Thriller - A Cruel Picture
Netflix is pretty much the best invention ever. I totally endorse them even if they don't want to pay me to do it. For people like me who love movies, but hate going outside, it offers a huge catalog of films that one can peruse in their underwear, and have delivered directly to their home free of having to converse with another living being.
The downside of this giant catalog, is that I get this idea in my head that I can use it to catch up on all those films I should have seen, but haven't. The truth is though, my queue is full of movies that I am too non-committal to actually watch. Example - - I am not going to watch Rocky. I don't care if it is a classic that won Oscars, and is a perfect film about the American spirit. I just don't want to see it. It's come via Netflix like 50 times, and I just can't. I always send it back.
Occasionally however, there is a diamond in the rough. I scour through Netflix picking out random and unheard of B films, exploitation flicks, foreign "erotica," and other movies with Sylvester Stallone that no real video store would ever carry, and once in awhile there is one I don't send back.
And the latest was mind-blowing in an awesome/terrible/rad/suck sort of way.
Assuming you want to know why I picked it in the first place, travel with me back to the bygone days of 2003. Britney Spears was yet to be married, the Democratic Party was convulsing over Howard Dean losing his moxie due to a frightening guttural scream, and Boba tea drinks were getting caught in the throats of hipsters across the country, (but mostly in LA and NY). At the time, I was in an exploitation-tizzy over Kill Bill. Normally, I can't stand self-aware directors. If that camera gets too jaunty, and the dialog too kitschy - - they are showing off and they are insecure.unless their name is Quentin Tarrantino. I don't know why, but I let him get away with anything. But I digress...br>
Reading every interview I could, I love to pick out snippets of what auteurs say inspires them. In this case, Darryl Hannah mentioned a "Swedish revenge-porno film" that Quentin made her watch. Interest = piqued.
I am fascinated by ?ºber-exploitation cinema, and yes, I totally just invented that term, so let's all help spread it around. They are small in number, and mostly foreign, but there are a fair amount of films that work on a level intended to assault every sensibility. The violence is visceral, the pacing is relentless and the sex.uh.is penetrating. Literally!
After a bit o' the Google, I was able to discern that the movie Darryl Hannah spoke of was called Thriller: A Cruel Picture, also known in America (in heavily edited form) as They Call Her One Eye!
Waiting for the film to arrive in the mail, I had some time to do a little more research. The film's star, Christina Lindberg, is a very pretty young girl in the movie, despite wearing an eye patch for most of the story. She starred in several softcore Swedish porn films, but most people who had seen Thriller were haunted by her mute, yet emotional performance. Every review I could find worshipped both her acting and her beauty in this film. And seriously - - Google her. She's hot.
The views of director Bo A. Vibenius however were not as harmonious. Some hail him as a cinematic genius, while others feel he is a contemptuous hack. The American cut of the film angered him intensely, and while I could understand being mad over edits, he did choose to allow a film with hardcore sex scenes to be aired on late night American television - - cuts were implied. On the other side of the argument, painting him as slime - - it turns out that the close up penetration shots from the film are done with stand-in actors, not the actors from the film, many of whom, Christina Lindberg especially, were sort of shocked and appalled by upon seeing the final cut.
Slandering Vibenius further - - he was satisfied with the American DVD/Video distribution rights for the film for many years. Synapse Films, distributor of oodles of exploitation films, has been putting the movie out for years, and sending Bo royalty checks. However, I wasn't the only one piqued by Quentin Tarrantino. His name-dropping of the film in various interviews led to a boost in sales for Synapse - - so much so, the Vibenius decided they didn't actually have the rights and he was therefore entitled to sue for a lot more money. Various legal battles have ensued since, and depending on whom you ask, are still going on.
Was Vibenius making art, or was he making porn, or was he making exploitation? His filmology could imply any of the above. Douchebag or no, when my copy finally arrived in the mail, it didn't take me long to decide that nothing in this film is a happy accident with Bo's directing.
The story is one we've all heard before, hell some of us have even lived it. Girl is raped in park as a child. Girl goes mute from the shock. Girl grows up to be hot, and never leaves the farm. Girls goes to the big city to see a movie, misses her bus and is picked up by a lovely man in a sports car. Man takes girl to dinner. Girl is attracted to him. Man drugs girl and makes her a sex slave for profit and hooks her on heroin so she can't run away. Man pimps girl out and writes mean letters to her parents so they wont come looking. Girl rebels so man gouges her eye out with an Exacto knife. Girl secretly learns Kung Fu, stunt driving, and the proper use of firm arms. Girl gets revenge by killing every john she was forced to take in the ass from. Girl inflicts a slow painful death upon Man. Ahhhh... it takes me back really.
What makes Thriller so interesting to me, is that for an exploitation picture it's pacing is very slow and deliberate. As I said, the moments of intensity are unflinching. The Exacto knife is seen piercing into an eyeball. Each John encounter is shown in standard Swedish porn style with penises that looked like badly packed sausages being shoe horned into hairy 70's vaginas. The action scenes play in an excruciatingly slow motion that could only be accomplished with special cameras. Again - - everything is intentional in this film. I won't lie - - the script is silly at times, but give me any subtitled film from the 70's that isn't. For the most part though, this is an artistic and soundly made revenge film.
It wouldn't be an easy viewing for some - - between the slow pace and hardcore visuals it can be unsettling at times, and at risk of sounding like a broken record... intentional. As a child of sound-byte culture I have long been desensitized by internet snuff video clips, hardcore pornography and the local LA Fox news affiliate to anything remotely disturbing. Yet I found moments of Thriller oddly disturbing-- something that rarely happens to me. I think the slow pace works as a framework for the occasional vignettes of sex or violence. Or maybe I have a thing about disproportionate penises and eyeballs being stabbed... who knows.
If you've seen Kill Bill, it is hard to not view this film as some how connected. The inspirations are hard to ignore: the one-eyed beauty, the beaten down woman seeking her revenge against those who wronged her, wardrobe choices, and an ending that is oddly decompressed after a sensory-assaulting violent action sequence. But it also stretches out in directions that Tarrantino would not be allowed to go, no matter how much freedom Miramax gives him.
Easily worth the price of a rental, this Cruel film can be what you need, be it a foreign art film, an action movie, a revenge fantasy, or a trashy exploitation movie with tits and blood.
Seth lives in Los Angeles. He is a writer of comic books (and unsold screenplays) and...