Year - 1972
Score - 3 Howls Outta 4
I'm afraid to own my own place. Not because of the high rent/mortage, annoying neighbors, or broken utilities that are undoubtedly going to need fixing. It's because of houseguests. Yes, people who want to visit your home and never ever leave, even if you beg on your knees for them to go back to where they came from. Don't let these people fool you! They'll say they'll stay for a day, but that'll turn into a week. That week will turn into a month. And then that month will turn into forever. They'll just leech off of you until they've sucked you dry!
Those types of houseguests are bad. But what happens when you move into your new home and there's someone already living there, underneath your house in the basement!? You do the logical thing: feed him, knit clothes for him, and protect him from the law when he makes a mess out of your neighborhood! That's right, folks. You've officially adopted this guy. Brangelina would be proud. Unfortunately in the 1972 TV-movie CRAWLSPACE, this adoption leads into a terrifying tale of obsession and violence. Serves you right for being a dumbass!
CRAWLSPACE is about an older couple, Albert (Arthur Kennedy) and Alice Graves (Teresa Wright), who move from the city to the country in order to improve on Albert's heart problems, feeling the quiet would do him some good. Not long after they move in, a man (Tom Happer) who fixes their furnace makes an impression on them and they invite him for dinner. By doing this one act, they unwittingly give this guy a reason to start sleeping underneath their house inside a small crawlspace. Instead of doing the smart thing and call the cops on his ass, the Graves decide to welcome him with open arms. They give him food. They give him clothes. In return, Richard [the man's name] decides to help around the house.
There's a problem though. Richard isn't a people's person and is very anti-social around the neightborhood. The trouble really starts when he tears apart a local supermarket when someone steals his money. This causes some kids in the neighborhood to attack the Graves home to get to Richard, making the elderly couple realize that adopting Richard may have been a bigger mistake than they had realized.
I had a lot of reservations about CRAWLSPACE. Mainly for the fact that it was a TV-movie from the 1970s. I was relunctant to sort of watch it, thinking it was gonna completely suck. Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed watching CRAWLSPACE. It's genuinely creepy and has a pretty entertaining story with well-developed characters! I kept wanting to see what was gonna happen and while the ending isn't totally satisfying, the film has a lot to offer.
I think what makes CRAWLSPACE work so well is that the focus is not on the guy who lives in the crawlspace. The focus is on the elderly Graves who try and adopt this weirdo, attempting to believe the goodness in him. We learn the couple never had children because they enjoyed their lives too much to be burdened with that kind of responsibility. Now that they're older and lonely, they want a child and use Richard as that substitute. Arthur Kennedy and Teresa Wright are absolutely wonderful as the Graves. They're genuine and you sympathize with their decision even though you know it's not gonna turn out well. The dialogue the actors are given is excellent. They talk like real people about real issues. Especially dialogue about how they want to know what Richard's arm length is to make him a sweater or Albert's talks with Richard inside the crawlspace that are so nice that Richard starts to love them like a family. For a TV-movie, there's a lot of care with the main characters and you actually want them to succeed as a family. When's the last time a motion picture made you feel that way? It's been a while, that's for sure.
I also enjoyed Tom Happer's protrayal of the instable Richard. He looked like a hippy but with an edge. From the moment you see him, you know there's something wrong with this guy. And when he starts hiding inside his crawlspace, you wonder what the guy's deal is. But when he starts to integrate with the family and help them out with things that he doesn't have to do, you actually want the guy to get better and feel bad for him when the town turns on him because he's an outsider. Richard's an interesting character because he's never a villain or is made to be one. He may be obsessed with the Graves, but he never harms them intentionally. He's highly protective of them and wants their acceptance as a son. I think many of us can relate to feeling that way. There's a lot of storytelling in this film and I really appreciated its subtlety. It helped that the acting was excellent and the film never felt melodramatic as most TV-movies do.
Director John Newland, who would direct the very popular 1973 TV-movie DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, does a really good job here. He doesn't try and use stylistic elements to enhance the story. He shoots it and goes with the flow naturally. It actually feels like you're inside the Grave home, watching these people interact with each other and rooting for them to make it to the end [which unfortunately doesn't happen]. I especially liked how he shot Richard as the film went on. We would get close-ups of him in the crawlspace at the beginning. But when things deteriorate, Newland used extreme long-shots, as if to say he's more of an outsider than ever. I thought that was very clever and such a great use of visual storytelling.
My only complaint [not for me but for maybe people interested in watching this film] is that it moves pretty slow and it barely shows any sort of violence or blood. So if you're looking for a creepy gorefest, this is not your film. But if you like watching great actors work their craft within a creepy atmosphere [helped by Jerry Goldsmith's score], then you might like this one.
THE FINAL HOWL
CRAWLSPACE is a pretty groovy TV-flick back when atmosphere, mood, and great characters were important in a horror film. For those who want blood and guts, don't bother with this film. But if you want to sit back for 73 minutes with a good old-fashioned thriller, CRAWLSPACE may be for you. I really don't think you'll go wrong with renting or even buying this one.