Everyone loves a good story about a serial killer, right? In fact, even my Nan loves watching those ‘true crime’ type programmes. There is something about mass murder that cries out to our inherent morbid nature, and this represents big business for the media and film industry. Film aside you only have to look at how popular TV programmes such as Dexter have been in recent years to get a good idea just how popular the subject matter is. I am not here to judge. I love a good old serial killer yarn myself- fact or fiction- I fully admit it. The point I am trying to make is that within this, serial killing, has become glamorised to a certain extent. It isn’t that anyone comes out and says it either; the allure is constructed far too subtly for it to be that obvious. But killers in general are often portrayed as powerful, controlling, or interesting people by the entertainment industry; this being a huge part of the appeal. So brings me to today’s film Angst, the story of a killer newly released into society after spending 10 years in jail for the murder of an elderly lady.
The whole point to my introduction about glamorous serial killers is that Angst presents the viewer with another viewpoint on this subject. A killer played by Erwin Leder, credited only as The psychopath, has had ten years to mull over his murderous tendencies. We hear, via a narrative voice over- which runs throughout the film- how he plans to celebrate his release with yet more murder. He has impulses that he has managed to repress while inside, but freedom represents another problem for him. In fact it isn’t a problem- not for our friend here anyway- as he freely admits that he doesn’t want to repress, he wants to indulge. So we follow this unnamed man as he ventures out into a small community for the first time in a decade, with his sights set on killing again. Only, this time, as he informs the audience he will not get caught.
Director, cast and crew.
Austrian director Gerald Kargl only made two films. Angst being his first full-length feature and his debut, a short documentary film ‘Sceny narciarskie z Franzem Klammerem’ (1980)- a short that is apparently sports orientated and was co-directed with Zbigniew Rybczynski (his collaborator on this film). Angst is a fantastically crafted film which shows true raw talent and vision. One has to wonder what would have happened if Kargl gone on to make other films after this. The potential demonstrated in this his fledging feature length project makes it all the more disappointing he stopped making horror films, instead moving into the world of commercials and documentary films until the mid-nineties.
Angst has just one star Erwin Leder. An actor, who, unlike the director went on to have a long-running career in film- gaining parts in blockbuster giants such as Schindler’s List and Underworld, among others. Leder puts in a hypnotic performance as the psychopath, giving his all to the unrestrained depiction of someone sincerely losing what is left of their feeble mind. His facial expressions and the nuances he puts into his performance are astounding and do give a believable impression of someone cruising in the realms of true lunacy.
The energy of the script is translated beautifully by the eye-popping camerawork involved in this feature. Frenetic shots- courtesy of a camera fitted to the lead as he runs about aimlessly- disorientating 360 camera spins, and zooming close-up shots on facial features, give the film the look and feel of intimacy with the killer. Those well versed in genre tropes are going to have experienced a first person narrative, especially within the slasher, but this goes so much further and puts you inside the head of the killer. The camerawork is jarring; it conveys the sense of urgency, paranoia and disillusion our main character is feeling. The set up, and visual aspect throws you into the lead’s confused state of mind. Twinned with this there are also some fantastic location shots, wide angled tracking shots, as the camera conveys a sense of a sleepy small town with people going about their daily lives, oblivious to the threat that lurks among them. Cinematography is provided by Zbigniew Rybczynski. Rybczynski also co-wrote the script with director Kargl and is responsible for the editing on this feature. What is interesting about his work is that his portfolio mainly consists of music videos and short films (producing videos for bands like The Pet Shop Boys). When you take into consideration Rybczynski’s work experience it is easy to see why the camerawork on offer here is so unorthodox and experimental, as it does have that look and feel of a music video in many ways.
For the effects, which are not extensive (see highs and lows for more detail on the violence) those on offer are shocking, and brutal. The blood especially being realistic.
One final mention of the production side has to go to composer Klaus Schulze whose creepy electronic score fuels the energy of the feature. Schulze also worked on the score for Ozzploitation gem Next of Kin (1982)- producing a Goblin-esque theme for that feature. Interestingly he also appears to have worked on a TV movie also called Angst in 1978, with no information available on this film I wonder if this had anything to do with Kargl’s film or whether this is just one of those odd cases of mere coincidence.
The Highs & Lows.
As I stated in the introduction about serial killers Angst portrays killing in very different terms. Take Dexter for instance- for want of a better example- he is clever, one step ahead of the law, his killings are neat and tidy. The psychopath in Angst is the antithesis of this image; an inept man, insecure, far from clever or cunning, psychically weak. Such is the genius of Angst because it is an ugly film that goes against this mainstream message that killers are somehow exciting. Angst is gritty, realistic and sublimely unique. The psychopath is not a powerful man. We learn insights about his background through the voice over narrative. He tells the audience in no uncertain terms what has led him to be in this terrible state of mind. We learn about his mother, his loveless childhood, the abuse he has suffered, his ineptitude at relationships with women. You could almost feel sorry for him if it were not for the fact he is clearly leapt over the deep end. As our central character bumbles around set on terrorising and murdering innocent victims he makes mistake after mistake; he is not even physically fit enough to move bodies, he has no plan, and as the plot moves on he appears to slip deeper and deeper into despair. For those who love films with a message of hopelessness, then this is one you seriously need to check out. Personally I found this stark message refreshing, enthralling and memorable. It also works on the level of a bleakly dark comedy, whether this was the original intention I have no idea, but regardless of the subject matter at hand, the central character can be seen as the Frank Spencer of serial killers, he really is that unorganised and awkward. When you consider some of the scenes on the level that they may be there to provide a sickening comedy element-, for example, accidently killing someone and then trying to resurrect them with medicine because the killer had not had the chance to torture them enough- then the film takes on an entirely new context. I don’t know, maybe this is just me? But as the film has hardly been written about and remains relatively obscure Angst provides a rare opportunity, in this information overload generation, to ponder these questions; thus adding yet another level to the appeal of this feature.
It is important to note that Angst is not packed to the hilt with kills, and on that basis those who are looking for a more slasher orientated film may feel let down. When the killing does come it is horrid, gruesome, and driven purely by instinct- making for a thought provoking watch. When you start to consider the ‘choice’ of victims, the story becomes uncomfortable, tragic, and vicious. As the narrator lays out his soul to the viewer the killing almost becomes second place to the hideous thoughts which clutter his failing psyche; this is a person who wants to be noticed, wants to feel powerful, maybe even loved. As such Angst is a brave film. It is not made with the intention to thrill; the underlying foundations are too dirty and ugly to succeed on that level. But it is a film that is remarkable and beautifully crafted. More importantly it is a film that forces the viewer to think, to question, on that basis it will not be for everyone, but for those who like to be challenged this is one film that is worthwhile seeking out.