Angst. 1983. Directed by Gerald Kargl. Screenplay by Kargl & Zbigniew Rybczynski.
Starring Erwin Leder, Robert Hunger-Bühler, Silvia Rabenreither, Karin Springer, Edith Rosset, Josefine Lakatha, Rudolf Götz, & Renate Kastelik. Produced by Kargl.
Rated R. 79 minutes.
Austrian director Gerald Kargl has never made another feature film other than Angst.
So how is it that a man whose only other credit is a documentary short came to make a 5-star piece of horror cinema? How did that film go on to influence other filmmakers, most notably Gaspar Noé? Usually such competent artists in any genre go on to at least make a couple other movies. Rare are those who are one and done.
Yet Angst stands up firmly against some of the similarly great horrors of its kind. I’m one of the biggest Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer fans on the planet. To me, this film is even better. Kargl captured one of the purest psychological perspectives in the genre possible. It’s hard to imagine until you’ve seen the film. Trust that the experience is worth at least one view. There are no doubt even some horror fans who’ll believe this too much, that the violence goes past what’s acceptable or that the way it’s filmed renders all that too intense. I don’t blame anybody for their personal sensibilities.
You simply can’t deny the power of a good film. Especially if it accomplishes whatever it set out to do in the start. For Kargl, he likely wanted to represent a serial killer’s point-of-view in the most organic form. Through technique, innovation, and plenty of murder, Angst reaches its goal.
An alternate title for this film is Schizophrenia. The feeling of this, even the titular Angst, comes across in the way people look at The Psychopath (Erwin Leder). We get the sense of them looking at him, not the camera, and their gaze pierces him. Or their perceived gaze. Jump cuts make the flow of some scenes unbearable; not in a bad way, they jolt you and make watching this guy totally unnerving. After getting out of jail, he goes to a diner and eats a sausage. This scene alone is just brutal to watch, in that the way he eats, how he perceives people staring at him (and maybe they are; I would be). Really great psychological approach.
There are films which put us in the perspective of a character, then there’s Angst. Kargl manages to drop us right into this man’s shoes, to the point of being beyond uncomfortable. We get used to his face, the minute details right down to the moles. Leder is expressive, his eyes alone tell the story. But his whole face and the way he shows us the pain of this man with it is why this character terrifies. Any less of an actor wouldn’t be able to compel us to keep watching such brutality as The Psychopath delves into. And believe me, that’s no joke. I’ve seen worse, although the primitive goriness of this character’s worst fantasies, enacted on helpless victims, is something to behold. Truly. There’s a ferocity in the way Kargl shot the film which translates directly into how shocking everything becomes. The rig used to keep the camera focused up on Leder’s face provides a well of eerie shots to make the perspective of The Psychopath one of pure fear for the viewer. Watching this killer work through his demons is nauseating, for the sheer goriness and the filming techniques combined.
I’m not sure if anything’s disturbed me more than when The Psychopath attacks the old woman in the house. As her false teeth fall to the floor, there’s a sense of a loss of innocence. Or just an absolute defilement, an attack on the sanctity of how we treat the elderly; how we treat anyone for that matter. It terrorises me watching those moments in particular. Maybe that’s silly to say in contrast to some of the other shocking things The Psychopath lays upon that family. Doesn’t change how that scene gets under my skin. All the more uncomfortable are the close-up shots on the guy afterwards, his open, saliva-filled mouth, the sweat, his heavy breathing. Another one comes not long later, as he goes about drowning one of the family members. Some shots going under the water are disturbingly beautiful. This trend continues. Kargl hypnotises the viewer with a constantly innovative way of shooting scenes that you’re lulled into a complacent state before he breaks out the real blood.
Within this scene is the key to The Psychopath’s own psychopathy: his family. During the time we watch him traipse through this house, perpetrating atrocities, he’s talking to us in voice-over. Hearing about the troubled family running parallel with all the nasty visuals, the taunting way he goes about taking revenge on this family for the problems with his own, it’s almost sickening at times.
The most striking image? Two visions: one of utter heinousness, one of pure and simple beauty. After The Psychopath has done possibly the nastiest of his crimes, he lays in a pool of blood and his own vomit. We cut from a dark tunnel at night to a bright morning, and a little wiener dog who followed from the house. Cut back to The Psychopath lying on top of a corpse, blood everywhere; he’s fallen asleep. Something about this juxtaposition of shots is unforgettable. Much like the film as a whole.
Leder is hugely underrated in general. This movie proves that easily. I’m left wondering exactly why Kargl never directed anything else after having produced such a monumentally interesting and equally horrifying vision of a serial killer. Angst is a giant of the genre. More people should know about it, and a recent release on Blu ray will hopefully start seeing to that. With a few choice filmmakers championing the film’s effectiveness, as well as its brutality, more people continue to come across this gem. It is a dark and gruesome piece of work. If you’ve seen it, you know why there’s merit. This isn’t merely a Video Nasty you can write off as trash because you have an aversion to brutal horror. Kargl directs this flawlessly to make The Psychopath’s problems, his methods more evident than possibly any other film in the history of cinema. There are no answers, other than the basic ones. But if you’re looking to find a horror experience filled to the brim with biting, visceral terror, Kargl has you covered.
I am forever in awe of this movie after finally having seen it awhile back. Never will I forget the first time. Surprisingly to those who’ll probably hate the movie, I watch it more than a few times a year. You should, too. It’ll toughen you up.