Synapse // 1974 // 104 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // September 20th, 2005
The movie that has no limits of evil!
Who says you can't improve on perfection? Fuelled by Quentin Tarantino's subtle tribute to the film in Kill Bill, Synapse's 2004 complete, uncut DVD release of the ultra-brutal Thriller: A Cruel Picture shot to the top of the many schlock fan's lists as one of the most anticipated exploitation platters of the year. What many didn't realize, however, was that the original DVD release also retained about 90 seconds of disruptive genital-grinding hardcore sex. This new "Vengeance Edition" of the film, under the slightly different title Thriller: They Call Her One Eye, thankfully does away with the X-rated inserts to focus on what most viewers wanted in the first place -- one of the most ferocious, eye-popping action/revenge films ever caught on celluloid.
Madeline (Christina Lindberg, Swedish Wildcats) is a mute girl living with her parents in the rural countryside of Sweden. After missing the bus one afternoon, she gets a lift into the city with Tony (Heinz Hopf, Fanny and Alexander), a fast-talking charmer in a cool car. Tony convinces her to come out for a night on the town and back to his pad for a nightcap, where he unexpectedly drugs the young girl and loads her veins with high-grade heroin. On awakening, Madeline realizes the horrible truth-Tony has put her on the addiction treadmill in order to enslave her as a prostitute. At first she resists, but after the pitiless pimp takes a scalpel to her left eye, she finds she has no choice but to fall into line. In between servicing loutish clients of both sexes, the eye-patched Madeline learns that her parents have killed themselves in the wake of her disappearance, and, brokenhearted, she secretly begins to train in combat, stunt driving and marksmanship. Soon, she feels confident enough to take on both her johns and the malicious pimp who introduced her to her new, sordid life.
Everything you've heard is true: Thriller really does live up to its reputation as one of the best rape revenge films of the 1970s, an unforgettable precursor to such notorious exploitation productions as Death Weekend, I Spit on Your Grave, and Forced Entry. Instead of indulging in the hillbilly seediness that is synonymous with these North American films, however, the Sweden-lensed Thriller opts for a more urbane and stylistic assault that is more forceful and potent than its country cuzzins. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to come up with a cult film that delivers as solidly on its promises as this one does.
It's an unbelievable film that has made all the more powerful now that Synapse has sliced out the infamous hardcore inserts that have been this title's bane. The badly-matched shots of faceless body doubles going at it in the original Thriller: A Cruel Picture DVD were disruptive, completely unappealing and wholly unwelcome. They also prevented the DVD from being stocked by certain major chain DVD retailers, and caused numerous problems for anyone who attempted to export the disc past U.S. borders.
With all that distasteful graphic sex gone, viewers can finally focus on the film's greatest asset: graphic violence. Besides the undeniably brutal eye-gouging scene (rumored to have been performed on a real human corpse), Thriller avoids the voyeuristic atrocities more associated with gory Italian horror, instead launching into incredible, slow-motion carnage as Madeline mentally crosses the names off of her own retribution checklist. Violence comes in the form of lingering exploding plasma packs, prolonged shotgun blasts, and drawn out knee kicks that send bodies floating alongside arcs of skillfully spewed Karo syrup. This effect works absolutely beautifully when combined with the film's echoing monophonic score, giving the proceedings a resonance that helps Thriller stand out from its blood-drenched contemporaries.
Primarily known for her work in classic Euro-softcore trash like Joe Sarno's Young Playthings, the luscious Christina Lindberg is also one of the clear highlights of the film. As Madeline -- or Frigga as she is inexplicably called in the English dub version -- she manages to remain compelling through her transformation from cherubic innocent to blood-crazed, junkie hooker. Although she has not one line of dialogue throughout the entire picture, Lindberg perfectly balances vulnerability and murderous rage in what is obviously an extremely difficult role. As with Kill Bill's Elle Driver, a character created in tribute to Thriller, Madeline completely dominates the film and becomes the very epitome of the tough-yet-sexy anti-heroine -- a merciless, sawed-off shotgun-toting figure who is always careful to dress in outfits color-coordinated with her eye patches.
Even in those scenes that don't intoxicate the viewer with a heady mix of sex, violence and drugs, Thriller is still able to shock with its surprising amount of artistic pretense. Vibenius has taken obvious pains to create attractive arthouse shot compositions, including some amazing dreamlike sequences. It's an achievement made all the more impressive considering the film's threadbare sets and obvious low budget. Many scenes, including Madeline's parents' funeral procession and the slow-mo action set-pieces, give the film an unreal, hallucinatory feel, as though the revenge-motivated final act is nothing more than a fever dream imagined in Madeline's half-conscious drug daze. I wouldn't dare try to pass Thriller off as discerning cineaste material, but this film certainly has an arty tendency that will catch many gorehounds and violence freaks off guard.
Those who managed to get a peek at Synapse's fine restoration work on the Thriller: A Cruel Picture DVD will be pleased to discover that the exact same transfer has been used here. Taken from a 16mm print, the film still looks as good as ever, miles beyond the poor quality bootleg VHS versions that have made the gray market circuit for years. The image exhibits a few minor source artifacts, including a steady level of grain and the occasional stray hair, but colors are extremely bright and vibrant, and the transfer is free of any edge enhancement. Again, Synapse should be commended for their efforts in preserving this obscure cult classic.
The mono soundtracks, in both English and the original Swedish, are no-frills tracks that suffice just fine. The effects and music in the English dub tend to sound slightly better than in their Swedish counterparts, although the dialogue seems unnaturally loud. Besides the Madeline/Frigga name discrepancy, there are numerous differences between the original Swedish version and the North American dub. The English voice actors try to add some extra sleaziness to the proceedings by adopting slang expressions and more blatantly coldhearted attitudes, especially in the case of the pimp, Tony. The Swedish version, with English subtitles, is slightly superior, but both tracks are enjoyable and deserve a separate listen.
On comparison with Synapse's original DVD release of the film, you'll notice that there is much more missing on this disc than the sexually explicit footage -- almost all of the extras have disappeared as well. We do get the requisite trailer, but you won't find any still galleries of production and promotional materials, the outtakes, or the alternate fight scene. They aren't major losses, but fans of this cult landmark interested in owning the hardcore-free version will probably want to hang on to both DVD releases.
It was a bold step, but I applaud Synapse for releasing Thriller: They Call Her One Eye, a DVD that in many ways surpasses their original release of the film. There's no excuse for letting this unique "arthouse meets grindhouse" genre exercise pass you by now!
Synapse is hereby exonerated of all charges of smut peddling.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Swedish)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Theatrical Trailer