Although released in 1983, the DVD release of Gerald Kargl's motion picture "Fear" seems to be a film-historical relief from negligence. For the Austrian film was just showed at a cinema tour in Germany, organized by Carl Anderson (film maker, e.g. "Mondo Weirdo"), and just shabbily distributed on VHS in the surrounding European area, "Fear" isn't even named in many movie lexica.
But "Fear" is a pretty fascinating, even though shocking creation, which can boast some really remarkable names: Camera operator and co-author was the Polish avant-garde filmmaker Zbigniew Rybczynski, who could win an Academy Award for his animated movie classic "Tango" in the year of production of "Fear". The spheric music was composed by Klaus Schulze, member of the prog rock band Tangerine Dream.
The censorship history of "Fear" was presented wrong many times, for there was some confusion in 2006 when Epix released this masterpiece of a serial killer movie on DVD under the distribution of EuroVideo: an export version, mostly named "Schizophrenia" or "Fear", was going around in Europe for 13 years, which was seven minutes and 29 seconds longer than the actual digital editing of the movie.
But censorship opponents and film friends can sigh with relief. The version we can watch at our homes now is the original version as it was shown at the Austrian premiere, except for one little detail. When the film finally was to be brought to the market, the export company ordered a prologue for stretching "Fear" to a normal feature-length and also for adding a further murder sequence. The pretended "missing" scenes were reshooted so the movie suited the needs of the film distributor, they weren't included because of an artistical decision. Please see the individual cut descriptions to get an image of the interventions.
When "Fear" ultimately became its German release, the director Kargl and the protagonist Erwin Leder asked for excluding the pre-title sequence.
Kargl did exactly the same when he was supervising the DVD evaluation of his movie but he asked for another little alteration in 2006: the extreme and eruptive outburst of violence at the end of the second third was optically darkened. Kargl still says in interviews nowadays that retrospective his movie was too violent and that he would do many things different today. The reduction of the vivid violence on the screen seems to reflect his today's sensitivity regarding violence in movies. I will also elaborate on this in the cut report.
Compared were the French video tape, which is the export version, and the Epix-DVD.
After the comparison we have this data:
French tape: 83:10 min.
German DVD: 75:41 min.
The French tape starts with the prologue which Gerald Kargl had removed from the DVD evaluation. At first the prologue looks like a typical scene from the movie itself: Erwin Leder as a serial killer out of prison at a smart pace in a residential quarter repeatedly turns around scared and paranoid and seems to consider himself in great danger everywhere. The bodycam is tied up to Leder and reacts directly to his movements, like in later scenes. He walks past front doors until he finally knocks at one. An older woman opens the door, looks at the man quizzically who aims his pistol at her immediately and he says: "I shoot now". The bullet hits the old woman and she collapses in the hallway. Alarmed at the noise her husband comes running. Then there's a short shot when Leder leaves the crime scene.
Now starts a montage which reports on the arrestment and a psychological opinion. We see his prison pictures, fingerprints, the documented taking of evidence and even pictures of the childhood of the murderer like in a private photo album. The voice of the psychologist, which can be heard again at the end of the film during the end credits, explains the pathological relations. It's said that the young man has killed his mother in his childhood. Both souvenir photos and archive material from the police investigation prove this.
A handwritten letter, which the man wrote to his psychologist, is displayed and read out: "Dear Doctor! I can't say why I went into this house. I don't know why I said to that woman: I shoot now. I have had no plan and also no motive. What the newspapers write isn't true. I just had the feeling that something must happen. I'm sorry for what I did, I know that there's something wrong with me. I beg you and the court to help me. Thank you very much Doctor"
While the voice-over explains that this man was arrested earlier for a murderous deed on Susi F., there are shown some moments of this murder. Susi is a prostitute and the murderer seems to maltreat her with a red lamp while she's kneeling. The voice-over ends with the explanation that this sex offender is released from custody for the second time, after that the French credits begin.
The deletion of the prologue by Kargl is a blessing for "Fear". Referred to aesthetic and narrative aspects the footage is kind of diametral to the rest of the film, especially the strange shaky cam in the shots with Susi F.. Our expectation is build up voyeuristically, a narrator encourages us to pursue the fate of a murderer, as opposed to the DVD version where we can see a much more personal and intimate movie, just because the frame with the to us unknown psychologist is dropped. On the DVD "Fear" we accompany Erwin Leder on his morbid descent into hell of murder. We're always directly involved, on the one hand physically because of the camera and on the other hand psychologically because of the explaining voice-over of the protagonist. So if "Fear" is depreciated as a serial killer film for this prologue, we never get a connection to the protagonist. We turn into a external observer and we can never get lost in the protagonist's subjective world of feelings and images.
The prologue changes the movie "Fear" into cheap trash, but without it "Fear" is an incredibly effective work of cinematic art. The deletion is to be appreciated precisely because this prologue never was and never will be a homogenous part of the rest of the film.
( Runtime difference: 7 minutes, 29 seconds )
starting from ca. 51:20
The very cruel scene of the murder of the daughter is darkened on the DVD. The murderer kills her in an underpass, stabs her repeatedly with a kitchen knife, licks the blood off her body and drinks right from the stab wounds and finally rapes her dead body.
The French tape contains the bright and originally intended version of this very explicit scene, however some picture information got lost caused by the badly cropped full-screen display. In return you can see all the details how the murderer sucks up the blood and stabs her ecstatically. The darkening is in this case like a unpleasant "self-censorship". Kargl defends his decision by saying that he wanted to draw the viewer's attention to the sound, but here also seems to be a new sound mixing: especially in those shots where the murderer sucks the blood from the girl's wounds, the barking of the dog seems to be distinctly louder and more foregrounded. Overall this scene was mitigated, pretty obvious according to visual aspects. Even that obvious that trained cineastes will discover the retroactive manipulation. While moving, the scenes really look like the delicate blood deeds where lighted by a flash lamp. This is very different from the normally very intense and bright illumination of the scenes. ( No runtime difference )
Screenshots for comparison (on the left French tape, on the right German DVD)
The new version of the film on DVD is of course a present. To finally see this forgotten movie in the shops of this country was long overdue. Kargl and Rybczynski have created a real masterpiece which doesn't deserve its previous treatment at all. The decision not to reinsert the prologue again helps the movie in its actual film critical positioning beyond exploitation and voyeurism. The cruel murder scene wasn't shortened, but darkened. This is of course impertinence and can be compared to the retroactive alterations of historical film material by George Lucas. This is called "to improve for the worse" and mustn't be supported. Nonetheless you can get over this manipulation for the rest of the film's representation on DVD is very accurate and considerate and the scene just loses marginally in effect. Experts will screw up their noses but also overlook this faux pas.
Special thanks to Carl Andersen for many enlightening words concerning the censorship history of "Fear".