to dinner. Yummy!

Although it's just a dumb Alien ripoff made on a low budget by a fairly untalented cast & crew, I thought that Creature was quite entertaining. It was fun to see Diane Salinger playing a tough bounty hunter in the same year as Pee-Wee's Big Adventure; I like to think that this is Simone she did after getting bored of France. What a year she had in 1985, getting to work with Paul Reubens and Klaus Kinski in her first two movies!

Salinger's performance is one-dimensional, but that's one dimension more than the rest of the cast has to offer. So when Klaus Kinski unexpectedly shows up, it's like an arc lamp has suddenly been shone into a darkened room. We're instantly blinded by the sheer force of his talent, so that the rest of the cast becomes a series of shadows. The man could hold an audience by eating a sandwich.

If you like dumb, cheesy, gory Alien ripoffs filled with dry ice and bad special effects (and who doesn't?) then Creature is for you. If you like Klaus Kinski, then Creature is for you. If you don't like either, see a doctor.

This was a good bit.

Crawlspace (1986)

"At this point, my crew begins whispering in my ear, one by one, three or four times a day: 'David, please, kill Mr. Kinski.'"
David Schmoeller, director of Crawlspace

Our movie begins with a young woman ascending a staircase, calling softly, "Mr. Gunther?" She enters a darkened room; the light doesn't work so she turns on a torch. As she moves deeper into the cluttered room, she does not notice the door close and lock itself behind her. She does, however, notice the small cage in which crouches a woman. She tries to tak to the woman, but she only reaches out for her and moans.

Suddenly, Klaus Kinski is behind her. "She can't talk, I cut out her tongue," he says mildly, indicating a jar in which the tongue in suspended in liquid...

In most horror movies, this would be the climax. In Crawlspace, this is the first two minutes of the movie. Unfortunately this isn't the only thing that writer/director David Schmoeller gets backwards in this sick and sleazy, yet oddly tame horror thriller that looks back to Peeping Tom and forward to Saw. It's closer to Peeping Tom in its level of explicit gore and closer to Saw in its ability to build suspense, so that's backwards too.

The movie stars Kinski as the landlord of an apartment building who only rents to young, attractive women. He likes to crawl through a series of vents spying on them, freaking them out by making odd sounds, and activating remote control rat holes. Every now and again he kills them, usually in a manner that involves an elaborately unlikely death machine. I guess he's probably inspired by H. H. Holmes.

Then Lori (Talia Balsam) moves in, and Kinski takes a particular shine to her. As his last words to the woman in the opening scene where, "What a shame, I really liked you," this probably makes us uneasy. In traditional horror movie pattern, she notices that something is going awry and starts to investigate.

There is the odd plot complication and a couple of characters who mysteriously disappear and are never referred to again, but for the most part Crawlspace follows a pretty straight line: Kinski acts weird and creepy towards Lori but she never seems to notice, Kinski terrorises and kills his tenants, Lori doesn't quite manage to notice the slaughter even though she's already nosing about, and so on.

Then, this happens.

With the odd voyeuristic German serial killer who lives upstairs, owns the building, and was traumatised by his father's sadistic experiments, Crawlspace was clearly inspired by Peeping Tom. In place of that movie's masterful suspense and icy intellect, it offers an unhinged Kinski and some rather underbaked exploitation elements. The tone of the movie is sleazy, but it never really delivers and remains disappointingly tame.

Despite this, I enjoyed Crawlspace. David Schmoeller's movies (other include Tourist Trap and Puppet Master) usually remind me a little of Don (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep) Coscarelli's movies, though Schmoeller doesn't have anything like Coscarelli's prodigious imagination. Everything's just a little off kilter, there's a nice visual style that doesn't call attention to itself, people do things for no discernible reason, and there are odd plot holes that seem somehow to be deliberate.

Out of the three movies, Crawlspace give you the most Kinski for your buck, Creature has the strongest exploitation elements and is definitely the best for drinking to, and Android is just flat out a good movie.

1 comment:

  1. Nice work! I'm definitely putting Creature and Android on my list. And I agree about Schmoeller. He's an odd duck, one who can create some genuinely unique creepiness that somehow just misses greatness.