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Angst | Blu-ray Review

Gerald Kargl Angst ReviewYou’d be hard-pressed to find a film that can transcend the unpleasantness of Austrian filmmaker Gerald Kargl’s sole directorial feature, Angst. A title difficult to obtain copies of in the United States, it’s one of those titles passed around amongst aficionados who prefer their boundaries stretched or surpassed when it comes to taste, and the film feels like a progenitor of unsettling material like Man Bites Dog (1992) or Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986). And yet Kargl’s unsung masterpiece of distress usurps the discomfort engendered in those later titles thanks to ambient score and spectacular camerawork. Touted as a film influencing the likes of Gaspar Noe, on record as proclaiming the title to be ‘the rarest masterpiece of cinema,’ widespread availability should mark this as a film worthy of reconsideration and a much wider cult following.

A troubled individual (Erwin Leder) is released from prison after serving a ten year sentence (his second stint in lockup) for murdering an elderly woman. Clearly not rehabilitated, he scours the Viennese countryside in search of temptation, titillated by young women at a diner before he makes a flaccid attempt at subduing a female taxi driver. Flinging himself into the woods, he finds an isolated house. Breaking and entering, he lurks there until a mother and daughter return home that evening. Paralyzed by his presence, the madman tortures them both, along with a wheelchair bound invalid who’s been left to his own devices. A night of bloody terror ensues as the man acts out his psychotic, warped fantasies.

Based on the true story of real-life serial killer Werner Kniesek, Leder’s calculated omniscient narration fills us in on his deepest, darkest desires, including explanations of his past criminal acts. What emerges is a chilling portrait of a troubled sociopath. Kargl crafted this running narration from bits of actual testimonies from other serial killers, such as the notorious Peter Kurten (upon whom Fritz Lang’s M is based). But what places Angst into a realm of its own is the stunning camerawork from Polish animator Zbig Rybczynski (who also gets a co-writing credit).

A director of many music videos, Rybczynski would only serve as DoP on two additional Polish features, but won an Oscar for Best Animated Short in 1981 with Tango. It’s a pity considering the eerie feat, with the camera either placed in close proximity to Leder as he runs, kills, and gnashes his teeth, or swooping like a bird of prey as it circles architectures and landscapes from dizzying heights and complex pans. Likewise, the film was scored by Klaus Schultze of Tangerine Dream, an electro synth menace which makes the film feel like Funny Games by way of Jorg Buttgeriet (who appears in the extra features). Beautiful in its ability to illicit revulsion and terror, Leder is at the forefront of most viscerally unsettling serial killer portraits (he has a variety of high-profile credits, from Das Boot and Schindler’s List to Underworld).

Disc Review:

Cult Epics, the distributor who recently gifted the world with revitalized transfers of German director Jorg Buttgeriet’s infamous provocations, has put a lot of love into the package of this peripheral cult classic. Presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this is a welcome transfer of a title that’s too often been reduced to grainy, faded prints thanks to difficulty in obtaining copies in the US. And, as with previous releases, Cult Epics proves to be generous with the inclusion of bonus feature material.

Featurette – Erwin Leder in Fear:
This twenty one minute feature finds Leder discussing his role as “K,” a mixture of three real killers.

Interview with Gerald Kargl by Jorg Buttgeriet:
This half hour interview in German features Buttergeit interviewing Kargl about the origins of the film.

Zbigniew Rybzcynski Interview:
A near forty minute interview with DoP Rybzcynski finds him discussing his involvement and collaboration with Kargl.

Final Thoughts:

An underrated gem, Angst is a fascinatingly morbid exercise depicting the grotesque capabilities of the disturbed. Beautifully photographed, it’s an eerie exercise and puts Kargl in a unique category of one title auteurs.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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