Thriller - a cruel picture is a pornographic exploitation film with ambitions toward significance. It was made in a window of time (1969-1976 or so) when political filmmakers announced that any outrageous subject matter was fair gamr. Sex in particular needed to be used as a weapon against bourgeois complacency, to shake people out of outmoded ideas.
The director of this sadistic Swedish picture had worked closely with Ingmar Bergman on Persona and Hour of the Wolf but Thriller couldn't be more removed in its aims. It's a generic revenge picture that, despite the fact that it predates most of the American revenge movies of the 80s, is still 100% exploitation.
Synapse specializes in cult films often completely beyond the edge of mainstream taste and has packaged this icky thriller beautifully, with a completely restored print in Swedish. Its cult status is cemented because of its relationship to Kill Bill (its killer female has only one eye) and its almost-forgotten status as a schlocky AIP release under the more garish name They Call Her One Eye. Synapse is to be commended for going out under the original title instead of that one.
The relentless Thriller - a cruel picture has several telltale exploitation aspects. Its heroine is a beautiful model, a smallish girl with a pixie face, played by Christina Lindberg of Joe Sarno's abstract softcore sex film Young Playthings.
Second, the filmmaker writes her as mute, which serves his cinematic purposes by elminating the need for most dialogue. Since we must watch Frigga go about the simplest actions to understand what's going on, scenes of simply travelling from one place to another have tension they otherwise wouldn't. And, frankly, a mute character is an unknown factor upon whom we can project our thoughts and fantasies. This 'liberated' movie about the oppression of women has for its leading player an abuse doll made of flesh instead of plastic.
Director Vibenius certainly keeps events in a sadistic groove. Every scene offers a new outrage against Frigga, as the incredibly vile Tony addicts her to dope, forces sex clients on her, and horribly mutilates her when she resists. 1
The sex scenes feature brief but graphic porn penetration shots that I keep reading are 'justified' by the need to show Frigga's horror and the obscenity of forced sex. Hokay ... I tend to lean more toward the old political notion that audiences need to be shaken up to accept new ideas, such as in WR: Mysteries of the Organism. But Thriller - a cruel picture has only a stilted revenge tale to tell, the one that works in two halves. The first part shows the victim being abused, raped, shot, outraged, whatever. When our blood is up, the second half invariably gives us satisfying retribution with the 'good' character visiting bloody payback on his/her tormentors. The Western wore this plot out a long time ago, with even the middling Steve McQueen story Nevada Smith showing the misery and pointlessness of revenge whether cold or hot. The Bravados was even more explicit when its outraged hero wipes out an innocent man in revenge for his wife's murder.
In Thriller - a cruel picture the revenger is also getting payback for her loved ones, a mother and father who commit suicide when they think (thanks to Tony's vicious letters) Frigga has deserted them and hates them. Frigga's revenge is pure art movie wish fulfillment. Wearing a floor length "Columbine special" leather coat, she arms up with a sawed-off shotgun and other WMDs and sets out to cut a swath of blood through her enemies.
All of this is interestingly enough. There is little or no complexity or coloration but is the story is always direct and easy to follow. As a complete innocent, Frigga can be forgiven for her cluelessness, and her transformation into a heartless master of deadly skills is such a foregone conclusion that we accept the unlikely aspects of the story. Why Tony gives her any money or allows her to go free at times is a mystery, as there's nothing to keep her from going to the police. None of Frigga's teachers are in the least bit curious about her particular need to learn deadly skills. Finally, Frigga's revenge is long on cruelty but short on logic. She's able to toodle about the Swedish countryside in a stolen police car - with the siren going - for quite a while. There's never any interference with her blatantly public shooting spree, except for two cops that she beats up in slow motion. Having her pummel the innocent policemen ruins the feeling that her vengeance is focused, and also brings into question her mental state, which the film otherwise completely ignores.
Scenes in the interior of Tony's apartment - house of prostitution have a nice look, but the action scenes aren't particularly convincing. The gunshots and bullet hits are fake and the blocking amateurish, with the slow motion combat the worst offender. After all the insistence on showing sights we didn't expect to see - the hardcore sex inserts, the eye-slitting - the picture lets its final act of cruelty happen off camera. Thriller - a cruel picture is a possible template for 1001 later revenge exploitation pictures, but it winds down in an ordinary way. Once the killing comes full circle there's nothing more to be said about our underdeveloped heroine, and the show just ends.
Christine Lundberg is a pin-up favorite of cult sex film fans, and she does well in a role that requires a lot more than just getting naked. Heinz Hopf's Tony is suitably villainous but stays a one-note character. At the end we're much more interested in the mechanics of his demise than in how he feels about it.
Synapse's DVD of Thriller - a cruel picture is an excellent example of good judgment being used on a problem title. Despite warnings on the packaging, it's obvious that a some people are going to be surprised when the hardcore material shows up, which may get it exiled into the adult section in DVD stores. But Synapse has done the right thing by presenting the original version as completed by the director, even though one of the many foreign recuts might have been a more commercial choice, especially with the apt alternate title They Call Me One-Eye.
The transfer looks fine in enhanced widescreen, even if colors a little on the cool side. The sound is given special consideration. There's a choice of Swedish or English tracks, with removable English subs.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Thriller - a cruel picture rates:
1. The buzz on this film is
that the key shot of Frigga's left eye being destroyed by Tony's scalpel was accomplished by using
corpse. This only becomes credible when one thinks of how basic and unconvincing most of the other
effects in the movie are ... and that head and eye look uncomfortably real. I know plenty of bizarro
film fans who draw the line at seeing Thriller - a cruel picture just based on that information;
and surely there are plenty of customers who will be drawn to it for the same reason.