On Gerald Kargl’s ANGST (1983)

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by Jacqueline Valencia

Spoiler alert. Analysis and talk of the full movie. You can find this previously obscure film now on Amazon video or Tubi.

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Angst
1983 (Austria)
Directed by: Gerald Kargl
Cinematography: Zbigniew Rybczyński
Music composed by: Klaus Schulze
Cast: Erwin Leder, Edith Rosset, Rudolf Gotz, Karin Springer
Screenplay: Gerald Kargl, Zbigniew Rybczyński

Welcome to the new incarnation of our site Critical Focus formerly known as These Girls On Film.

Pandemic isolation has me watching a plethora of film, but it daily takes its toll. I salute anyone who is being extra productive at the moment, but the past few months have been mostly about survival here. Hence, a lot of horror and cheese have been consumed. Good escapist fare helps the brain onto the next eventual steps in these “trying times.”

For all intents and purposes, this minimalist slasher film should be boring. There are no jump scares, no one foolishly follows a killer down a basement, and there are no mysteries about who the killer actually is. The audience is introduced to them from the get go. Yet, despite the gruesome subject matter, Gerald Kargl‘s ANGST (1983) is a simple film that disturbingly plays out like a captivating nightmare.

Loosely based on real life serial killer Werner Kniesek, the story follows a day in the life of K, the Psychopath (as credited). He has just been released from prison having served an eight year sentence for stabbing a random seventy year old woman. K is ready for the world with his suitcase and he’s excited to kill again.

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K, played in crazed veracity by Erwin Leder (DAS BOOT, SCHINDLER’S LIST), immediately looks out of place in the world, in this case, Austria. The neighbourhood he’s released in is stark, cold, and almost looks abandoned. He has formed an explicit plan and decides he must find someone to manifest it. Not knowing exactly where he is and how he will do this, he enters a coffee shop and starts scanning for victims. The audience notices the contrast between how K carries himself in the world and the way people take up the space around him. The girls in the coffee shop are young, cheerful, and dressed brightly. They are the setting for K. In turn, K enters in a clean navy blue suit from ten years ago. It loosely hangs on his skeletal frame. He is the subject meant to disrupt. He states, “I felt awkward, dressed as I was.”

His frame of mind is quietly set up and he is seen as disconnected. The audience immediately starts to become part of the outside, in a window looking in. Hearing K’s analysis of his surroundings and circumstances, brings no empathy for him or the victims for the viewer. I can’t even compare it to anything else than a math lesson on a computer or a doctor describing a routine surgery.

Throughout K’s narration we gather tidbits of his childhood. Abandoned and feared by his mother at a young age, his sadistic tendencies grow from killing animals to stabbing his mother and a stranger. There’s a slight mention of an ex-girlfriend he both tortures and is tortured by. His urges, or his excitement, as he calls it, simply enters his brain and never leaves until he is satisfied. He also carries no remorse.

“The fear in her eyes and the knife in the chest. That’s my last memory of my mother. That’s why I had to go to prison for four years, even though she survived.”

He had to go to prison even though she survived. The consequences of his crimes are almost insulting to K.

The camera traces him from above or at his side, flying and zooming through expressionist surroundings: slanted roofs, huge hallways, empty spaces, as if the world were an Escher maze. At one point, a single red bed in a room looks as if it hangs on a blue wall, but it actually sits on the floor. At the beginning of the film, the labyrinth world the camera creates builds itself up from the ground. As K is being led out of his cell, the camera is brought down to the level of the guard and K’s footsteps, it follows them like a curious mouse. All you hear is the clink of their shoes and the harsh bang of the gate as the camera sits behind and watches K walk away. The mouse is trapped and we are trapped with it.

