Growing up in the '70s, we kids had several water cooler (or in our case, playground) debate subjects. A few of the more formidable included the annual Saturday Morning Cartoon Preview (would Scooby-Doo be back? Would the Kroffts new live action slice of surrealism be worth watching?), the tastiness of space food sticks, and the weekly roundtable on the ABC Movie of the Week. Like all impressionable youth, we couldn't get enough of the gratuitous genre workouts, most of the infamous TV films revolving around ghosts, demons, the paranormal, and the people who worship same. After a preplanned viewing, you'd shuffle off to school the next day, insightful review inside your head and collection of awesome/awful scenes at your disposal for ease of impressing. Most times, you struck paydirt - Duel, Trilogy of Terror, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, The Night Stalker, Go Ask Alice. At other instances, you got something akin to an over your prepubescent head chick flick. Many of us still have fond memories of those 90 minute mindblowers. Sadly, something like Crawlspace (not actually part of the ABC canon), can easily buzz kill any lingering feelings of nostalgia.
After moving to the country for health reasons, older couple Albert and Alice Graves discovers that the slightly odd heating man they invited to dinner on a whim is actually a tripwire transient that has taken up residence in the house's narrow crawlspace. At first, they're frightened by the prospect of this stranger sharing their recently purchased personal space. But after a while, Ms. Graves' misplaced maternal instincts take over, and soon, Robert is coming up from the cellar and sharing meals with the pair. As time goes by, the childless duo comes to think of the boy as part of their family. But this unhinged youth has a myriad of mental problems, and when things start to get complicated, he goes nutzoid. The town folks are wary of the disheveled loner, and after an incident over $20, the local grocer sees his entire store destroyed. Naturally, everyone blames Robert, but the Graves foolishly stand up for him. When the threats turn inward, however, they have no one to fault - or fear - but themselves - and their demented Crawlspace dweller.
Crawlspace is the kind of elderly educational facility faux thriller that used to get seemingly na´ve Me Decade viewers all chaffed and itchy. It's a yawn-inducing yak fest that frequently plays like a time capsule doing its best Billy Pilgrim. Granted, without all the Charles Manson/Helter Skelter subtext (this was 1971 after all, an era that saw long hair as significant factor numero uno when it came to detecting potential troublemakers/serial killers) or Herbert Lieberman's actual novel, the motives may seen surreal, but that's what this kind of TV movie cautionary tale excelled in. Instead of addressing important issues head on - the generation gap, the ruthless spree slaughtering tendencies inherent in the hippie - these sensationalizing time wasters were 75 minutes of set-up and execution. Aging couple with childlessness troubles decide that the nearly feral college kid whose been using their basement as a bachelor pad (and handy lavatory) would make a good pseudo son. They forgive the bloodstained word "God" scrawled on the cellar door, and ignore his Grizzly Adams via the Spahn Ranch hygiene concerns. Instead, they embrace and support this budding psycho, only to pull a complete parenting 180 in the last act and wonder were all the antisocial aggression, anger, and axe wielding came from.
As the doting dimwits, Arthur Kennedy (perhaps best known as Bart Hunter from A Summer Place) and Teresa Wright (Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt Miss) clearly suffer from a faulty sense memory. One moment, they're enjoying the eccentric and non-conformist antics of their animal boy. Even when he comes home filthy and stinking, they hold him as someone on some manner of spiritual quest. It's a journey they hope to jerryrig with job suggestions, brand new suits, and endless lashings of Vivaldi (the "Four Seasons" is sonically cued so many times here, it should be part of the cast list). Naturally, when he turns twisted, and decides to physically illustrate his growing abandonment concerns, Crawlspace moves from drawing room dullness to unhinged humorlessness. Director John Newland, famed for the far more effective Kim Darby delight Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, stages everything with an earnestness that borders on the inert. Kennedy has conversations with himself while Wright knits on a giant loom and signs Christmas cards like their hirsute interloper is one of the brood. When the scales finally fall from their eyes - and it takes a bit to enlighten these old coots - their reaction is classic '70s stammering. How did their seemingly innocent wild child turn into Squeaky and the gang's personal Jesus?
Adding the narrative non-believability is the talentless Tom Happer. All chiseled jaw and man musk, this wounded whack job sets the counterculture cause back several Eisenhower administrations. He's bonkers in an undeniably bifurcated manner. One moment, he seems helpless as a trash eating raccoon. The next he's a rabid wildebeest looking to chop the snot out of local jocks. The plotline plays his reprobate Richard character as part sympathetic, part swimming in his own feces - literally (the line about "horrid smells" remains a classic bit of standards and practice approved slang). By the time the blasÚ sheriff shows up for the inevitable manhunt, we get a couple of wrinkled prunes screaming for interpersonal salvation, a stereotypical showdown between upset guardians and wicked ward, and enough last minute scenery chewing to effectively strip the stucco off of a Hamptons estate. Too bad it all adds up to something incredibly dull and highly repetitive. Kennedy and Wright are loving one second, losing it the next. Happer is happy to listen to classical music and eat shrimp cocktail one day, yet turns around and vandalizes a local general store moments later. In a timeframe where conservative USA thought every rebel was waiting to carve "Pig" in their bloodied torso, Crawlspace may have worked. Today, it's dated and dry.
Speaking of shabby and almost unwatchable, new digital distributor Wild Eye DVD figures that no one really cares about clean transfers anymore, and that simulated VHS quality with lots of fuzzy, indecipherable details and faded colors "adds" to the retro viewing experience. Well, they're 1000% WRONG! This is an atrocious image, the 1.33:1 full screen so undeniably bad that it's like revisiting the title via an analog soup. Individuals tuning on crappy black and white sets some 36 years ago probably saw a more colorful, clear picture than the one offered here. Rarity, smarity - this print SUCKS!
Similar to the situation visually, the audio elements here are substandard at best. The Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono is tinny and flat. Dialogue occasionally gets lost in a lack of sonic separation, and the score by Jerry Goldsmith tends to overwhelm everything. From a technical aspect, this is one crappy DVD.
There is nothing offered - just a menu screen and a 'start' option. Therefore, there is nothing to write about.
For a long time, this critic has championed the release of the entire ABC Movie of the Week catalog on full season DVD sets. Though many of the movies are clunkers, the great ones make the potential package all the more tempting. Then this dung unleashes its unholy stench on his home theater system, and all calls for more '70s TV films are officially put on hold. Unless the company who owns the rights to these well-remembered works step up and remaster them for future consideration and collection, we don't need weak Wild Eye versions violating our aesthetic. Earning a Rent It only for those with fond memories of this mung, a Skip It would be more in line with Crawlspace's overall effectiveness. Sometimes, even us so-called know it alls view our formidable years through a pair of perfectly blind rose colored goggles. Not all Made for the Boob Tube spectacles were worth that next day recess roundelay. This talking tedium proves that in spades.