Monday, May 19, 2014

Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973)



          American movie theaters of the ‘70s were so overstuffed with ultraviolent revenge movies that some of the films even emanated from foreign countries, including this elegantly made but otherwise repulsive Swedish picture. Originally titled Thriller: eyn grym film and running 107 minutes, complete with hardcore-porn insert shots and a notorious image that may or may not feature the mutilation of an actual corpse, the movie was re-edited and re-titled many times. The version most familiar to American audiences is an 82-minute cut released to U.S. screens as They Call Her One Eye, carrying an “R” rating and bereft of the nastiest bits from the original cut. Unsurprisingly, given his penchant for grungy stories about the sexual abuse of women, Quentin Tarantino is a big fan of Thriller, and the character Daryl Hannah plays in Tarantino’s Kill Bill pictures was based on the protagonist of Thriller, who wears an eyepatch through most of the narrative.
          Writer-producer-director Bo Arne Vibenius strikes a peculiar balance throughout Thriller, because even though he fills the screen with grotesque images of murder, mutilation, and rape, Vibenius employs stately pacing and stylish slow-motion effects to create a beguiling style. Combined with twitchy flourishes on the soundtrack, including dissonant electric noises and surreal audio filters, the aesthetic of Thriller vaguely resembles that of Werner Herzog’s films. Additionally, the performances in Thriller work well by way of severe understatement—leading lady Christina Lindberg is arresting because she receives and renders violence without betraying emotion, and supporting players including main villain Heinz Hopf occupy a soulless place befitting a story about kidnapping and sexual slavery. For all of these reasons related to cinematic texture, Vibenius’ film is striking.
          That said, the content of the movie is simultaneously trite and vile, an ode to the perverse public interest in nubile young women being subjugated by monstrous men.
          Thriller begins with a prologue depicting a schoolgirl’s rape. Years later, the girl has become a beautiful young woman, Frigga (Lindberg). Living and working on a farm, she has been mute since her childhood trauma. One afternoon, she accepts a car ride from smooth-talking Tony (Hopf). He slips her a sedative and then, while she’s unconscious, pumps her so full of heroin that she becomes addicted. Naturally, he controls her supply of dope. Tony informs his new prisoner—whom he renames Madeline—that she must work as a prostitute in his brothel. When Frigga/Madeline attacks her first would-be john, Tony punishes her by poking out her right eye with a scalpel—a violent act featured in a loving closeup that has been a source of controversy for decades, since rumors persist that a real human body was used for the effect. Once Frigga/Madeline “settles” into her routine, she uses her days off and her paychecks (both of which represent inexplicable plot contrivances) to pay for training in combat driving, martial arts, and sharpshooting, because she’s methodically planning revenge. The movie’s epic finale, which stretches across a solid 30 minutes, features the protagonist’s systematic payback.
          Excepting perhaps the sheer severity of the thing, the plot of Thriller fails to generate many surprises, and the film’s emotional content is limited to sympathy for the protagonist’s unthinkable situation. As such, watching Thriller is a clinical experience, especially since full-length original version includes full-penetration insert shots during sex scenes and lingers endlessly on shotgun-blasted victims tumbling to the ground. It’s all quite horrible and ugly, and yet strangely lyrical, too. Make no mistake, Thriller is the worst kind of cinematic misogyny, a symphony of hate disguised as empowerment. Still, it’s no wonder Thriller lingered in Tarantino’s imagination.

Thriller: A Cruel Picture: FREAKY

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