Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Census Bloodbath: Eine Kleine Nachtmurder

Year: 1983
Director: Gerald Kargl
Cast: Erwin Leder, Robert Hunger-Bühler, Silvia Ryder
Run Time: 1 hour 16 minutes

As we continue our round-up of the slasher films collected at the bottom of the mug of 1983, we have stumbled upon another first entry from a new territory! Austria threw their hat in the ring with Angst, a film that is notable for having influenced the work of controversial cinematic envelope-pusher Gaspar Noé. That's maybe not a good sign (for my psyche, at least), but it's certainly a sign that we're gonna be getting something much more interesting than what we were used to from the foreign slasher market in 1983.

Not that Sweden's Blödaren and France's Ogroff were much competition.

Angst is a tale told largely in voiceover. K (Erwin Leder) is a man with an uncontrollable impulse to torture other human beings. He's been in jail twice, once for stabbing his mother in the chest, and another time for randomly murdering a 70-year-old woman. He has just been released after a 10-year stint in prison and immediately sets out to find a new victim, all the while explaining his life's story and motivations to us in a disembodied narration. After an unsuccessful attempt on a taxi driver's life, he escapes and stumbles across a secluded mansion that houses an elderly woman and her two adult children. He sets about torturing and murdering them, right on schedule.

And... that's pretty much it!

To borrow a term from Brian Collins at Horror Movie a Day, Angst is a "hero killer" movie. Not in the sense that it's glorifying a murderer, but in the way that he is indeed the protagonist and the person through whom we are experiencing the story, á là ManiacDon't Go in the House, or even the much lighter-toned Psycho III. Generally these movies have a rich putrescent flavor, because spending time in the minds of serial killing psychopaths tends to be a little more unpleasant than hanging out with a bunch of horny teenagers who merely get killed by one.

Angst has no interest in breaking from that tradition. It is a wildly upsetting movie, and it makes sense why it might appeal to a young Noé's sensibilities. There is hardly a word of dialogue actually spoken aloud in the film, alienating us from any other human being and leaving us trapped with K and his warped thoughts. There's a mime-esque quality to his victims and potential victims, keeping the viewer at arm's length from humanity by abstracting it to the point that it's barely recognizable. The camerawork also does this, preferring hyper-close-ups that reduce people to single body parts, just bits of meat that aren't attached to anything important.

If there is a single element that defines Angst, it would certainly be the camera. The cinematography is aggressive and muscular, always moving snakelike through the space, spinning and looping in impulsive patterns. When it's not getting up close and personal with eyeballs and mouths and the like, it's giving us a bird's eye view of atrocities that make them seem more incidental than actually being the focus of the shot. The Steadicam rig they're using isn't perfect. It wobbles and hits snags from time to time, but if anything that makes the overall effect even more off-putting and unpredictable.

Really, it's quite gorgeous, which in turn makes everything that's actually going on in the frame even worse. It's not an Argento approach, where murder itself becomes art. It's about splashing ugliness and terror into something beautiful to shake it up and unsettle it.

Pictured: Not cool.

There isn't a huge body count in this movie, but that's a blessing. When a film can make a scene of K eating a bratwurst deeply chilling (it's all in the way the camera cuts between the eyes of everyone in the café watching him, and him devouring the sausage so ravenously that you worry he might start biting his own fingers off when he gets to the end), it can certainly do a lot with the unpleasantness that can be visited upon the human body.

The two kills K most directly participates in are certainly intense (the stabbing in particular features an amount of blood that is just heightened enough to be completely unnerving), but t most affecting moments of horror come from small details adjacent to the killings. Details like the mother's dentures being knocked out of her mouth in a particularly violent moment, or the daughter (Silvia, the only character to actually be named out loud in the film) struggling to get upright and escape her bonds when K duct tapes her foot to a door handle. There's also a fabulously good dog performer wandering around reacting to all of this, too, which makes things even harder to bear.

I can't say that any of this adds up to a movie I like, but it certainly sets a goal and achieves the hell out of it. The only part of this movie that feels superfluous is the final 25 minutes, where all the killing is done and K is just kind of wandering around. It doesn't add anything to the psychology we've already explored, and seriously deflates the tension built up in the rest of the film. That knocked off quite a few points for me, but beyond that this is a sharp experience in dripping, unpleasant wickedness. Yay?

Killer: K (Erwin Leder)
Final Girl: N/A
Best Kill: This isn't a movie with many kills in the first place, but not a one of them is "fun." The one that has the most realistic gore though is Silvia's prolonged stabbing.
Sign of the Times: Silvia wears the most alarmingly huge librarian glasses.
Scariest Moment: K slowly unties his shoe in the backseat of a cab, intending to garrote the driver.
Weirdest Moment: That sausage eating scene just really is a lot.
Champion Dialogue: "After the act, I felt very well."
Body Count: 3
    1. Son is drowned in the bathtub.
    2. Mother dies of an unspecified illness combined with shock.
    3. Silvia is stabbed to death.
TL;DR: Angst is a more artistically-minded serial killer movie than most, but its bag of tricks is empty a good 20 minutes before the end.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 1044

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