At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

ANGST (Cult Epics)

By • Jul 29th, 2016 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes

The aesthetic gods were with the filmmakers on this project. The marketplace may not have been, but the enduring impact made by all the key talent has held up remarkably well after 33 years.

The Austrian film is introduced by none other than Gaspar Noe, no slouch when it comes to extreme cinema. He claims that the film profoundly affected him. Knowing his work, in particular his earlier films, I would say it not only affected him, but also influenced him. There are too many overlapping similarities, such as the strident use of music (by Tangerine Dream’s Klaus Schulze), the unrelenting brutality and realism of the narrative and the direction, as well as the avoidance of any mitigating elements in the emotional journey of the protagonist (there is a certain rubber ball, which is featured on the front cover of the 40-page booklet enclosed in the BluRay box, but that prop does something leavening to us, not to the S&M killer whose brief journey we follow). Even the high, floating crane shots appear in both directors’ work. The major difference between them is that Noe has had a gratifying if sporadic career, whereas Gerald Kargl, ANGST’s director, has never made another film.

Irwin Leder, who plays the sex murderer, actually grew up in a mental institution where his father was a physician. I think this had to have given him a bit of a head-start in shaping the character he plays so convincingly in ANGST. The writers and director based the protagonist on several infamous serial killers including the Vampire of Dusseldorf (see M, via Criterion), and excerpts of their words are used by Leder’s voice over amalgam. Yet all of this tricky and challenging material is assimilated and regurgitated believably by the committed actor.

Leder looks like he’s constantly breaking into a pasty-faced fever sweat. No sooner is he released from prison after having served several years for similar crimes then he’s immediately focused on resuming where he left off. He finds an empty house, which seems to him like divine guidance. A handicapped man appears, whom he quickly dispenses with. Then two women return home, and he awkwardly overpowers them. The mother and daughter are trapped in their own little mini-dramas, trying to extricate themselves and to understand exactly what they’re undergoing, and they fail in this attempt, because he’s insane and his actions make no logical sense, which it might have for a run-of-the-mill psychotic intruder/assailant.

There are other wonderful (odd choice of words, I’ll admit) films in this recently popular, horror sub-genre. HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, M, FUNNY GAMES, FUNNY GAMES (both versions, from the same director, are strong), to some degree THE HITCHER, I SAW THE DEVIL, the HANNIBAL LECTOR franchise, etc. ANGST stands out in the way it characterizes its killer’s debilitating mental illness. He doesn’t think clearly, he doesn’t look well. His dementia actually manifests itself physically. There’s an oblique criticism leveled at the authorities. Clearly (to us) there’s no way of ‘rehabilitating’ someone like this, and he should never have been set loose in society again. We’re left to wonder what could possibly have led them to such an irresponsible, indefensible decision. Are we, in the US, really considering releasing Charles Manson or David Berkowitz? No. They wear their incurable mental illness on their psyches. We just go through the appeal motions, then tuck them away for another year. Maybe lobotomy would render them acceptable to live vegetative lives in society, but that’s not an option nowadays. So there is that troubling subtext to consider, lending the film additional depth. It was, after all, based on a real case.

Leder, Kargl, and co-author/cinematographer/editor Rybczynski are still alive – they’re interviewed in the supplemental section and in the well-researched insert booklet, and have compelling things to say about this experience three decades in their past. Considering that they’re still with us, can you imagine “ANGST 2: Now he’s really mad.“ I mean, they let him out before, why shouldn’t they do it again?

How’s that for a frightening thought?! I’ll bet someone’s already ruminating on it.

The film’s disturbing, provocative, and it really hasn’t dated a bit.

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