Angst Blu-ray Review (originally published 2015)
A maniacal killer (Erwin Leder) stalks through the Viennese countryside in search of victims.
Not so much “lost” as overlooked, Gerald Kargl’s Angst (aka: Fear and Schizophrenia, 1983) quietly simmered on the stove of cult horrordom for decades. You shouldn’t blame yourself if you haven’t seen it, but you’ve most likely heard of its reputation as a no-holds-barred assault on the senses. France’s king of shock cinema, Gaspar Noé (Irreversible , Enter the Void ) is one of is one of the film’s greatest champions (there are distinct similarities between Kargl’s movie and Noé’s controversial feature-length debut, I Stand Alone, 1998). Noé’s best quote on the subject describes Angst as a more baroque version of John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), which is a very apt way to sum up of the film’s appeal (or lack thereof) for prospective viewers. Both films are bleak, disturbingly pragmatic, and sympathetic portraits of psychopathic and sadistic behavior. Each are also loosely based on the exploits of real-world murderers – McNaughton’s title character is a composite of Henry Lee Lucas and other noted American serial killers, while Kargl’s unnamed maniac is based on Salzburgian mass-murder Werner Kniesek (the film is augmented by quotes from Peter Kürten, aka: The Vampire of Düsseldorf).
Noé’s use of the word “baroque” applies mostly to Polish cinematographer/director/animator Zbigniew Rybcxynski’s intricate camerawork. Alongside the mind-bending tracking, dolly, and crane shots are incredibly intimate low and high angle close-ups where the camera wraps around the killer like a gyroscope. It’s almost like watching a magic trick – dazzling for certain, but also the type of thing that makes you stop to consider how it was done. I assumed Rybcxynski had attached a SnorriCam-like device to actor Erwin Leder, but even newer films with more ample budgets (Darren Arronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream  springs to mind) haven’t turned the SnorriCam into a stead-cam rig. The impact of the photography is then elevated by impressionistic and very modern editing techniques, instituted by the cinematographer himself. Rybcxynski, whose innovations are something even Angst’s detractors have to admit is remarkable beyond low-budget genre expectations. He had won an Oscar for his 1980 animated short, Tango, and made a number of music videos, yet didn’t go on to Hollywood fame, like countrymen Janusz Kaminski, Dariusz Wolski, or Andrzej Bartkowiak. Still, it’s more than we can say for Kargl, who never made another film after Angst.
Noé’s baroque label does not apply to the spartan production design. Angst takes place in a heightened version of the real world and Kargl extends this to the mundane environment that the killer invades. As he frantically tears through the house, his toxic presence turns the ordinary surroundings into terrifying ratnests. On top of this, even the most graphic of the murders avoid the common cinematic habit of making murder a thing of awe and beauty. The swirling camerawork and extreme close-ups throw the audience into a subjective position, giving us a uniquely personalized view of both the killer and his victims, yet the crimes themselves are sloppy and awkward, not at all balettic or entertaining. Even the killer himself expresses disappointment at the fruit of his labors. Kargl isn’t interested in the ironic deaths of then-contemporary slasher movies or the florid assassinations of the giallo thrillers that preceded him – he’s concerned with grinding our noses into the grubby truth of a very bad thing. The victims don’t even scream while being attacked, rather they whimper, choke, and stare into the killer’s face with pathetic confusion.
This matter-of-fact tone extends to Kargl’s limited screenplay, which he co-wrote with Rybcxynski. Once again, Angst’s closest cinematic cousin is probably the aforementioned Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or, given the killer’s constant narration (which makes up probably 98% of the film’s dialogue) and the fact that we hardly ever escape his point-of-view, Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) and George Romero’s Martin (1977). But the small cast, limited setting, and short timeframe (with a few exceptions, the film practically takes place in real time) make it unlike anything else of its era. It would be a disservice to compare it to DIY faux-snuff movies, like the August Underground series (2001, ’03, ‘07), because Angst’s narrative restraint is misleading. I suppose it could be seen as an austere slice of serial killer life, but that would discount the narration and what it tells us about our mysterious killer’s personal history and current state of mind. There’s a lot more story and purpose here than shock and slaughter.
There are two different versions of Angst, which has created some confusion as to how long the ‘uncut’ version should be. Kargl’s original cut, which represented his complete vision for the film, came in somewhere between 75 and 76 minutes. This wasn’t long enough for prospective distributors. When asked to lengthen the film, Kargl added a prologue to bring the runtime up to 83 minutes. The prologue includes a brief glimpse at the original murder that landed the killer in jail, followed by a narrated slideshow that explains his upbringing, crimes, and psychology. The slideshow approach is a clever way to fill time and I appreciate the inclusion of real pictures from Erwin Leder’s childhood, but it definitely feels extraneous.
