Fans of zombies are living in a golden age of entertainment–the decaying objects of their enthusiasm are featured on hit teevee shows, appear in literary mash-ups, and grace countless toys, video games, items of clothing, and objets d’art. Countless gigs of internet data have been expended on the ongoing debate between slow and fast zombies, and the murmur of “braaaaaaiiiiinssss” is on the lips of just about every person in the land. There’s a campy, post-modern appreciation going on here, and I am super-happy for these fans.
I struggle with my relationship with the films of H. G. Lewis. The Godfather of Gore churned out some pretty incredible and definitely outrageous films during his initial decade-or-so long filmmaking career*. While I adore the Egyptianate cannibal excess of “Blood Feast” and have watched that movie numerous times, I doubt I’ll be revisiting “The Gore Gore Girls,” with its madcap anti-woman viciousness. There’s a real misanthropy in Lewis’ films, and he seems to delight in introducing his unlikeable and/or stupid characters to their gruesome ends.
I absolutely do not want to survive the kind of global apocalypse that’s going to lead to the wasteland worlds portrayed in popular cinema. While it would be super-fun to drive a motorcycle around and hit people with big metal sticks, I’m really quite fond of clean water and bountiful food supplies–to make no mention of such niceties as dry cleaning, bottomless mimosas at brunch, and climate controlled indoor spaces. I pray that whatever space junk/zombie plague/Red Army nuke sets off the world-changing cataclysm hits me so hard that I’m just like “oh gee, what a pretty handbag” one minute and then–BAM: sweet motherfuckin’ oblivion.
I didn’t watch any films featuring Teutonic madman Klaus Kinski until I was nineteen years old because he earned a hell of a bad rap under my parents’ roof. Mr. Kinski was a bit of a bogeyman, and I remember my mother explaining that she wouldn’t watch any more films featuring his performances because she loathed a movie she saw him in, during which he was a mad Nazi murderer who crawled through the heating ducts of an apartment building, terrorizing the inhabitants. Having watched a number of Questionable Horror Titles with my folks, I assumed that this movie would be ENTIRELY too intense for my brain to parse, and as a result I avoided Kinski movies as well. During my tenure in art sk00l, I had the opportunity to see Werner Herzog’s adaptation of “Nosferatu” featuring Klaus Kinski in the title role, and his powerful screen presence was enough to lift this self-imposed ban.
So how was the movie? Did it bear the fruit promised in that incredible Thai poster shown above? Well–yes: it does exactly what it says on that tin. “Crawlspace” is a film that’s virtually impossible to “spoil” since its modus operandi and outcome are telegraphed from Scene One. And Scene One goes a little like this: young lady sneaks into cobwebbed attic littered with Nazi memorabilia, encounters a mute woman in a cage, Klaus Kinski pops out, informs the young lady that his captive has had her tongue removed, and then triggers a booby trap that impales the young lady on a spear. The movie goes on in pretty much this vein for the entire eighty minute run time, and it’s unsurprising that this kind of content would be off-putting to a lot of audiences. Hell, I’m not even certain *I* liked this flick! It’s an especially nasty slasher film with an especially creepy performance from its lead–that will be a hearty recommendation for some, and a strong warning for other viewers. The film tracks Karl Gunther (Kinski), former physician/current demented landlord/son of a Nazi death camp commandant, as he murders his way through a series of tenants and visitors in his apartment building. He is addicted to the act of killing, and develops ever-more-baroque traps to snuff out the lives of his unsuspecting prey. He also spends a lot of time crawling around in the ducting of his building, which has been arranged with his covert navigation in mind, all the better to spy on the ladies who rent from him.
We’ve all been there. You’re drunk, you’re out dancing, you meet a guy that seems nice, if a wee bit eccentric. A couple of days later, you meet up for a coffee to get to know each other in a less-oontzy atmosphere and it comes out that he thinks he’s a 400-year-old vampire who can control the weather. You’re left with a difficult decision: Stay and get a GREAT story and maybe-just-maybe wind up a torso in an abandoned lot somewhere in the Bronx, or leave and become less anecdotally enriched.
The 2007 documentary “Impaler” seems to have put its filmmakers, W. Tray White and Brian Dickson, in a similar situation. Setting out to chronicle the political campaign of Jonathon “The Impaler” Sharkey, founder of the Vampyres, Witches and Pagans Party, White and Dickson wind up weaving a much more complex story. What could have been the tale of an eccentric underdog is transformed into an exploration of one man’s delusions and the damage he leaves in his wake.
Sharkey is an unusual figure and it’s easy to see why the filmmakers decided to follow his story. A self-identified sanguinary vampire who claims to be a descendant of medieval ruler Vlad Tsepes, Sharkey spouts Satanic philosophies (everything from the “I’m’a get mines” egocentric LaVeyan stuff to more mystical Luciferian musings) and builds a political platform consisting of equal parts “tenuous grasp on the American judicial system” and “firm grasp on the American love of violence.” There are scenes of Sharkey and his partner drinking one another’s blood that look like a sideshow gaffe–his repeated insistence that the cameraman “look at the holes” he’s made with his teeth have a far more carnival air than the sacredness he insists is implicit in the act.
Initially sketched as a strange but harmless outcast given to boastfulness (PhD, professional wrestler, NASCAR-certified…), it becomes apparent that Sharkey is probably a compulsive liar. We’re not just talking about delusions of grandeur here–the stuff he’s lying about includes such doozies as “may have attempted to fake his own death.” Things aren’t as harmless as they appeared at first, and the sense is that the filmmakers are as surprised by the revelations as are the viewers.
Among all of the mental-social gymnastics the human brain is asked to execute on a daily basis, determining what is “normal” versus “not normal” is among the most controversial (if not THE most controversial). I struggle with dubbing a person as “abnormal,” considering there are a lot of things about me that another individual might (rightly) judge as being “other than normal.” That having been said, many of the revelations about Sharkey that occur over the course of this film are pretty disturbing, and while the evidence of his potential mental illness is sad, he’s still not a very sympathetic individual.
I appreciated the efforts of the filmmakers to be relatively un-judgey, given the source material, and would recommend “Impaler” to other viewers seeking a glimpse at the oddball corners of the American experience. Good news for Netflix members–this off-beat documentary is available on Netflix Instant!