Marketed as the first Swedish film ever banned (not true as a movie called ‘The Gardener’ was in 1912) ‘Thriller: A Cruel Picture’ (aka ‘They Call Her One Eye’ and ‘Hooker’s Revenge’) is just like its title suggests - an extremely cruel rape and revenge thriller that is a provocative cocktail of art house and exploitation filmmaking.
Previously little known even in its native homeland except to hardcore followers of all things grindhouse and drive-in it now has a higher profile since the turn of the century thanks to its most famous fan writer and director Quentin Tarantino. In Interviews promoting the releases of both volumes of ‘Kill Bill’ (2001 & 2002) the filmmaker sung its praises when citing ‘Thriller: A Cruel Picture’ as one of his main inspirations for the duology. The underground Swedish movie was particularly influential on the character of Elle Driver played by Daryl Hannah wearing similar attire to our heroine here - Madeleine aka One Eye played by the gorgeous sexploitation star Christina Lindberg. Hannah wore in both volumes like Lindberg an eye patch as well as a black outfit like hers in ‘Vol. 2’.
The version of ‘Thriller: A Cruel Picture‘ reviewed here in its original Swedish language is the 107 minute uncut Limited Edition release. All the action sequences that were cut from the original theatrical release are restored as well as all the scenes of hardcore pornography that are missing from the 104 minute Vengeance Edition that just maintains the action set-pieces. Both versions are available on region 1 DVD from Synapse Films.
Left mute due to the childhood trauma of her rape by an insane homeless man Madeline is living on the family farm helping her parents. The now beautiful young woman is waiting at a bus stop after missing one to go into town on a day off from work when a well-dressed smooth talking man Tony Dill (Heinz Hopf) pulls up in a flashy sports car and offers her a lift. They go to a restaurant and everything is going well until they go back to Tony’s bachelor pad; he drugs the drink he made for her and she passes out. While she is still unconscious, he immediately has a bent doctor inject her with heroin to get her hooked. Pimp Tony forces the now addict into prostitution to work for her needed fixes and she revolts by attacking her first client. To punish her Tony slices her left eye with a scalpel. Sporting an eye patch Madeline is now living the miserable life of a drug-addicted hooker.
Madeline discovers a copy of a fake letter Tony has sent to her parents writing as her telling them cruelly how much she hates them and does not want to know them anymore. When her friend a fellow prostitute named Sally gives Madeline their reply that she took from Tony, she reads her mother’s heartache of their grieving sorrow. Soon after Madeline goes to see them but discovers that, her parents have both committed suicide when she sees their caskets carried from the farm in a funeral march. Now pushed to breaking point Madeline finally snaps and uses her earnings on her Mondays off to train in martial arts, shooting and stunt driving. When Tony murders Sally when he learns that she was planning to escape Madeline starts to set in motion her revenge. She buys a large amount of heroin from another dealer so she does not have to rely on Tony’s handouts. Now she begins her bloody rampage of vengeance on all who wronged her - chiefly Tony and the sleazy customers that abused her as well.
To quote the tagline of ‘Kill Bill: Vol. 1’ the film it inspired ‘Thriller: A Cruel Picture’ will be a slow burn for anyone looking for “A roaring rampage of revenge”. Madeline does not start dealing out the pain on the scum until about the hour mark. However, it sure is worth the wait as writer and director Bo Arne Vibenius subjects us to the cruel nature of this movie. Our poor victim/protagonist is violated in all the unspeakable manners described in the synopsis. It just makes it even more satisfying when it finally gets to the third act.
Vibenius had a masterstroke casting Christina Lindberg in the lead role as our luckless heroine. Beautifully innocent looking with a slim slight tiny body she is completely vulnerable. The writer and director also made her character a mute to escalate that vulnerability; completely robbed of speech she is even more helpless. We can do nothing but sympathize with her and we cannot take our eyes off the mesmerizing Lindberg. When we see her training to fight back, we are really rooting for her. When she finally takes her revenge without mercy, we are cheering her on with our fists in the air. Hopf is also convincingly excellent as the scumbag pimp Tony and we long for him to get his comeuppance.
The footage of hardcore pornography used is not remotely erotically raunchy as it is there to show the vileness of Madeline’s tragic ordeal as her body is used against her will. Forced to sell her body or die from heroin withdrawal constitutes forcible penetration not consensual sex. The shots are inserts of clips filmed elsewhere by body doubles and I am not going to beat around the bush here (excuse me) as the genitalia on display is so unattractive it is cringe making.
Bo Arne Vibenius also employs an excessive amount of slower than slow motion when it comes to the action sequences. On my first viewing I just found this annoying, but going back, I sat up and took into account the visceral intensity on display here. Vibenius prolongs our experiences in the sheer brutality of the violence stretching it out to show us the grim nature of Madeline’s revenge. We have been patiently waiting a good hour for it having to witness the horrific plight of this poor little farm girl. Now satisfyingly that patience has paid off as she has turned into an arse kicking vengeance machine and we drown in the shower of delights of seeing these awful human beings that caused her misery get what they unquestionably deserve in glorious long spells of time.
The film does have its plot holes. Traumatized by her rape as a child why would Madeline get into a stranger’s car considering her state of mind? Why does Tony give her Monday’s off when he has gone out of his way to abduct her, get her hooked on heroin and forced her into prostitution? Although the martial arts training is feasible when it comes to her lessons in the dojo, when she is kicked out by her instructor when he catches her about to take a fix of heroin how does she have the connections to get training from the military in hand to hand combat? How does she get an army officer to train her in rifle shooting before that? In addition, how does she find a stunt driver to give her driving lessons? Saying all this though, these scenes are entertaining and Tony’s freeing of Madeline one day a week only serve the purpose as a plot point to get her quest of revenge off to a start. There would not be much of a revenge movie otherwise.
Something that does not sit well with me is the execution of the scene of Madeline losing her eye. Used for the extreme close-up shot of the scalpel going into the eye was the real corpse of a recently deceased girl who had committed suicide. Filmed in the hospital keeping the body applied to the eye was makeup before the scalpel went in. All this confirmed by Christina Lindberg. Bo Arne Vibenius has a stylistic eye and employs a lot of strange art house cinematography throughout with the odd choices of POV shots and off beat camera angles and beautifully shot Swedish landscapes mixed in with all the gratuitous exploitation shots. Therefore, is this purpose of execution striving for great art or just vulgar sensationalism? Either way I find it to be in very bad taste as it is disrespectful to the poor young girl who tragically took her own life and to her grieving loved ones.
Overall though, ‘Thriller: A Cruel Picture’ is one of the very finest revenge films ever made most certainly of the rape and revenge ilk. It remains a very unique movie and is a must see for any fans of violent genre fare especially to anyone who is in awe of the film it inspired - Quentin Tarantino’s grand sweeping opus of vengeance that is the ‘Kill Bill’ two part epic. Now seek, find and watch.
**** out of ****
Dave J. Wilson
©2012 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.