A man (Erwin Leder, "Das Boot") sits in a prison cell discussing the shock in his mother's eyes when he stabbed her. She survived while he did four years prison time. Now he's being released for serving ten more for the random killing of a 70 year-old woman and he's already making plans. The two lovelies (Claudia Schinko und Beate Jurkowitsch) in a cafe are tempting but impractical, his female taxi driver's (Renate Kastelik) too alert, but the remote home he stumbles onto after emerging from a forest will be the setting for "Angst."
This 1983 Austrian film, based on the country's most notorious serial killer Werner Kniesek, is an underseen gem for fans of horror and cinephiles with strong stomachs. Directed by Gerald Kargl, who never made another film, it was cowritten with his cinematographer, Zbigniew Rybczynski, who went on to win an Academy Award for his short film "Tango" and whose inventive work here is one of the film's main drawing points along with Leder's performance, a rattlingly propulsive electronic synth score from Tangerine Dream's Klaus Schulze and a pitch black sense of humor.
This psychopath may be smart enough not to murder in a cafe, but that doesn't mean he's an organized serial killer like Ted Bundy. No, this guy is the disorganized kind, his urges so strong he goes into a chaotic frenzy. Yet Kargl gets us into his mind, giving us an understanding of what's fueling him, demented as that may be. Firstly, the film has almost no dialogue, almost everything we hear a voice over (Robert Hunger-Bühl, the upcoming "Labyrinth of Lies") coming from inside the killer's head (this device may be adhered to too religiously, as it defies common sense that mother and daughter wouldn't communicate during 'K's' attack). Kargl employs confessions from real life killers like Peter Kürten, the Vampire of Düsseldorf, as our protagonist describes his overwhelming excitement on killing and a childhood where he was made to feel worthless by his mother, then guided toward the priesthood by his grandmother, a failed experiment when he was thrown out of the convent for killing one of their pigs. Rybczynski, as much an architect of this film as Kargl, uses high crane shots and low angles to disorienting effect (the entire film was shot into mirrors), but his most startling trick is to mount a rotating camera on Leder, putting us right in the face of a dangerous lunatic. This is as close as you're likely to get to a real serial killer and survive.
After that jail house confessional, told unnervingly as Leder shaves, we see the man wander the streets in a suit, carrying a briefcase. He meanders back and forth across the road heedless of traffic until he spots a cafe, someplace he thinks maybe he can orient himself. There are three customers and a waitress, each shown in extreme close up, a roster of potential victims. The camera lingers over one young woman's crotch, another's bright red lips as Kargl cross cuts to Leder's mouth as he wolfs down a sausage, a dual bit of commentary and funny foreshadowing.
Once he finds the remote home, he circles it several times before finally breaking a window. He finds one occupant, a mentally disabled man drooling in a wheelchair (Rudolf Götz). Shortly after, a Mercedes sedan pulls up, dispensing an older woman (Edith Rosset) with a dachshund on a leash (Rybczynski's dog Kuba). Inside, she lets weiner dog off to explore as her daughter (Silvia Rabenreither) garages the car and closes the home's pocketed gate. The madman attacks the older woman and ties the younger's foot to a doorknob, wishing his victims to observe the deaths of the others. What follows is haphazard and disturbing, the young woman who almost escapes caught in an underground passage at the height of his frenzy. Then he decides to take the corpses with him.
While Kargl subjects us to various means of murder, he uses one of cinema's coyest ploys to unsettle - the fate of the little dog. The dachshund remains an integral part of the film, following the murderer about, wagging its tail, chomping on its owner's dentures, peeking from beneath a duvet. It even hops into the Mercedes as the murderer makes his exit, a happy traveler in a charnel car, an uncomprehending witness. The director doubles back to the cafe where everything is the same yet not (note the headline on the newspaper one man reads), the cafe denizens who warily observed the ex-con before now faced with a freshly remade maniac.
The blu ray:
While the film was mostly seen on videotape and a previous DVD release in which Kargl excised a prologue and darkened the most notorious murder scene, Cult Epic has released a new blu ray package with a stunning HD digital transfer that restores the film to its original effect. One can choose to kickoff in several ways - without the prologue, with it or with an introduction from extreme French filmmaker Gaspar Noe, who claims to have seen the film 30-40 times. The prologue, which runs about 8 minutes, is better as an extra, it's addition to the film repetitive, even contradictory, and a distraction from the film's overall 'real time' effect (ingenious editing allows us to feel like we've experienced 24 hours in 90 minutes).
There are three extensive interviews, the latter two filmed about 10 years ago. Erwin Leder takes us on a tour of K's journey from the taxi to the murder house to the site of his eventual car crash while discussing his own back story of having grown up in the psychiatric institution his father headed. In discussing the camera work, Leder describes it as imprisoning the character in his own mind, where he cannot run away from himself. The second and best of the interviews is conducted by German cult director Joerg Buttgereit ("Nekromantik") with director Kargl and Buttgereit proves himself a surprisingly thoughtful and astute interviewer. We learn from Kargl about the scandal caused by the Kniesek case, the result of Austrian social reform, reminiscent of the Willie Horton case in Massachusetts that dogged then Governor Michael Dukakis's presidential bid. Kargl was plunged into so much debt from producing the film himself, he went into producing commercials for over ten years in order to repay it. Between this interview and the next, with Rybczynski, we sense some lingering resentment, the decision to shoot the entire film with mirrors to avoid having to reverse only segments of the film instead of its entirety proving difficult and expensive.
Rybczynski's interview is the most difficult to get into, the subject framed against a concrete wall, but after about 10-15 minutes it picks up, the coauthor/cinematographer talking about how he and Kargl went to visit Kneisek's prison only to be given a tour by the prison warden and be given permission to shoot there. He also is less than enthusiastic about his filmmaking partner, describing him as inexperienced. Within this interview we are shown drawings of the camera rigs developed for the film and learn they were built by Hermann Groissenberger, the man in the cafe. (We also learn that the film's murder house was formerly used as a Nazi HQ.)
There are two trailers, a new one for "Angst" (which, frankly, relies too much on the film's prologue and shows too much footage of the murders) and one for Buttgereit's "Schramm," his own serial killer movie which introduced him to "Angst" when they were paired at an English film festival (and which he says deflated him in comparison with his film, a sentiment supported by its trailer).
The film's audio commentary track features Kargl being interviewed by film journalist Marcus Stiglegger, mostly conducted in English (English subtitles run throughout). Stiglegger brings up "Der Totmacher," Romuald Karmakar's film on Fritz Haarmann, another serial killer who informs "Angst," and Haeneke's "Funny Games," which Kargl says he hasn't seen. Twice Kargl resists questions about Kuba, odd given the dachshund's importance in the film, but we do get considerable new observations and information, like the fact that Kargl only had Schulze for two days to complete the score. Kargl goes on at great length stating he is not a fan of horror films and resents "Angst's" classification as a 'splatter movie.'
The package includes a nice bound booklet with interviews, an essay and newspaper articles on the Kneisek case.
Robin gives "Angst" (movie only) a B-.
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