4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Klaus Kinski Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

94 years ago today, the infamous but incredibly talented Klaus Kisnki was born.  Though Kinski appeared in many genres of film, he was an actor who seemed to be well-suited for horror films.  Today, we honor that legacy with….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Aguirre The Wrath of God (1972, dir by Werner Herzog)

Nosferatu (1979, dir by Werner Herzog)

Crawlspace (1986, dir by David Schmoeller)

Nosferatu in Venice (1988, dir by Augusto Caminito and Klaus Kinski)

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Puppet Master (dir by David Schmoeller)


Since there’s been like 200 Puppet Master films made over the past 30 years — goddamn, 30 years of killer puppets! — I figured that maybe I should finally sit down and actually watch one of them.  I decided to go with the original film that started the entire franchise, 1989’s Puppet Master!

So, basically, this is a movie about little puppets that kill full-sized people.  Obviously, there’s a bit more to the plot but let’s be honest.  No one who watches this movie is going to be watching it for the specifics of the plot.  They’re going to be watching it because they want to see tiny puppets go on a rampage.  I have to say that the puppets themselves are pretty cute.  I mean, they’re murderous and a little bit pervy but they’re still really cute.  I understand that all of the puppets have their own specific names but, while watching the film, I just made up names of my own.

For instance, there’s Hooky, who has a hook for one hand and a knife for the other and looks like he should be the lead singer of an aging Prog Rock band.  And then there’s Drilly, who has a drill on his head.  He can be really dangerous, especially if you’re stupid enough to crawl around on the floor and just stay there, on all fours, while he’s running straight at you.  I mean, if you just stood up, you probably wouldn’t get that badly injured but …. well, what do I know, right?  And then there’s Leechy, who is a female puppet who spits up leeches.  What’s interesting is that she never runs out of leeches but I have to wonder, if you have that many leeches, why not just send them out on their own instead of stuffing them all into some poor little puppet?  I felt bad for Leechy.  She seemed kinda sad.  And then there’s Handy, who has big hands and Facey, who can assume several different facial expressions at once.  They’re all really adorable, to be honest.

Anyway, Puppet Master is about a bunch of psychics who all spend the night in a California hotel that was once home to the “last alchemist,” Andre Toulon (William Hickey).  Toulon had the power to bring inanimate creatures — like puppets! — too life but, when the Nazi spies were closes in on him, Toulon killed himself.  Many years later, a psychic named Neil Gallagher (Jimmie F. Skaggs) discovered Toulon’s hiding place in the hotel but then shot himself as well.  So now, Neil’s former colleagues are all trying to get Toulon’s power for themselves.  Or something.  As I said, following the plot is not always easy.  The main appeal here is watching the cute puppets do really bad things.

That said, who knew that a group of psychics and witches would prove to be so stupid?  I mean, you would think that — when all of you are having constant premonitions of death and destruction — you would be smart enough to take extra precautions or maybe just leave the hotel all together.  For instance, Dana (Irene Miracle) casts a protection spell over someone else but not on herself.  Meanwhile, Frank (Matt Roe) and Clarissa (Kathryn O’Reilly) make the rookie mistake of having sex in a horror film while our nominal hero, Alex (Paul Le Mat, looking like he’s trying to figure out how he went from American Graffiti to this), wanders around in a daze.

And yet, watching the film, I could see why it became so popular.  The puppets are memorable and well-designed and the backstory, with Toulon and all the rest, is actually pretty interesting.  Puppet Master is one of those films that defines “stupid but fun.”  No wonder the puppets came back!

Film Review: Crawlspace (dir by David Schmoeller)


Before moving into a new place, always do a little research.

That would seem to be the main lesson that one can take from the 1986 horror film, Crawlspace.  As the film begins, Lori Bancroft (Talia Balsam) thinks that she’s found the perfect little apartment.  It’s clean.  It’s roomy but cozy.  It’s got space for all of her stuff.  It’s perfect for hosting friends.  You can bring a date back to the place without feeling embarrassed.  The apartment even comes with a charmingly eccentric landlord, an older German gentleman named Karl Gunther.  Gunther is played by Klaus Kinksi and….

Wait …. he’s played by who?

Klaus Kinski?  You mean the infamously difficult actor who appeared in not only a countless number of horror films and spaghetti westerns but also Doctor Zhivago?  Would this be the same Klaus Kinski who was briefly Werner Herzog’s muse?  That Klaus Kinski?

Uh-oh.  That’s not good.

It soon turns out that Gunther is not quite the friendly man that he pretends to be.  Gunther’s got some issues.  For instance, he spends a lot of time intentionally burning his hand and then smiling afterwards.  And there’s his habit of playing Russian Roulette.  Throughout the film, we see him sitting at a table and putting one bullet in a gun, just so he can then point it at his head and take his chances.

Gunther also has a thing for ventilation shafts.  He loves to crawl around in them, specifically so he can spy on his tenants.  When we first meet him, he’s obsessed with Sophie (Tane McClure) but he soon turns his attention to Lori.  Often, he’ll release rats into a tenant’s apartment.  When Lori merely laughs at the rat as opposed to screaming in fear, Gunther is impressed.

Of course, Karl Gunther wasn’t always a landlord.  He used to be quite a respectable doctor.  Of course, then all of his patients started dying and Gunther’s career went downhill.  Gunther, of course, claims that he only murdered his patients because they were in pain and suffering.  However, it could be more likely that his actions had something more to do with the fact that Gunther’s father was a Nazi war criminal, a doctor who justified his crimes with the same excuses as Gunther.

If all that’s not enough to convince you that Gunther’s got some issues, you should just take a look in the attic.  That’s where Gunther spends most of his time, writing in his journals.  It’s also where he keeps jars that are full of body parts.  One jar has a tongue in it.  A pair of eyes float in the other.  There’s a finger in another.  The attic is also where Gunther keeps one of his previous tenants in a cage.  Gunther says that he likes to talk to her, despite the fact that he long ago removed her tongue….

Plot-wise, Crawlspace is pretty much your standard low-budget 80s horror film.  There’s not much here that could really be called surprising but director David Schmoeller does find some creative ways to film all of the expected mayhem and the frequent shots of Kinski crawling through the ventilation shafts are genuinely creepy.  Kinski, giving a performance that’s even more unhinged than usual, is the best thing about the film and the main reason to see it.  By making Karl Gunther the self-loathing son of a war criminal, Schmoeller and Kinski bring an interesting subtext to the film.  Gunther is more than just a slasher movie villain.  Instead, he’s the embodiment of Hitler’s hateful legacy.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, Klaus Kinski was a legendary for being difficult.  Years after both the release of Crawlspace and Kinski’s own death, director David Schmoeller released a 9-minute documentary about the experience of making a film with Kinski.  The title of that film: “Please kill, Mr. Kinski.”  Apparently, this was a request that several members of the crew made to Schmoeller over the course of filming.  (Interestingly enough, Werner Herzog would make his own Klaus Kinski documentary — My Best Fiend — in which he mentioned that, during the shooting of Fitzcarraldo in Brazil, a native chief offered to have Kinski killed.)  Please Kill, Mr. Kinski is a fascinating look at not only low-budget exploitation filmmaking but also what it’s like to have to work with a talented monster.  As of this writing, it can be viewed on YouTube.