Crawlspace isn’t your typical slasher movie; in fact, there are things in it that make it more of a ‘torture porn’ move than anything. Aside from some of the unusual conventions it makes, the film really studies the villain as opposed to the survival girl. She doesn’t even seem like a character that’s worth discussion, and she doesn’t really add anything to the film. No, this movie is centered on the villain and his character and what is about. Very rarely to horror films take this approach because most of the time we enjoy the villains, they’re more fascinating but the story never unravels their character. Crawlspace gave us a near-in depth look at the villain known as Dr. Gunther, the psychotic son of a Nazi SS scientist. Just by the sound of him, he’s much more different than your typical serial killer.
Before I dive into Gunther’s past and what makes him such a fascinating killer, I want to briefly review his character as the movie shows us. At first look, he seems like a really nice old man; he dresses nicely, he talks firm and confident and he seems to enjoy female company. However, there is a dark side to Gunther’s personality. He secretly kidnaps, tortures and kills the tenants that he rents rooms out to. He craws around in the ventilation shafts, baiting his victims into looking inside the vents, then throws rats at their faces. He seems to get a really perverted pleasure in tormenting young women with rats. In his attic study, he develops tools and contraptions for his torture, he writes in his diary and keeps a skinny woman caged up like an animal. We don’t know how long she has been there but she doesn’t have a tongue and she constantly asks Gunther to kill her. It is revealed through diary entries (voiceovers in the film) that he use to kill in the name of science but now he kills because it’s an addiction, a pleasure, a good feeling. This would be him in a nutshell but I want to expand on him.
He writes a lot in his diary and through his diary we are first introduced to the fact that he was once a scientist who use to experiment on human subjects, which would often result in death. Based off of this we can assume that, if he were normal, he would have been a brilliant. He goes on to state that he kills, as of now, because he’s addicted to it and because it makes him feel good. I can only assume that he gets a perverse pleasure from taking away somebody’s life and this is where a lot of slasher movies tangent off. Most slasher villains kill because A) they want revenge. B) Some tragedy caused them to snap. C) Because it’s fun. D) To prove a point. Gunther isn’t after revenge, he didn’t have a tragedy by most slasher standards, he doesn’t find it fun and he isn’t proving a point. He’s doing it because he needs to fulfill his needs; to fulfill his compulsion and his drive. Nevertheless, he is aware of what he is doing and like the rule goes, in order to be insane you have to not know what you are doing. Gunther understands what he is doing is murder but still proceeds. There is nothing worse than having a sadistic killer, who is after you, that’s aware of what he is doing.
Upon further diary entries we now understand why he feels so addicted to murder and why he must fulfill it. As a doctor, he believes that the power of life and death rests within his (and presumably other doctors) hands and that power makes him feel like a God. He states that it’s easy to give life or to preserve life but to take away a life is something that only God or nature can do, which is why he feels so powerful and fulfilled when he murders. It isn’t a sexual attraction or some perverse thrill but rather a perverse feeling of empowerment. So in that case, he isn’t necessarily addicted to killing as he addicted to power and in order to show power… he’ll sadistically kill people. Again, while most serial killers murder because the enjoy murder, they don’t necessarily murder to show they are in power but rather to horrify and impose. Because of this ideology he believes that he is “he is his own judge, jury and executioner” and this entitlement means that he is God of himself, and that he is a God of sorts. Following his journal entry he puts on a German SS cap and yells, “all hail, Gunther!” while he watches stock footage of Hitler speaking. We can assume that he, not only views Hitler as an inspiration, but that he is completely lost within his own world.
Now lets take a bite into Gunther’s past. After a mysterious man visits him we realize that his father was a renowned Nazi scientist that did horrible experiments to the Jewish. This man shows him newspaper clippings with photos of his father. He goes on to tell us, and him, that he was once a medical doctor working at a hospital in which all 60+ patience died under his care (one of which was the brother of the man). This is further proof that Gunther was a brilliant man and he could have done something astonishing had he not been brought up the way he did. If you recall, I said that Gunther didn’t have a tragedy in his life this is still true because that would mean that he would have had on tragedy to make him a monster. The fact is, his entire life was a tragedy because his father brought him up as a huge Nazi supporter when he was young. Seeing himself, as a little boy saluting Hitler, made Gunther cry. I’ve never seen a killer do this before and it tells me that Gunther, deep down inside, hates what he has become and that he blames it on his father or what was happening in Germany at the time. Perhaps he isn’t just a mad scientist but maybe his is a tragic villain.
Why do I think that Gunther hates himself? Because every time he murders somebody he goes into a room, puts a bullet with his name on it into a gun, spins the chamber and pulls the trigger. If the bullet doesn’t kill him, he says, “so be it” and continues to kill. He holds up to his idea that he is his own executioner and that fate will decide when he should die. This twisted ritual seems to be his sort of punishment as well as his game. Many times he suppresses the trigger twice or three times to tempt fate but he always ends up living, and during these instances you can really feel that he wants to die. I think he understands he is a monster and he wants to die but luck won’t let him and that makes him depressed… so kills to make himself feel happy and powerful again.
Gunther isn’t your average serial killer; in fact his personality seems to rival that of Buffalo Bill from the Silence of the Lambs. Gunther is something else, he loves to kill but it’s understood that he has hated what he has become, and perhaps he blames his father for it. In the end of things, I sort of felt sorry for him because he does have an affectionate side. He loved his white kitten and he didn’t want to be alone so there has to be a normal person behind all that makeup and blood. He’s certainly not your typical villain and I think I only scratched the surface of Gunther’s mind.