Angst was very hard to find on VHS and DVD. The 2006 German DVD released from EuroVideo/Indigo was the most coveted release, but it didn’t not include the prologue, because it was supervised by Kargl, who wasn’t particularly fond of the footage. The more recent collector’s edition Blu-ray release from French studio Carlotta Films (under the alternate title Schizophrenia) only included the prologue as a supplemental feature. In addition, Kargl reportedly regretted the brutality of the gory tunnel murder and asked that the people behind the German release to optically darken the sequence to disguise some of the carnage (similar to what Scorsese did with the climax of Taxi Driver). Cult Epics rescanned (the specs don’t specify the resolution) the film for this brand new, 1.78:1, 1080p transfer (according to imdb.com specs, Angst was originally framed at 1.66:1, which the German DVD maintained), which was used for a brief theatrical run and this first-time US Blu-ray release. This remaster includes the option to watch the prologue as part of the film and the tunnel murder has been optically restored to its former gory glory – though do note that the blood still appears black, unlike images from older VHS versions, where it is definitively red.
Overall, this is a tight and surprisingly clean image, especially considering the age of the material and the fact that it had basically disappeared for several years. In my experience (which is limited to three releases), Cult Epics doesn’t usually perform extensive digital clean-ups, but there’s a distinct lack of print damage artifacts here (small black specs and white scratches pepper the presentation) and, even better, few signs of DNR. The grain structure appears pretty accurate, though some sequences show twinges of telecine machine noise. Details and textures are tight, especially during those gloriously disturbing close-ups, and I am very impressed by the clarity of the more well-lit, soft focus images. However, the sharpness has been turned up a bit too high, leading to some edge haloes and other similar artifacts, which are most noticeable along the darkest black lines. The occasionally blue-tinted color palette fits the mood, though the vibrancy is limited by the use of source lighting. Some scenes are quite dark, creating more grain, more haloes, and occasional crush issues. The intermittent frame shakes appears to be an issue with Rybcxynski’s makeshift crane, not the transfer’s image stability.
For a good look at the differences between the director’s cut and the extended cut, as well as a look at the lighting differences between the tunnel murder on the original French VHS and German DVD, click here.
Cult Epics deserves a handshake for not compressing the audio on this release. In fact, I think this and George Barry’s Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977) are the only two of the studio’s releases to include a lossless, DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Unfortunately, the lossless track is a 5.1 remix of the original mono sound. The presence of a remix track isn’t in itself problematic, but I always prefer the option to hear a film’s original sound mix (the Carlotta Films Blu-ray included the original mono in DTS-HD MA 1.0). The disc includes a 2.0 Dolby Digital mix that is listed as stereo and 2.0 Dolby Digital French and English dubs that sound like mono. Complaints aside (and I don’t actually know what I’m missing, since this is the first time I’ve seen the film), the 5.1 remix is respectful of the flatter, center channel dialogue and on-set sound effects, as well as moving the more stylized sounds (water dripping during the opening credits, for example) and former Tangerine Dream keyboardist Klaus Schulze's outrageous synth score into the stereo and surround channels. In fact, whenever music isn’t playing, you’d be hard-pressed to assume this was anything but a mono track. The musical tracks are a smidge sharp, but quite clean, while the dialogue tracks (specifically the killer’s narration) has a few minor hisses and scratches.
Introduction by Gaspar Noe (5:20, HD) – French director and fan Noé discusses the film. This intro is only accessible via the play menu.
Commentary with director Gerald Kargl – Film critic Marcus Stiglegger moderates this track (Kargl’s begins speaking English, but defaults to German a little over halfway through) with the director. A lot of this information is also covered in the interviews, but there’s a bit more meat on the bone here, including more specific discussion of the budget (Kargl guesses it was about 400k Euros), further technical discussion (see description of the camera rigs below), working with the actors, and the possible meaning behind the film (Kargl is sure to tell us isn’t meant to be an intellectual exercise).
Erwin Leder in Fear (21:30, HD) – A new interview with Angst’s star, who also appears in Das Boot, Schindler’s List, and the Underworld series. Leder, who speaks in English, mostly sticks to discussing the psychology and philosophy of the film, and life in general, but also talks about his dog co-star, visits some of the locations, and describes Rybcxynski’s mysterious camera rig.
Interview with Gerald Kargl (27:20, SD) – This 2003 interview (which appeared on the Carlotta Blu-ray and was reportedly recorded for an unreleased DVD release from Barrel) is conducted by Nekromantik director, Jorg Buttgeriet. Kargl, who never made another movie after Angst, discusses the film’s concepts, cast, its distribution problems, censorship policies, financing, cinematography/editing, and violence.
Interview with cinematographer Zbigniew Rybzcynski (36:50, SD) – During this 2004 interview (also from the French Blu-ray and recorded in English), the cinematographer/editor/co-writer discusses his relationship with Kargl, the difficulties that the Cold War posed to their relationship, his opinions on the taboo qualities of Angst, editing, and, most importantly, he describes his mysterious camera tricks (including some stills and design spec illustrations). It turns out that the mounted rig achieved the extreme close-up quality by using mirrors on a very complex, counterweighted rig that was attached to the actor (like a steady-cam/SnorriCam hybrid) and operated by Rybzcynski himself. There was one shot achieved with an actual crane, but other ‘crane’ shots were achieved using steel wires and a pulley system.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.