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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

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Why Haven’t You Seen…? Thriller: A Cruel Picture

Note: This film is in colour, but the only good stills I could find were black and white.

THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE [a.k.a.: They Call Her One Eye / Hooker’s Revenge]
Dir: Bo Arne Vibenius

What’s It All About?
Thriller is almost the prototypical rape revenge movie. A young woman named Madeline (in the Swedish version anyway, the English dub, oddly, calls her Frigga) who has been mute since she was sexually assaulted as a child, accepts a ride into town from a handsome stranger, Tony. Later that night, Tony drugs Madeline. When she wakes she’s informed that she’s now a heroin addict, and if she wants the drugs she needs she must work in Tony’s brothel. After she initially refuses, and has her eye cut out as punishment, Madeline goes along, but on her day off from the brothel she studies martial arts, weapons and driving skills, preparing her vengeance.

Why Haven’t You Seen It?
As you may well have guessed from the title, Thriller is a pretty extreme piece of work, so extreme, in fact, that it was banned not just in the UK when it came before BBFC in 1974, but in its native Sweden (a country not exactly noted for a restrictive policy towards, well, anything). Since 1974 it has been notably difficult to see, and subject to swingeing cuts to many scenes in different territories. An uncut version did finally come to DVD a few years ago, in a limited edition which has long since sold out. Like many controversial films of its time, Thriller was quite effectively hidden for the better part of 35 years.

Why Should You See It?
Whenever I talk about Thriller, I have to restrain myself from becoming a voiceover guy for an exploitation trailer “They hooked her on drugs. They made her a prostitute. They took her eye. Now Christina Lindberg is on a roaring rampage of revenge in Thriller: A Cruel Picture” Yes, it’s that kind of movie, but Thriller is something else too, in a relatively unusual touch for an exploitation film, it’s actually pretty damn good.

Christina Lindberg was 23 and had been in quite a few softcore films, but this is probably the first time she was called on to do anything more than reveal her (breathtaking) body for the camera. She’s actually rather good as Madeline, no she’s not one of the world’s great actresses, but she puts across the character’s inner strength rather well, and is especially good as she dispassionately, systematically, avenges herself against her tormentors in the film’s fantastic last half hour. Physically she’s brilliant casting; doll like, delicate, with huge eyes, which means that her face remains expressive and alive even in the film’s last hour, in which she wears an eyepatch (or rather a colour coded succession of them).

Director Bo Arne Vibenius’ screenplay is a bit ropey; very little connects (for instance how does Madeline always manage to find people so quickly in the last half hour?) and there are many silly lines but on this slightly rickety framework he hangs a brilliantly and meticulously designed film. Whatever else you can say about Thriller, it is hard to ignore the readily apparent influence it has had. Perhaps most notable is Tarantino’s tribute in Kill Bill, whose Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) is clearly modeled on Lindberg (indeed the story of Kill Bill owes Thriller more than a little). Lindberg appear decked out in a series of bold outfits, all with their own matching eyepatch. Perhaps the most striking visual has her decked out in a short red dress and blood red eyepatch, it’s the stuff cinematic icons are made of.

This is a tough film, and made more overtly so by the fact that the uncut version contains several hardcore insert shots during the sequences of Madeline plying her trade at the brothel. These shots clearly don’t feature Lindberg, rather they are tight close ups of two rather flabby actors going at it. I see why Vibenius included it, as it does bring home the absolutely ghastly reality of Madeline’s life, but they just don’t fit, being far too obviously from another time and place. Unfortunately the R-Rated version removes much more than just these brief hardcore moments.

Perhaps the best aspect of the film is the half hour revenge sequence that closes it. Lindberg is decked out like an eyepatched Trinity from The Matrix, toting a sawn off shotgun and a hidden pistol, and begins hunting her clients and her boss. During the violent sequences Vibenius uses super slow motion to accentuate every move, and turn it from something fast and violent into a brutal ballet in which blood forms in beautiful arcing lines as it spews from the mouths of the people Madeline attacks. One fight, which contains perhaps six moves, unfolds over about three minutes thanks to this technique. It looks utterly unlike any other screen violence I’ve seen, and as well as being strangely beautiful, puts you right with Madeline, watching her long planned revenge as she experiences it; slowing down time perhaps so she can savour it. Obviously Thriller is violent and exploitative, and would likely cause BBFC problems even now (not least with infamous shot of Madeline’s eye being cut out, for which a real corpse was used), but screen violence is something that often falls into the same pattern over and over again and this film really does something original with it.

Clearly this is not a film for everyone but it deserves to be much more widely seen and much better known. It’s not just a good film, it’s an exploitation classic, and a profoundly influential one at that.

How Can You See It?
The R Rated region 1 DVD (under the title Thriller: They Call Her One Eye) may still be available, but I’d suggest that you ignore it and try to find, either on ebay or some other way, an uncut print to watch.

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