Around the World in 31 Days: Austria

The lovely folks at The United Nations of Horror produce great things, including a very entertaining podcast on horror cinema. You should follow them and listen to their every word. When I informed them on their Facebook page (a fun and very welcoming horror fan community) that Around the World in 31 Days would be my theme for this year’s Halloween blog project, they were quick to suggest Austrian film Angst. And here I am to take us through this stark, ugly, realist beast.

Angst (1983)
Director: Gerald Kargl
Writers: Zbigniew Rybczynski, Gerald Kargl
Notable Cast: Erwin Leder, Silvia Ryder, Edith Rosset, Rudolf Götz,
Plot: A man is released from prison after serving ten years for murdering an elderly woman. He quickly begins to feel the compulsion to kill again. After failing to murder a cab driver, he flees and discovers a secluded rural home, where a young woman lives with her sick mother and disabled brother. He then begins to take out his sadistic pleasures on them, attempting to hold them hostage, while thinking of his troubled childhood with his abusive mother and grandmother. (Source: IMDb user Brian Patrick)

Commentary: “I am the killer of people/you look like a meatball … Because of this thing/that’s in me, is it not in you?” These snippets of lyrics from the Jane’s Addiction song “Ted, Just Admit It” were running through my head about 15 minutes into Angst. The song contains a quote from serial killer Ted Bundy and speaks to media images of sex and violence, as well as innate sadistic tendencies, all of which have very much to do with this 1983 movie.

The particular scene which queued the song took place in a diner, where the camera closes in on the main (one might argue only) character (billed as K., The Psychopath), consuming a bratwurst in a gross, lipsmacking animalistic manner while ogling various body parts of two disco dolls also patronizing the diner. In K’s head the two girls are the meat .

And in K’s head is exactly where we spend the entirety of this film, which is a less-than-24-hours journey from prison release to a sadistic family massacre and back to prison. Complete with K’s first person narration detailing exactly what he feels and why he is doing what he does. There are no mysteries or ambiguities here: the killer hates and blames his mother (stepfather to a lesser extent) and enacting his revenge on women excites him sexually and emotionally.

I have to think this part took a lot out of Erwin Leder (known for Das Boot), and he put 100% into it. Forget Silence of the Lambs. Anthony Hopkins made that a glamorous Hollywood wish-fulfillment fantasy. This is the serial killer performance you should look to. It exists in the banal, ugly drab world that Kargl’s direction made it to be (I never think of Austria as a “drab” country but he made the camera show it in a gray, lifeless, almost Soviet manner.)

What We’re Afraid Of: There is a real life basis to this movie: Austrian serial killer Werner Kniesek, and in this case the “based on” is well merited. Kniesek was released on parole multiple times, and each time he immediately set out to do what he loved to do, including murdering a family at their home, until the country’s courts and justice system realized that a life sentence was their only option for ending his crimes.

The carnage in the movie wasn’t gore-less, but it was less explicit than an average modern torture porn slasher. This didn’t lessen the impact one iota; the brutality is extensive, prolonged and sickening. The character “son” is disabled and that murder was heartwrenching. The movie didn’t flinch from it. Here’s horror – when a person feels absolutely nothing for someone they are violently murdering.

I don’t know what lessons we’re supposed to draw from the very explicit motivations expressed in K.’s narration. Per Wikipedia: “After two days, Kniesek finally confessed to having murdered the Altreiter family out of sheer desire to kill. The murders served only his mental satisfaction and he could not point out any other murders. He even forced Gertrude Altreiter to take her heart medicine, so that she would not lose consciousness and experience the agony better.”

That there is what we’re afraid of.

Chillerpop takes your questions and comments here on this blog, on his Facebook page, and on Twitter (@ChillerPop).
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