Back Comments (2) Share:
Facebook Button

Feature


In the digital age of cult film revival, few genre films remain ‘hidden gems’ for long. It’s easy to assume that the cream of the crop has already had its day in the sun, thanks to multiple DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming media releases (did you guys know that Cannibal Ferox is on Hulu now?), but there are still plenty of vintage classics left undiscovered by all but the most ardent of horror and exploitation fans. Distributor Cult Epics’ bread and butter continues to be the retro erotic of Tinto Brass and Radley Metzger, as well as more established cult items (namely the films of Jorg Buttgereit). But they’ve also released definitive Blu-ray versions of two ‘lost’ genre classics – George Barry’s Death Bed: The Bed that Eats and Agusti Villaronga’s In a Glass Cage. Their latest revival is Gerald Kargl’s Angst (aka: Fear and Schizophrenia). Until maybe eight years ago, it was difficult to obtain legal copies of Kargl’s film, but lack of availability never stopped genre enthusiasts from discovering hidden gems. The truth is that Angst has just been overlooked.

 Angst
France’s current king of shock cinema, Gaspar Noé ( Irreversible, Enter the Void) is one of Angst’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, 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 like watching a magic trick. 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, won an Oscar for his 1980 animated short, Tango, and made a number of music videos, but 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.

 Angst
Noé’s baroque label does not apply to the 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 frenetically tears through the house, his toxic presence turns the ordinary surroundings into a terrifying hovel. On top of this, even the most graphic of the murders avoid mainstream cinema’s habit of making bloody death a thing of awe and beauty. The swirling camerawork and extreme close-ups throw the audience into a subjective position, giving us a personalized view of both the killer and his victims, yet the crimes themselves are sloppy, awkward, and all too real. Even the killer expresses disappointment. Kargl isn’t interested in the ironic deaths of 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 – they just 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 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. I’d do it a disservice by comparing 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 viewed 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.

 Angst
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

Video


As mentioned above, 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 artefacts 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 artefacts, which are most noticeable along the darkest black lines. The occasionally blue-tinted colour 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.

 Angst

Audio


Cult Epics deserves a handshake for not compressing the audio on this release. In fact, I think this and Death Bed 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.

 Angst

Extras


  • 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.


 Angst

Overall


Angst is a fantastic film that deserves a much bigger cult following. It’s also shockingly relevant and modern. Fans of Franck Khalfoun’s 2012 remake of Maniac should take notice that it actually has more in common with Angst than Bill Lustig’s original. Cult Epics has done a nice job bringing the film to Blu-ray, including a new transfer, new extras, the option to watch the extended version, and an optically ‘corrected’ version of the most notorious scene.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


Links: