ANGST (1983) – The Austrian Cult Classic

Angst is a 1983 Austrian serial killer film written and directed by Gerald Kargl, the one and only film he ever made. Though little known, the film has gained cult status over the years due to its raw, relentless violence and avant-garde cinematography.

During the filming of Angst, director Kargl plunged so far into debt that he was forced to give up on the film industry completly. The decision was a clear travesty as based on the evidence from the film he was a young filmmaker full of raw talent and innovative ideas.

The film begins with a “psychopath” played by Erwin Leder (Das Boot) being released from prison after serving 10 years for killing an old woman. Upon his release his first and only thoughts are to fulfill his sadistic, violent urges and go on a bloody killing spree. Nothing else in this world matters to him.

After a failed attempt on a female taxi driver, by pure chance, the killer stumbles upon a secluded mansion, which is the perfect place for him to satisfy his bloodthirsty needs.

What sets this film apart from your average serial killer movie is the sheer gritty realism and impulsive violence of the killer. The killer isn’t an intelligent one like Hannibal or Dexter and, despite what he says, he doesn’t seem to have any real plan other than to kill as brutally as possible. In fact, his frantic, sadistic killings are completely spontaneous, unplanned and damn right sloppy……and he seems to get off on it.

The scenes of violence are merciless, barbaric and very realistic. There is no feeling of the entertainment, suspense or enjoyment you might get from your teen “slasher” or conventional horror movie. Kargl harnesses the unusual method of using the killer’s narration during the bloodshed, where he recounts the events in his life, like his mother’s abandonment that have led him to this psychotic state of mind. But there’s no way you can ever feel sorry for him. He’s a callous, weak human being who uses his shitty upbringing as an excuse for gruesome violence.

Erwin Leder gives a tremendous performance as the “psychopath” and his beady eyes and deranged facial expressions make this film feel all the more real and unsettling, giving a very believable account of a man on the cusp of total insanity.

One thing that stood out for me in this film was Zbigniew Rybczynski’s impressive cinematography, which very much adds to the manic hysteria of proceedings. Gaspar Noe has cited the film as a big influence in his work and this is obvious from the opening few minutes, where the camera pans from the rooftops of the prison down to the courtyard and is very reminiscent of the beginning of Noe’s Irreversible. The camera is constantly on the move and it almost always seems to be placed slightly above the killer’s head, giving the viewer a voyeuristic point of view. There are also a few moments where the camera is placed right in front of the killer’s face, whilst he is running or moving fast, which reminded me of parts of Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Darren Aronofsky’s Pi.

Also deserving a mention is the legendary German electronic composer Klaus Schulze’s fantastic synth score. Eerie synth pads, pounding electro claps, snares and ambient arpeggio’s are the flavour of the day…and they fit perfectly with the visual narrative, adding a sense of dread and unease to the already harrowing subject matter.

Angst is certainly not going to be a movie for everybody but it’s an extremely well crafted and original film that will be etched into your brain forever.

Whether you want it to or not.

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