“A troubled man gets released from prison and starts taking out his sadistic fantasies on an unsuspecting family living in a secluded house.” — IMDb
This was easily the most difficult movie I’ve ever watched. I don’t do this often since this is a horror movie blog and I think people should expect some level of fear and disgust while reading about or watching these movies, but… this one is on a whole ‘nother level, so if you are squeamish or disturbed by murder or horror at all, be amply warned.
It’s loosely based on Austrian serial killer Werner Kniesek, who tortured and killed a family of three while he was on parole, and it contains real-life quotes from both him and other killers such as Peter Kürten (also known as The Vampire of Düsseldorf or the Düsseldorf Monster, who committed a series of murders and sexual assaults in Germany in 1929). It’s not a very well-known movie, but it’s thought by many to be hugely groundbreaking and influential, particularly for Gaspar Noè (Irreversible, I Stand Alone), who has cited his fascination with the movie on more than one occasion (and has apparently seen the film many times, which I just do not have the stomach for).
The film follows a recently released murderer (known only as The Psychopath in credits and played by Erwin Leder in one of the single most disturbingly convincing roles I’ve ever witnessed) on his first day back in society. There is almost no dialogue throughout the movie, just narration that is meant to be the killer’s own thoughts and beliefs (again, real quotes from actual killers are used), and between learning about his background (so much abuse, neglect, previous crimes, and another killing) and his desires, it’s obvious that there’s nothing else on his mind but finding victims. One of the very first scenes shows the brilliance of cinematographer Zbigniew Rybczyński as Leder walks with a mounted, rotating camera so we can see him from all angles — just one of many amazing techniques used, but the entire film has this quality of feeling much bigger than you’d expect, more expansive, and definitely more disorienting.
But really, I can’t overstate how much my skin crawled throughout the entire movie. Again, I am no novice to horror. I have seen and read many disturbing things. THIS is just… impressively in a league of its own. One of his stops along the way is at a small diner, and there’s a scene where it’s just an intense closeup of him eating a sausage with his bare hands while he leers at two young women down the counter from him and… woof. It is rough.
One of the most striking things to me is just how frantic he is. I think many movies portray killers as cunning, smooth, strong… ultimately, in control. The killer in Angst is not ANY of these things. He is wild and unpredictable, sweaty and desperate. He’s awkward. It’s painful to watch. He is driven by something so deep within him that it’s all that occupies his mind. He’s uncoordinated, spontaneous, and clumsy.
His entire experience at the house is disorganized and chaotic. Each killing is a bit different and difficult to watch in its own way, but the most stomach churning for me was the daughter. You just legitimately feel like you’re watching a real murder, that’s how stark and realistic the whole thing is. They used pig’s blood rather than fake blood to add to the authenticity, and damn, it worked.
“I was determined that this all was only the beginning. I wanted to live out my fantasies. At that moment, I didn’t care where that would lead. I didn’t think about it at all. I wanted to get new victims as soon as possible. I was crazy about it.”
You hardly see anyone else in the entire movie (aside from the other customers at the diner) which really adds to the sense of isolation. You’re really just alone with the killer and his thoughts, which is a scary place to be. The score, done by Klaus Schulze of Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel, adds wonderfully to the unease.
There’s also the family’s small dog — a chubby little dachshund — that makes reoccurring appearances throughout the film in the most subtle but disturbing ways. It waddles in and grabs the old woman’s dentures after a struggle. It trails behind him as he finds an outfit to wear when he leaves the house. It hops in the car as he heads into town to find his next victims. The ENTIRE MOVIE you’re stressed about the fate of this dog. After all of the inhuman acts you witness and all of the completely warped thoughts you hear, you’re just thinking “please don’t let me watch him kill that dog, too”. But he doesn’t. That dog is his ride or die. But man, the suspense that is caused from such a simple, understated move… brilliant.
He clumsily cleans up the crime scene — well, he gathers the bodies into the trunk of the car, anyway — and heads back to the diner for round two, where he is swiftly caught (after another skin-crawling sausage consumption). The deadpan narration lets us know that he was found to be of sound mind and aware of his crimes, and sentenced to life in prison. It’s a perfect, sudden ending to a movie that ultimately spends no time making judgments or assuming emotions or motives. It does not exist to speculate or to consider. It just IS, in all of its horror, and as difficult as it was to watch for all of its honesty and rawness, it really is impressive and worth a watch if you truly feel up for the challenge.