Through sweeping crane shots, POV and hand held camera work, the lens almost never leaves K. Award winning cinematographer Zbigniew Rybczynski renders an enchanting lens. His gaze is what makes this film watchable, despite its horrific subject matter. The film plays out like a music video, accentuated by a glacial synth soundtrack. Tangerine Dream’s Klaus Schulze‘s metallic beats weave an atmosphere that is both foreboding and dance-able. Addictively so.

 

 

The kills themselves are graphic, but not the kind that shock or amuse in most slasher films. Instead of an unreal knife through the mouth, the murders are almost mundane and clumsy with the exception of one, (it is very visceral and vampiric). K goes from looking like a mouse to a blood covered mouse who is actually a crazed monster. There is no bulk to K and for some reason he’s able to overtake three people in three different rooms all at once.

This is the great horror in ANGST. K could be anyone. The circumstances in which he finds the opportunities to kill are so ordinary that they could happen anywhere and any time. The stories about how a serial killer was a nice guy or no one knew that their next door neighbour had bodies stashed in his attic, that isn’t played out here. This is someone who got out of prison, and was known to be a threat to society by psychiatrists and the people who knew him. It’s by lucky chance that by simply serving his sentence, he is let go to commit the most horrible of massacres. There are jarring scenes where he bodily relieves himself in on a corpse, a tunnel and a discarded suitcase as he changes his clothes.

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The house the victims live in is oddly empty, sparsely decorated and looks old, but hardly lived in. There’s very little furniture in it with the exception of a bed with red covers. Every room is the shape of a square or follows the spiral movement of the main staircase. It is a rather large Brutalist estate surrounded by tall pines and a mini-lake. The surroundings of it hide the terrible events which can occur in the middle of a city, building, or town.

The frigid rooms and spaces that surround the scenes in ANGST, encase the warm complexity of individual lives, emotions, and families. We hardly get a glimpse of the lives of possible and actual victims, but for the close up of their faces or discarded photographs in a car glove compartment. When K breaks into these areas, the solid structural imagination of scenes architecture transforms into K’s own bloody aesthetic. It is gore and need. He doesn’t care revels in his never-ending longing to destroy. The audience witnesses all of it with no censor and becomes a frozen and passive participant.

And then there’s the dog in the movie. It is credited as Dog, (played adorably by Rybczynski’s weiner dog called Kuba),  who is actually Leder’s co-star. The dog follows K around as he kills all of his family. There are instances it hides under the lone bed’s covers. It chews on his owner’s dentures that pop out of her mouth as she dies. Doggy doesn’t care and eventually gets in a car with K as its family’s bodies lie in the trunk. Throughout the film, there are extremely close shots of people’s faces, but it’s especially disconcerting when it does the same thing with the dog. The dog moves through spaces entirely by instinct and circumstance just like K does. I mean, the dog is incredibly cute, and it killed me to the point of the laughter at how ridiculously it was just being itself. Gold star to Kuba who practically steals every scene it’s in.

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As the dog joins, K forms a new plan. He must expose his murders and compulsions. Everyone must know. It is imperative he take the bodies with him and show them to his next victims. He gets off on people fearing him. That is a fame he wants and towards the end of the film, he believes that it is his ultimate masterpiece. He would like the whole world to fear him, even if he gets caught.

Stained with dried blood and white suit with tails, he stands out and he gets caught. But in the end, we don’t see him in handcuffs and a cut to FIN. There is no cheering that the bad guy will see justice or that K has been stopped. It’s just the police and a small scattered crowd, (most of them who were future possible victims), staring on in shock at the macabre revelation in a car trunk.

It is elucidated in a male voice over, a psychiatrist, that K does not suffer a mental illness. K is fully cognizant of his actions. His sexual excitement in his crimes are just a part of who he is. Abandonment by his family birthed his behavior, but it does not excuse it. If there is a cure for K’s condition, it isn’t mentioned. The question mark we expect at the end of a film like this is more like a giant exclamation mark on fire.  K exists in the world, it’s just a matter of him being quietly free among us.

 

 

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