Not to be confused with the Vincent Price short film directed by John Landis, Judge Paul Corupe says this will appeal both to exploitation fans and Tarantino fans looking for one of his Kill Bill inspirations.
The first film, ever, to be banned in Sweden!
Somehow, a thirty-year old Swedish revenge film, released in North America as They Call Her One Eye, has gone from being a little-known oddity to one of the most anticipated DVDs of 2004. After long being promised by a European DVD distributor, this exploitation bombshell eventually ended up in the well-oiled shotgun of cult DVD kingpin Synapse—just as further curiosity in the film was provoked by Quentin Tarantino, who paid tribute to the iconic heroine of Thriller with the eye-patched Elle Driver in Kill Bill. The expectations on Synapse to deliver have never been higher, and even the inexplicable efforts of director Bo A. Vibenius to stop this DVD from reaching the public won't stop viewers from being absolutely blown away—this disc drives up to your house, bangs on your front door and unloads on you like the enraged One Eye herself.
Facts of the Case
Madeline (Christina Lindberg, Around the World with Fanny Hill) is a mute girl living with her parents in the rural Swedish countryside. 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, but when they return to his home for a nightcap, he drugs the young girl and hooks her on high-grade heroin. When she finally awakens, Madeline realizes the horrible truth—Tony has put her to 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, Madeline learns that her parents have killed themselves in the wake of her disappearance. 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 disgraced her in the first place.
When popped in the DVD player, instead of the standard options like "chapter selection" and "extras," Thriller gives us a menu screen with more appropriate choices: "Death," "Destruction," "Mayhem," and "Revenge." It's a fitting touch when you realize that the film really does live up to those descriptions—and a few best left unmentioned yet! Thriller is quite simply 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 films, Thriller opts for a more urbane and stylistic assault that is just as—if not more—forceful and potent than its North American 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.
You might assume that the violence in a film subtitled "A Cruel Picture" would be sadistic and bloody, but when it comes to actually spilling the red stuff, the effects are not as explicit as I was expecting. Besides the brutal eye-gouging scene, thought to have actually been performed on a real human corpse (a rumor I'm inclined to disbelieve), the film doesn't break a whole lot of new ground on the gore front. Not that this works against the film, mind you, as even the off-screen violence is terrible in its very implication. Instead of highlighting the kind of voyeuristic atrocities more associated with gory Italian horror, Thriller has its own distinctive technique for giving the revenge scenes their impact. As Madeline mentally crosses the names off of her own retribution checklist, the film launches into slow motion carnage. 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 Caro 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.
Even in those scenes that don't intoxicate the viewer with a heady mix of sex, violence, and drugs, Thriller still shocks once more—with a surprising amount of artistic pretense. Besides the film's stylistic use of violence, Vibenius has taken obvious pains to create attractive arthouse shot compositions, including some amazing dreamlike sequences; an achievement made all the more impressive considering the film's threadbare sets and obvious low budget. Many of the 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 viewers off guard.
There's no denying that the luscious Christina Lindberg is also one of the major draws of the film. Primarily known for her work in classic Euro-softcore like Joe Sarno's Young Playthings, Lindberg manages to remain compelling through her transformation from cherubic innocent to blood-crazed junkie hooker. Although she has not one line of dialogue, Lindberg's character Madeline—or Frigga as she is inexplicably called in the English dub version—perfectly balances vulnerability and murderous rage throughout the picture. Always careful to dress in outfits color-coordinated with her eye patches, she completely dominates the film and becomes the very epitome of the anti-heroine, a sawed-off shotgun toting figure sporting a knee-length black trench coat that looks borrowed from the most cynical of spaghetti western stars.
Synapse's DVD of Thriller looks quite good, but this transfer will only seem miraculous to those who have suffered through poor quality bootleg VHS versions in the past. Taken from a 16mm print, 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. Detail could be slightly better, but I have no doubt that Synapse has restored the film to the best of their ability, and 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, enjoyed with subtitles, is slightly superior, but both tracks are enjoyable and deserve a separate listen.
Selecting "revenge" off the main menu will take you to the smattering of extras included on this release. Four separate trailers get things rolling, one of which features the film under the alternate title Hooker's Revenge double-billed with The Photographer's Model (a deceptive re-titling of The House of Whipcord). This is followed by five still galleries of production and promotional materials. I suspect viewers will be most interested in the cheesecake photos of Christina Lindberg clad in little more than her eye patch, but don't pass over the stills that chronicle the film's lost fight scene that was re-shot due to a lab mistake. Finally, we have about a minute of outtakes with no sound, an alternate fight scene reconstructed by Synapse from outtakes, and "Movie in Pictures," a baffling compilation of shots from the film that play out the story flipbook-style in 45 seconds. This is not a completely loaded disc by any means, but there is certainly more here than was to be expected considering that both Vibenius and Lindberg did not want to participate—they are represented on the disc only by brief, text-only filmographies.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Synapse has presented us with the "uncut, uncensored" version of Thriller that restores over 20 minutes missing from the original AIP version released in America. It's fantastic that much of this footage has been reintroduced to the picture, but unfortunately, those 20 minutes include about 90 seconds of genital-grinding hardcore sex that has resulted in some troubles in exporting Thriller past US borders. It's hardly titillating material however—several badly matched insert shots of faceless body doubles that is shocking only in its context and complete lack of appeal. It mostly just disrupts the story, and is certainly disrupting the film's distribution. Hopefully, the inclusion of these few controversial scenes will not relegate Thriller back to obscurity.
Thriller is sure to be high on the lists of cult film enthusiasts as well as those Kill Bill fans who need their curiosity fulfilled. Synapse has done a nice job in pulling off this long-awaited release in the face of overwhelming opposition, and if you're indeed ready for what the film has to offer, you owe it to yourself to check Thriller out.
Gratuitous violence? Guilty. Wanton sex? Guilty. Reckless drug use? Guilty. Exploitation DVD release of the year? Definitely Guilty.
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