What exactly is it like to enter the mind of a serial killer? Perhaps morbid curiosity can drive the soul somewhere, but the sort of experience that Gerald Kargl has provided in Angst is a most unforgettable one. But to think about how Gerald Kargl had never directed another film afterwards, I was only left to think about how Charles Laughton would eventually go on never to direct again after The Night of the Hunter because like Laughton, I would only have imagined that Kargl could have directed many more classics had the initial box office reception been much more welcoming. As a matter of fact, just thinking about how much had Gerald Kargl formed in here makes it all the more impressive of a feat as a debut feature because the sort of grit present in an experiment like this seems near impossible to repeat.
This is a film about a serial killer played by Erwin Leder who is released from prison and is about to go and perform another murder. But he isn’t a killer blindly set out to perform a kill at random, he still carries his own inner conflict as he is also coming to terms with the reprehensible human being that he is – while he is carrying out his own plan to terrorize a family that consists of an elderly woman, her daughter and her handicapped son. The straightforward nature of the plot in a sense reflects upon the shallow perspective from the public on serial killers, because there is no clear motif behind why these killings happen – it just comes out at random. But the fact that even the killer himself has no clear idea why he goes out once more is why Angst is as visceral a watch as it is shown to be.
In the case for many serial killer movies, a backstory comes by usually to provide a motive but the lack of such is a part of why Angst is an especially compelling case scenario. It’s particularly fascinating because of what it makes of how the public has always viewed serial killers, for director Gerald Kargl finds a perfect way to address it by placing them within the twisted mind of our protagonist. The cinematography helps with addressing the rawness of the narrative, because it isn’t merely documentary-like. It’s astounding because the fast movement only reflects the nature of Leder’s character. Yet add that together with the loud sounds and you just get a touch of the killer’s madness as it is only set to explode into violence, even making just the anticipation for what happens next all the more nerve-wrecking.
Erwin Leder’s performance is absolutely outstanding. It’s as frightening as looking straight into the face of a serial killer for he is shown to us as an unpredictable being, much like that of an animal. Yet he’s also frightening because of how Kargl has shown us to him as a man who is also living under fear. But he is never a character you sympathize with. He knows that he is an animal, but he feels trapped on the inside. Through his unleashing of fear what we find inside of this killer is a man who is built upon a more fearful inside. He isn’t completely within the moment despite the actions that we are seeing on the screen, he almost seems completely alien to it, and yet there is no sympathy for him but for his victims. The narration also helps greatly when one comes to consider what makes this performance feel all the more fearful, for the haunting quality to Leder’s voice echoes a sense of brokenness by emphasizing that he isn’t a shallow monster of a serial killer. He’s a full on psychopath, and the film doesn’t shy away from it.
But to draw on how Gerald Kargl draws sympathy within the subject, how does it all work out if there is none even to really be found for the main character? It doesn’t work simply because this is only a tale of a recently freed serial killer coming to terms with the sort of person that he is. It works because this whole film almost feels as if it is taking place within his mind, and he is trying to free himself in the same way that Gerald Kargl is calling for the viewers to be repulsed by the killer’s actions. To say the very least, Gerald Kargl has created a transgressive piece of work, but the very bluntness of the disgusting nature of what we witness is what calls for a feeling of panic. You’re only observing the action as it is about to take place, but you can’t look away because the cinematography makes you the fly on the wall. From there, Kargl has created a very peculiar kind of horror film. Peculiar because he knows how the public views monstrous individuals, but never anything less than fascinating.
The fact that Gerald Kargl has never went on to direct anything again after Angst is a tragedy, because this style that he has established is one that many horror/thriller films that cover such subject matter cannot replicate. From the gritty cinematography to the synth score by Klaus Schulze and Erwin Leder’s portrayal of a damaged mind, Angst is a discomforting experience. But it’s the aggressive discomfort that makes Angst among the very best of its own kind. And the otherwise simple setting makes the deceptively straightforward plot all the more frightening, because it just feels like this all could happen at any point, any place, and any time. From start to finish, Angst never loses any of that touch, as a matter of fact it only builds up even more before it explodes.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Gerald Kargl.
Directed by Gerald Kargl
Screenplay by Gerald Kargl, Zbigniew Rybczyński
Produced by Gerald Kargl, Josef Reitinger-Laska
Starring Erwin Leder
Release Year: 1983
Running Time: 87 minutes