The 1983 German film, Angst, is one of the most disturbing films that I’ve ever seen. It tells a thoroughly unpleasant story about a man who is truly worthy of hate and yet it’s so well-made that, once it starts, it’s nearly impossible to look away, even though you may want to.
Erwin Leder plays the role of K., a young man who, when we first see him, is shooting a random elderly woman. K. is arrested for that crime and, over a series a still photographs, we listen as a dispassionate voice-over fills us in on the details of K.’s life. Like a lot of serial killers, K. was not wanted by his parents. He was abused by his mother, his grandmother, and everyone else that he met in life. He spent years in and out of prison. Though he claimed that he shot the elderly woman on impulse and that he didn’t really know what drove him to the act, the authorities still decide that the murder was a robbery gone wrong. K. goes to prison for ten years and, we’re told, he’s a model prisoner.
Eventually, K. takes over the narration. He tells us that he’s spent ten years pretending to be reformed, fantasizing about the moment that he’s released and once again free to kill. When K. finally is released from prison, no one is there to meet him. He has no family or friends. A trip to a diner, in which he’s eyed suspiciously by everyone as he rather animalistically eats a sausage, leaves him even more determined to find people to kill. After an unsuccessful attempt to strangle a taxi driver, K. comes across a secluded house. The house is owned by a woman and her two adult children, one of whom is disabled. K. breaks into the house and …. well, things go to Hell.
As I said, Angst is not a pleasant film to watch. How hateful is K? Listen, I’m against the death penalty. I’ve signed petitions opposing the death penalty. I believe that when we celebrate the death of even the worst people, we sacrifice a bit of our soul. That said, if Angst ended with K. going to the electric chair or being shot in the back of the head by some anonymous execution, I wouldn’t have shed a tear. What makes K. such a terrifying monster is that he’s a very real threat. He’s not some sort of paranormal creature. He doesn’t have any supernatural powers nor is he motivated by some sort of esoteric belief. Instead, he’s a man with a traumatic childhood and an unending obsession with killing. The film offers us no easy escape when it comes to considering K. and his actions. We can’t just shrug him off as just being another horror movie villain. Instead, he’s the type of person who is probably walking the streets right now. Angst left me wondering if I’ve ever walked past a murderer without even realizing it.
Angst is a well-made film. In fact, there are times when you kind of resent how well-made it is. If it was just some cheap serial killer flick with fake blood and a boom mic occasionally slipping into view, it would be a lot easier to dismiss the film. Instead, the film plays out almost like a documentary. Whether he’s leaving the prison or staring at a potential victim or running around the house, the camera often holds K. in a tight close-up, forcing us to watch as the madness plays across his face. Later, when K. is attempting to steal a car, the camera views him from above, putting us in the position of a deity who is looking down upon K. and his actions and perhaps wondering how the world could have gone so wrong.
Angst is an antidote to all those films that portray serial killers as being witty and clever antiheroes. There’s nothing particularly witty or clever about K. When he succeeds at his crimes, it’s not due to him being particularly smart or coming up with an elaborate plan. It’s just that most people are in denial about the existence of men like K. He uses that to his advantage.
Angst is somewhat legendary for having been banned in a number of countries when it was first released. It is a totally disturbing film and I don’t necessarily recommend it to the easily triggered. That said, it’s also a remarkably well-made film. For better or worse, it sticks with you.