“ANGST”: The Crucial, Unreleased Home Invasion Classic
In the opening moments of Gerald Kargl’s ANGST, a wildly imbalanced, frightfully impulsive killer is getting out of prison. As he’s escorted by guards, the camera which will serve as a significant source of frenzy throughout what’s to come, stylishly glides below him. It’s no traditional position of power, however. Tracking from the back and low, the viewer’s sensation is that of being dragged by the unnamed psychopath. We are now, however unwillingly, physically attached to him and through his constant narration, confined to his headspace as well. We’ve no place to go but to watch however this will play out. And that is, as one of the most powerful home invasion films out there.
The unstoppable force with which ANGST hits is an incredible marriage of whirlwind vision from Kargl and an entirely unhinged performance by Erwin Leder. Based on the exploits of Austrian killer Werner Kniesek (his statements and those of German “Vampire of Düsseldorf” Peter Kürten are used in the voiceover), the film aims to take you through the actions of a murderer like few have before; by essentially, giving that madman the wheel. Perhaps the most affecting aspect of ANGST is that at no point does it feel like Kargl was ever in control. Of course, he is and that’s the brilliance on display, but visually, the film is ever teetering. Once out in the world, high crane shots swirl around The Psychopath. We float above him, but still chained to his desire, much like the dragging from earlier. When pulled in closer, the camera is actually attached to Leder and similarly gives no evidence of strong foundation. There’s never any ground to stand upon, because this sweaty, ever-on-the-edge maniac has none.
ANGST is at all times unsettling. The aforementioned narration is overflowing with stories from this killer’s childhood and the free admittance of his lack of rehabilitation. We know from even before he steps outside of his cell that this man is impatient to kill again, that he toys with psychiatrists. At one point, he’s on top of a current victim, regaling tales of a past one.
His first attempts to kill upon release however, are both almost blackly comedic and a window into both his uncontrollable impulse and paranoia. In a café, those around him are framed tightly, constricting, and always looking directly on. It’s confrontational and a direct view of living in a world where everyone who is a potential victim has always got their eyes on you. He storms out, hailing a cab. The white one is already taken, but it’s not like there was any hope to begin with. A (deep) red taxi pulls up, and the killer fumbles with his shoelaces in the backseat. He may be lethal, but imprisonment has him a bit off his game. The driver—who he tells us reminds him of an ex and thus is immediately a whore—knows something’s up. Caught, the man bolts out of the cab and that camera attached to him flies side-to-side as he runs through the forest. The film’s full visual force is laid out and the viewer is entirely out of their element.
Having trouble with well functioning human beings, it is opportune then that his wandering should lead him to the home of a mentally disabled man, his caretaking sister and their elderly mother. The latter two arrive after The Psychopath has already made his way into the house and when their suspicions arise from a broken window, the full speed tackle he lays upon young Sylvia is a gasp actualized on screen. As ANGST plays out much in real time, the actions that ensue are harrowing, and especially so because of his sloppiness. Tying Sylvia’s leg to a doorknob, the camera is flipped, upending and again destabilizing our whole experience. He stumbles, is always heavily breathing and those ultra confrontational tight frames return. He can barely lift the residents of the home; instead he drags and falls all over the house. The thick layer of makeup on the old woman and the formal attire of the mentally ill man elevate the proceedings to something surreal, eerie and Lynchian. Ultimately, his impulse gets the better of him and he’s forced to angrily lament murdering the old lady too early.
The central crimes of ANGST unfold faster than you may expect (but they aren’t over quickly).The final act of the film finds the murderer attempting to get himself together and flee. He washes up after the film’s nastiest scene. He adorns a ridiculous formal jacket with tails— fitting since he stuffs the bodies in a trunk and plans to show them off to further victims, hoping they’ll just die from pure fright. It ends on the same manic energy much of the movie operates on throughout, and like many of its great moments, will leave you speechless.
So, why haven’t many been able to see this intense, incredible work? Heavily banned throughout its initial release and receiving an XXX in the United States, ANGST now exists on both German and French DVD with no Region 1 option. It seems Kargl has some regrets in regard to just how ANGST (AKA SCHIZOPHRENIA in France) operates, telling Ikonen Magazine, “I am not satisfied throughout. Especially the central violence is over the top and should not be shown that way. I would do it differently today.” He’s since applied some of his ideas to that German DVD, where the aforementioned nastiest scene—where the man murders Sylvia and rapes her body—is considerably darkened so that less of its graphic nature is visible. That edition also removes the film’s prologue, a wholly separate murder.
It seems these changes and further retroactive edits Kargl is interested in are also what’s preventing a proper American release. In 2010, Barrel Entertainment announced a Special Edition before the company went under. At the forum AV Maniacs, one user inquired why a label like the great Synapse wouldn’t pick up where Barrel left off. Synapse’s Don May, Jr. revealed there, “It was offered to us a few years after we started Synapse Films but, after seeing the transfer materials, and finding out that the director really wanted to start making changes to the film, we passed and decided to let it go to someone else.”
But is this a case where a filmmaker little understands why his work is so powerful? ANGST isn’t gratuitous in its depiction of the horrible deeds this man perpetrates. It is graphic, but in no way glorifying. What’s more, the film is so viciously subjective from its very beginning. Even when the lead character is interacting with, or violently overpowering victims, the ambient score by Klaus Schulze (of Tangerine Dream) and his narration drown out diegetic sound. We are forever in his world, privy and at the mercy of his whim.
Maybe Kargl just wants to regain some control?