“I just love it when women shiver in deadly fear because of me. It’s like an addiction, that will never stop.”
That’s a real quote said in front of the judge by the Austrian triple-murderer Werner Kniesek, which this film is based on.
In Angst we follow a young man on a crispy day in November as he gets released from a ten years-prison sentence after killing a 70-year old woman. We don’t know his actual name, so we just call him K (short for killer). And prior to this he’d already been behind bars for four years after a failed attempt to kill his mother with a knife. The film starts with his last minutes in prison before he gets released to the society. We hear a voice-over narration that speaks his thoughts while he walks through the streets of the local town. We learn about his dark past, how he started off killing animals as a kid, and that he’s the same killer he always was. And he’s eager as a kid on Christmas to find a new victim. That’s all that matters. To torture someone.
Not a single form of treatment seemed to have been given to this man. It’s as if Ed Gein was to be released the day after he got prosecuted, only with a quick slap on the wrist, hoping he would behave and finally clean up his house. Ha-ha! If this was a subtle message to the psychiatric healthcare in Austria, I don’t know. But I wouldn’t be surprised if so.
Anyway: Mr. K is already scanning the surroundings for a new victim. There’s no time to waste other than visiting a coffee shop to eat a big sausage with a chunk of mustard (serial killers have to eat too), while giving two young ladies some creepy death stares. He then jumps into a taxi, and after a clumsy and failed attempt to strangle the female driver with a shoelace, he runs out and flees hysterically through some wooded area, like a headless chicken. As most of the serial killers come across as calculated and with a certain sense of control, and a manipulative charm to their great advantage, this guy is the straight opposite. He’s a frantic loose cannon with zero social skills, driven by a legion of inner raging demons, probably on crystal meth mixed with a toxic cocktail of explosive compulsive disorders and the intense urge to terrorize whoever he can – and make his victims feel what he chronically seems to feel: Angst.
But it seems to be his lucky day, after all, as he breaks into a house where his three new victims live. Needless to say, it gets really ugly from here on.
On paper, Angst seems as a pretty straight-forward home invasion thriller/slasher with few surprises. That being said, what makes this one stand out is much thanks to Erwin Leder as Mr. K. I haven’t seen a more perfect individual playing a role like this. He makes an electric performance and looks like a sickly and more ghoulish version of Bill Skarsgård, and his face alone with its intense, creepy eyes is an epitome of horror. An interesting trivia is that Erwin grew up in a mental institution where his parents worked. Throughout his childhood he would play and hang around with several patients, and there’s no doubt he must have taken some inspirations from these experiences. The most surprising thing is that he was able to keep his sanity. Or did he, really..? He has before and since this film been a dedicated working actor, most known on the mainstream surface with Das Boot as an mental unstable mechanic, and as a mad Lycan scientist in Underworld.
Another strong aspect is the visuals. Director Gerald Kargl and the cinematographer Zbigniew Rybczyński experiments a lot with the camera which is mostly handheld. In several scenes the camera is attached to the antagonist which gives us a view of him in all angles. A pretty unique technique that also gives us a sense of the chaotic, frantic nature of the killer. The soundtrack by Klaus Schulze (RIP) from Tangerine Dream enhances the bleak and isolated atmosphere with the use of ambience and electronic tunes.
Overall, Angst is a raw, nasty, morbid and frantic experience with not a single moment of peace. It’s filled with an atmosphere of bleakness from the very start, which expands quickly into a downward spiral of dread, nihilism, misery and pure hell with uncontrolled mental illness on full display. It will, regardless of how prone you’re to the genre, trigger one or another angst-related emotion in you. For my own part, as the cynical misanthrope I am, I couldn’t avoid to feel mostly for the dog, the family’s little dachshund. He sporadically shows waddling around in the house while the killer is causing hell. He’s just a random, defenceless observer, trapped in the middle of the mayhem, and all you can do is hope for the best. That dog seemed to be a champ during filming, and also earned his own IMDb page, credited as Kuba. The rest of the few actors also does a great, convincing job, by the way, considering buckets of pig blood was used during the most brutal scenes.
Director Gerald Kargl stated that he did his very best to avoid any form of entertainment since his view is that such elements through stalk & slash would be cynical. Huh, okey… if this is entertainment or just pure anti-entertainment, is always up the the viewer to decide. Gaspar Noé, the master provocateur himself, is a huge fan, if that tells you something. But anyhow, if the sub-genre of home invasion is your thing, this will for certain entertain and thrill you for sure. If Henry: Portrail of a Serial killer (another great film in its own right) was more than enough for you to handle, you wouldn’t sit through this one, I can bet my angsty, sweaty balls on that.
The film has been an obscure rarity for decades, but is now available both on Blu-ray and DVD from Cult Epics, packed with extra stuff. Note: The booklet only arrives with the Blu-ray.
Director: Gerald Kargl
Writers: Zbigniew Rybczynski, Gerald Kargl
Country & year: Austria, 1983
Actors: Erwin Leder, Robert Hunger-Bühler, Silvia Ryder, Karin Springer, Edith Rosset, Josefine Lakatha, Rudolf Götz, Kuba, Renate Kastelik