Sunday, September 16, 2012

Overlooked Films: Angst (1983)

Director Gerald Kargl's sole known feature film "Angst" (1983) really is an amazing piece of work.  It's obscurity is a crime, and any lover of sheer film technique and/or the dark arts really ought to check it out.  The nameless killer that the picture focuses on is not a hero, nor even an anti-hero.  In fact, he's pretty pathetic.  We first see him in prison where he has spent half of his life due to one and a half prior murders.

The prisons psychologists ask what he dreams about.  "Flowers... flowers... always flowers". As a result they turn him loose.  His ever-present voiceover informs us that all he can discuss is how much he loves killing, and who he should kill next.  This time he will kill, and continue to kill.  This time, they will not catch him.

He doesn't appear to have a plan, and basically makes it up as he goes.  Indeed he has to.  Everyone who sees him looking at them can immediately tell that there's something wrong with him.  As a result, it's quite a ways into the film before he can even secure a single victim.

"Hi!  I'm looking for some... victims?  Yeah, innocent ones!  You got those?"

In one brilliant scene he catches a cab, and begins plotting the murder of his attractive female driver.  As he unlaces his shoes to strangle her, his voiceover abruptly switches to an account of his first love, and the edgy S&M games they used to engage in.  The driver can see him practically salivating and slams on the brakes to demand that he leave the cab.  He loses his nerve when cornered, freaks out and bolts into the woods instead, shoelaces in hand.

This is our protagonist.  The camera follows him from a variety of angles that frequently make no sense.  The most noteworthy shots are filmed from a waist mounted, rotating camera that pans around him frenetically as he runs, always pointed at his panicking face.  Usually, however, our perspective is above and off to the side, as if we were a roving surveillance camera.  The cinematography here is stellar, and suburban Austria is depicted as a crisp, bright, wintery place to raise a family.

Of course, that's not the movie we're watching.  In this one, the killer eventually happens upon an empty home in the burbs that he thinks would make "a paradise" for him.  He hides when the inhabitants come home (no children, thankfully), but is quickly discovered.  At first he tries to subdue them all in any way that he can, but finds it more challenging that he thought.  Everything goes wrong.  His elaborate scheme to torture them fails when one dies ahead of schedule.  He loses it quickly, and in blind rage takes whatever he can get.

In the one truly grisly act of violence in the film, our "hero" becomes nothing more than a beast, slavering over his kill, raging until there's nothing left.  It's pretty shocking, but this isn't the payoff.  Our killer can't just leave well enough alone, and decides to take the bodies with him.  Because "he has plans for them".  Of course he does.  Watching him gather the bodies in almost real time is riveting.  You wonder, how long is he going to dither here in this abbatoir?  Everyone's already DEAD!

I see you haven't thought this through...

It's clear that the killer in "Angst" is mentally addled to say the least, and his plans are constantly undermined by his own fear and incompetence.  That's why I love this film.  It's almost certainly the most realistic depiction of this sort of killer.  He isn't charismatic.  He isn't even smart.  He just kills.  His victims are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and perhaps remind him of someone.

This apparent accuracy is only one reason that "Angst" is one of the best films I've seen in a long, long time.  Brilliant cinematography is another.  The perfect score by Klaus Schulze alternates between moody synth washes and a Kraftwerkian robot groove for the more panicky moments.  Some comedy involving the family dog is subtle genius.

What kicks it over the top is a fearless lead performance by Erwin Leder.  Patrick Bateman be damned, this nameless maniac is not messing around, and every little degree of panic, rage, glee, and confusion is visible on his sweat-drenched face.  The film's final pan up to the skyline provides some hollow comfort, as we realize that this beautiful city could somehow produce this guy.

"Angst" is nearly unavailable, except for a German DVD release from several years ago.  You may be able to find it online somewhere.  I also hear there's a thing called BitTorrent.

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