Interview: Charles Band Remembers Klaus Kinski in CRAWLSPACE

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Charles Band remembers making a movie with one of cinema’s most notorious performers.

Back in 1986, when Empire Pictures was at their peak and thriving in Rome, Italy, studio head Charles Band steered a kinky little Klaus Kinski effort called CRAWLSPACE (currently distributed on Blu-ray via Scream Factory) to screen.

Directed by TOURIST TRAP and PUPPET MASTER’s David Schmoeller, the film featured Kinski as the son of a Nazi war criminal, driven mad by his father’s legacy and taking out his psychosis on the young ladies who live in his claustrophobic apartment building.

CRAWLSPACE is a great horror film featuring one of Kinski’s best genre performances, but it’s also notorious for some serious behind the scenes drama. Schmoeller has been very, very vocal over the years about the volatile, near homicidal relationship he had with Kinski on set but Band hasn’t been nearly as chatty.

SHOCK figured the time was right to stroll down the hall and knock on Band’s door to pick his brain about one of cinema’s most notorious performers.

SHOCK: Now, you had made TROLL at that same Rome apartment and you wanted another movie shot there. Did you own that apartment, were you just renting it or…

BAND: No, no. I wish it was that simple. It’s even more awesome. I purchased, under my Empire company, the Dino de Laurentiis Studio outside of Rome, the same studio where they shot movies like THE BIBLE and BARBARELLA and every single thing that we made there, every movie we made in Italy from ‘83 to ’88, we built at that studio, so some of the sets that were left over from TROLL were used. So CRAWLSPACE was all shot on a set we built on a soundstage…

SHOCK: I have heard that David wanted to make this Vietnam flashback filled, psycho-killer movie that was akin to PEEPING TOM and you kind of talked him into the Nazi subtext, why was that?

BAND: Again, like almost everything I did and probably still do, it all started with a great concept and title and poster and I would bring those elements to guys like David Schmoeller or Stuart Gordon and we would then develop the story. It was actually David, I believe, not me, who then invented this sort of Nazi origin or background story. But the idea of this creepy guy running around and having built this apartment unit, being able to roll around or crawl around in the crawlspaces and rent the units only to women, that was enough for me. Between CRAWLSPACE and that concept and when we got Kinski, it was a dream because I absolutely loved Kinski’s work and I knew we could make a great movie. I followed Kinski’s work and I always hoped his daughter Nastassja would come visit the set because she was incredibly hot [laughs] and if Klaus was on board, I thought maybe his daughter would come and visit us in Rome. But that never happened. But the fact that we got Kinski as the creepy dude for CRAWLSPACE was a big win, also because at that time, almost everything we did we were pre-selling to primarily the foreign market and to have a poster of CRAWLSPACE starring Klaus Kinski was a real asset.

SHOCK: Were you in Italy at the time when they were making the film or were you in LA?

BAND: Not only was I in Italy, but we were always shooting at least two if not three movies on those soundstages and it was for those few years, a very heady experience. If you grew up in this business and you dream of owning a studio one day and suddenly you do and movies are being shot on two or three different sound stages, which means it was two or three different crews…wow. We had a fantastic restaurant on the location, we had a bar where everyone congregated, we had prop and wardrobe and it was just a fantastic few years. I was there alright. And the story that I’ve told on the road at conventions I appear at, is my best Klaus Kinski story.

What happened was I was there in the administration building which by itself was probably a sixty thousand square foot three story building where Dino, years before, had hung out with his wife and commanded his hundred acre studio. Anyway, one day a couple of my production guys run into the office, freaking out saying there’s a huge brawl between David and Kinski and they think that Kinski pulled a knife or a gun and you’d better come right away. And you know, my attitude is always, especially in Italy then, that there’s so much brouhaha but at the end of the day it usually boils down to nothing, a lot of yelling and screaming. But it sounded serious enough that instead of walking calmly to the bar which is where this was happening which was kind of outside that one soundstage, I moved a little quicker and sure enough as I got there, I was witness to the sort of pinnacle of whatever preceded and made both guys crazy.

Kinski was an incredibly powerful guy. He wasn’t large in stature but he felt five thousand feet tall and scary. David Schmoeller was not that same kind of character and I just remember getting closer and seeing Kinski grabbing David by his lapel and I don’t remember if it was a gun or a knife but he was threatening him. David was sort of leaned back and eventually, as I got closer, they looked over and people sort of moved apart and I guess they had said whatever they said to each other and calmed things down and when I finally actually arrived right there five feet away, I don’t remember except that the vibe was, OK they’ve sort of settled their differences and I can tell Kinski was steaming and this was all about how a certain shot was to be framed.

Kinski was not happy. He wasn’t happy with David to begin with. There was something about how a shot was to be framed where Kinski felt it had to be a certain way and David was against that and I think Kinski just wanted to kill David, to make sure the shot was the way he wanted it…

SHOCK: David’s got this video, you’ve probably seen it online, where he sits there and tells his own tale about working with Kinski. It’s called “Please Kill Mr. Kinski” (see the vid at the bottom of the page) and he claims that the Italian producers, or you, or one of the financiers had actually suggested putting a hit out on Kinksi…

BAND: Well, that’s completely ridiculous. How ridiculous is that? Come on. I don’t know where these stories come from and why they’re invented but there was no hit on Kinski. What would the point be? That’s the most ridiculous fabricated story…

SHOCK: What did your Dad (producer/director Albert Band) think about him?

BAND: My Dad loved him and Kinski and I got along great. I don’t know if ‘pussycat’ is the right word but I think he worked on several different levels and if he felt that he was able to intimidate you, it’s a whole thing that’s different, that’s more European I think than anything else. But if he respected you and he felt you were, I guess, on his level of God knows what, he was cool as can be. But if he didn’t respect you…well, he’s a very hard guy to work with and I think, at his core, dangerous. There was a danger there. With Kinski I felt that he was someone who would pull a knife and stab you if he was pissed off enough. But, yeah, I am so happy to have made at least one movie with Kinski, definitely one of my favorite performers.

Note: portions of this interview were published in the pages of DELIRIUM Magazine.