“ANGST” (Blu-ray/DVD Review)


We are gathered here today to celebrate an event that is difficult to truly “celebrate” in any jovial sense. Widely unreleased or banned since its debut, ANGST is the one and only film from director/co-writer Gerald Kargl, and has long been one of the most sought-after flicks on the bootleg circuit.

That it has now been revived and given Criterion-level Blu-ray and DVD treatment by Cult Epics is an undoubtedly important moment in genre history. But because the film is one of the most desperate and hopeless examinations of a lone serial killer—carrying out horrible acts based on true accounts—you may have taken your party hat off long before the story’s conclusion. For those who haven’t read about ANGST, or had discussions with frazzled conventioneers constantly seeking a decent copy, don’t feel alarmed at your obliviousness to this film’s existence. ANGST is such a heralded film by some fans that it’s nearly impossible to believe it has slipped under the radar of others, though it has been acknowledged here and there. Now it’s out for everyone to see, and it’s a doozy.

ANGSTDISCREVBased partially upon the exploits of Austrian serial murderer Werner Kniesek, ANGST follows a psychopath ferociously and feverishly portrayed by DAS BOOT’s Erwin Leder. Like Kniesek, Leder’s character attempted to murder his mother as a youth; she survived, he was imprisoned and we’re introduced to the disheveled man on the day of his release. Immediately, he helps us understand through voiceover narration that there has been no rehabilitation, and that his immediate priority is to kill someone. Anyone. He goes to a diner and gazes at the customers. Too busy. He hails a cab and acts like such a weirdo, the driver—a woman—is prepared to fend him off when he attempts to strangle her.

Having failed at this, he flees the vehicle right where she hit the brakes—in the middle of seemingly nowhere in the Austrian countryside. He runs through the woods, frustrated with himself, terrified of capture, the camera whirling around him like a psychotic carousel in one of the bravado moments of camerawork that cinematographer Zbigniew Rybzcynski continues to astound us with as the film carries on. He runs, sweats and runs until a clearing reveals a large house situated in the woods—a beautiful place that could be called a mansion, but seems devoid of any life. There are people living in it, however—a family. They have their own problems, and we’re about to witness them cope with far worse, and practically by our own hands, because we never leave the side of the maniac we’ve been stuck to like a Siamese twin since the beginning of the damn film.

And let’s have a word on that. Because it deals with a cinematic home invasion, ANGST has been compared to other films that are far more familiar to staunch or even casual fans of confrontational cinema. But unlike the villains of most such movies, the killer here is definitely not in control. Michael Rooker in HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER never really loses his cool—he knows how to kill, how to get away with it and even how to commit and get away with murders that aren’t premeditated. The bastards in FUNNY GAMES have tricks to help them even if they temporarily lose control. There’s nothing like that here—our narrator never has any “cool” to lose.

One of the film’s foremost champions is Gaspar Noé, director of the Mack-truck-to-your-soul IRREVERSIBLE. He calls ANGST a “masterpiece,” says he’s seen it over 40 times and provides an introduction to the film on the discs—food for thought for the timid. We also receive a new high-definition transfer, which disagrees with Kargl at times due to the clearer view of certain violence on display. The director shares that he would subdue the intensity of certain attacks if he could do it all over again, which is just one of a ton of factoids provided in the special features.

A 40-page booklet greets you upon opening the case. It’s the real deal, loaded with essays, interviews and highly unnerving original news articles covering the tragic crimes that inspired the depraved acts the film depicts. The extras on the discs themselves are equally rich, offering an interview/tour of the shooting locations with Leder (who has much to say on the subject, having grown up exploring a psychiatric clinic his father was the head of), a 2003 interview with Kargl conducted by NEKROMANTIK director Jörg Buttgereit, a 2004 interview with Rybzcynski and a full-length commentary by Kargl conducted by film critic Marcus Stiglegger. The one gripe? The same as before with Cult Epics: Do not linger on the main menu, newcomers. Once again, too much is given away for no good reason. Just hit Play immediately—it’s in the bottom left of the screen.

This review has been intentionally vague regarding what happens when the killer gets his hands on people, and what Kargl and co. went through during and after the film’s creation. There’s no reason to read that here. From the actual cases that informed the filmmakers to the innovative, disciplined and fearless manner with which they approached telling their story, this is an intense yet fascinating package you should explore for yourself.

MOVIE: 3.5_skull


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Chris Haberman
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