I really wish I had grown-up in the 70’s. Sure, I loved growing up in the 80’s, but the amount of good television in the 70’s was pretty astounding. Especially when it came to made-for-TV films. Before most people could afford VCR’s, TV was the place to go if you wanted film entertainment at home, and many of the major networks poured lots of money into making exclusive movies. Surprisingly, a lot of it was horror. In today’s age, you don’t find many horror-themed series or films on TV (Sci-Fi Originals do not count), and when you do, most of the time they don’t last (I hate you FOX...)
One of the films to spring from this 70’s boom was Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, and to this day people that experienced it when it first aired still talk about it. One year earlier, the director of that film, John Newland, made Crawlspace, a film about an older married couple named the Graves who have a bit of an infestation problem. It’s not with bugs or animals though; it’s a person. A man named Richard Atlee, who a few weeks before installed a furnace for them, fancied their crawlspace and decided to move in. The Graves surprisingly take to the young man, and allow him to live there, treating him like their own son. They don’t know much about him however, and soon the local sheriff and townspeople begin to wonder if the boy is bad news for the town. Unfortunately for the Graves, they might be right.
Crawlspace is one hell of an awe-inducing made-for-TV flick. Not because it’s flashy, or because it’s so great, or because it has some insane plot. No, it’s amazing for the overall actions and mindset of the Graves. Just think about it: a weird dude moves into to their crawlspace, and they just decide to allow it. Not only that, they begin feeding him, buy him clothes, and eventually accept him as a member of the family. Once in a great while the husband second-guesses all of this nonsense, but within two seconds he’s back to thinking it’s just fine to keep the guy around. This would maybe make more sense had there been a back-story on Richard, and he explained his plight and they eventually felt sorry for him, but really the only explanation Mrs. Graves has to not kick him out initially is because it’s cold outside. I know I say it a lot (I must be a magnet for weird cinema), but I honestly just sat dumbstruck at how absurdly normal the couple acted towards the situation. Hello, there’s a hairy lunatic in your crawlspace!!!!
And really, we never find out what Richard is all about. It’s apparent that he’s different from most people, but why that is is something that’s never explored. He likes to run in the woods, as it makes him feel free, and likes tight, confined places as they make him feel safe. Before he found the Graves, he says he was staying in a cave out in the forest near their house. Maybe we’re supposed to make our own assumptions from this that he’s some sort of “wild man”, but it would have made for a much better film had things been explained at greater length. I also found it pretty odd that the Graves are so desperate to keep him around (it seems as if they never had children and regret it) that they’re willing to overlook all of the weird actions he exudes, such as running in fear when the sheriff pulls up at their house. I don’t know about you, but this would be a red flag for me that a person I don't know much about was probably up to no good before I met them. Then again, I’m not the Graves, and wouldn’t have let a whacko nest in my house’s crawlspace. Logic is something you need to leave at the door when viewing Crawlspace.
Being a made-for-TV film, Crawlspace does have a couple of shortcomings. For one, the limits of television and its inherent censorship doesn’t allow the filmmakers to go deep enough in a couple of aspects, and because of that the film feels a little flat in certain spots. The soundtrack is very weak, and it won’t fool anyone into thinking this is anything more than a “Movie of the Week”. The film drags a bit in spots, although for me at least, just knowing how daft this couple is by opening their arms to a crazy man helped hold my interest through the lulls in the narrative. Lastly, the ending left a lot to be desired. First of all, because of the aforementioned limits of television, one of the penultimate scenes feels very choppy and isn’t as satisfying as it could have been. The overall conclusion feels rushed, and again feels choppy, to the point where I’m not even sure what exactly happened. I don’t want to spoil things, but I’m still not completely sure what happened to Mr. Graves.
If you enjoy discovering old TV relics of yesteryear, Crawlspace is worth a look. I certainly wouldn’t call it a good film, but it is unique viewing if only to experience some of the bizarre things that major networks put on during primetime in the early 70’s. And really, where else are you going to see old people nonchalantly allowing a nut to live in the crawlspace under their house?
Wild Eye’s DVD release of Crawlspace is a barebones affair, with only some static menus and the film itself. The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 full frame ratio, and looks passable. It’s akin to a worn-out VHS tape, and it’s clear the source they had to work with was not good at all, as there’s a lot of dirt and the occasional picture hiccup. It’s overly dark too, and rather washed-out, but it is watchable. Audio is served up in mono, with all of the dialogue very easy to make out, although there are some pops and a hiss present; luckily it’s not too distracting. The disc is OOP, so good luck finding it.
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