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FANTASTICA Presents: “ANGST”, “HENRY” and The Serial Killer Conundrum

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For over thirty years, Gerald Kargl’s ANGST was a holy grail for hardcore horror fans, garnering a reputation as a serial killer film so shocking and realistic that no U.S. distributor was willing to take a gamble on it. Furthermore, bootlegs of ANGST became a crapshoot for underground collectors considering the film rarely made home video without some kind of censorship or unapproved edits, making the select few 35mm screenings of the film must-go events for the horror and art crowds alike. And now, in 2015, ANGST has finally made its way into the American marketplace, hitting Blu-ray and select theatrical screenings around the country, one of which this writer attended no more than 2 weeks ago.

Since then, this writer has been thinking a lot about ANGST, and not just in the mere resonation that the film has in its extremity and unease. Rather, this writer began to think about how ANGST will play for generations of American viewers who have more-or-less become accustomed to a serial killer culture. In the decades since ANGST debuted and subsequently cemented its legacy, America has changed to become not only more familiar but also obsessed with serial killers; hell, there’s an entire spin-off channel on Cable TV solely devoted to serial killer culture, while sensational trials, books, biopics, documentaries, series and more have captured our collective fascination. And even though ANGST has the most intense and terrifying murder sequence in recent memory- and viewers will certainly know which one- HENRY, PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER may still stand tall as the most unsettling serial killer film in the horror genre.

But perhaps what made ANGST really stand out is the fact that is makes no attempts to sympathize with our killer, and by understanding his methods and approach, we only learn how truly different he is from ourselves. Conversely, the serial killer culture of America almost goes out of its way to find that sympathetic element to our killers, even sometimes fashioning them into anti-heroes. To Americans, especially in my own generation, understanding a killer is to find an excuse for “what went wrong?” in the absence of digging into genetic abnormalities or inherent mental illness. In ANGST, it’s made clear that whether it’s nurture or nature, the behavior of a psychopathic spree killer is simply unjustifiable and only more likely to get more depraved.

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Furthermore, ANGST made this writer take a moment to lament the serial killer thriller, a branch of the horror genre that’s almost all but gone. Sure, it lives on in some capacity on the television space in the form of THE FALL and TRUE DETECTIVE, but since the middle-budget film has all but become extinct in the studio system, the serial killer thriller has instead been relegated to consumable, forgettable content in an increasing streaming landscape. Even worse is that the serial killer thriller has drifted away so sharply from the horror genre, which has been primarily focused on ghost stories for so long and had previously only greenlit serial killer tales during the “torture porn” era of the mid-’00s. Meanwhile, films that attempt to study killers like ANGST, THE VANISHING and HENRY are decades old at this point, and are defined by just how terrifying their quieter, less graphic moments could be.

That’s not to say there still aren’t great serial killer films being made; in fact, films like ALLELUIA and KILLERS have shown that the independent space can still produce a whopping, effective killer film. But even in those films, the work of the serial killers is still shown through a stylized lens, rarely showing the brutal, terrifying nature of a killer as it really is. ANGST certainly takes on some stylized camerawork, but every decision made by Kargl in ANGST is never to glamourize the horror on display; instead, ANGST reminds you that with every revolting action taken by its lead, there is someone who is paying the price and someone else destined to pay that price down the line.

And while ANGST will certainly live on, especially as a masterfully directed and absolutely disturbing piece of horror cinema, one imagines it will not hold the “revival screening” status as other “extreme” horror films do. Had ANGST hit in 1992 or even 2002, the film would likely be a Saturday Night staple alongside films such as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and AUDITION. But with the prevalence of serial killer culture on the internet, in book stores, streaming services, on television and even in casual conversation and the death of haunting, striking portraits of serial killers in film, perhaps ANGST will continue to live on in hushed tones among hardcore horror fans, in which the film will still pack a punch when the curious come looking.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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