Ah, the good ol' days; back in the time when hardcore sex and graphic violence were served up to hungry viewers on one sadistic platter. They certainly don't make them like that anymore, and, perhaps, that's a good thing, because it makes cinematic curiosities like Bo Arne Vibenius's Thriller that much more of a precious commodity. It's a film as violent as Vibenius's budget would allow, with nearly as much bump and grind as your average 70's porno, and all of this welcome excess is held together by a sturdy old fashioned revenge flick motif.
Thriller opens with a man and child playing together, frolicking in the autumn leaves. It's obvious that the child has implicit trust in this man and that this trust is about to be violated in the most heinous of ways. Shot from the child's point of view, we see the man molesting her, his face changing from docile, to enraged, then to satiated, as a thick stream of drool descends from the corner of his mouth. It's an abrupt, uncompromisingly brutal scene, and one that sets the tone for what's to come.
When we next see the girl, Frigga (Lindberg), she is a young adult, rendered mute by her trauma, and living a simple life on her family's farm. When a trip into town leads to a chance encounter with the malicious Tony (Hopf), Frigga is at first intrigued by the seemingly worldly man. He says all the right things, buys her an expensive meal, and then takes her back to his place for a nightcap, where he drugs her and essentially turns her into his slave by injecting her with heroin over the course of a few days, turning her into a hopeless addict. When she tries to escape, Tony gouges out one of her eyes, and keeps her prisoner until she is so addicted to the drugs she offers no resistance and is willing to perform sex acts for Tony's wealthy clientele. After awhile, Tony believes Frigga is so under his control that he lets her come and go as she pleases, unaware that all the while the girl has been saving up the extra money she's made from her dates and using it to prepare for a full-on onslaught against Tony and all who have wronged her.
Thriller is an enormously entertaining film that would still be great fun even if it weren't chock full of the "controversial" material, but all that stuff makes it that much more of a shocking, perverse, and twisted crowd pleaser. While the relatively frequent hardcore sex inserts (which were shot later using other actors. Sorry, fellas, that's not Lindberg...err..down there) may seem quite random, to me they serve to show the ugly, impersonal nature of Frigga's forced profession. These scenes are filmed in a dark, grimey, and clumsy manner; the antithesis of eroticism.
The violence in Thriller is highly sensationalized, ultra-bloody stuff that's so over-the-top it borders on the surreal. I found that rather than contrasting with the sex scenes, these brutal moments actually mirrored them to some degree. It's seems as though the director is suggesting that (to paraphrase Perry Farrell) sex is, in fact, violence, and Vibenius drives that point home by showing us both acts in all of their glory.
One has to give Vibenius and his actors props for making a film like Thriller, knowing full well that most of the world would be appalled by it, let alone allow it to be shown in theaters. It's popped up here and there in all sorts of edited versions (most notably in the U.S. as They Call Her One Eye, the version that inspired Quentin Tarantino to "create" Kill Bill's Ellie Driver character - right down to the colour coordinated eye patches) but, until now, the only uncut version of this film was a grainy, faded looking Swedish VHS. Now, thanks to Synapse Films, Thriller has been painstakingly remastered from its original vault negatives, reunited with over twenty minutes of cut footage, and almost seamlessly edited back together to form the original uncut version of the film.
The transfer looks incredible, especially when one considers that much of this footage was considered lost or damaged beyond repair. There's still some grain and the occasional artifact here and there, but, for the most part, Thriller looks positively brilliant. I hate dubbed films so I didn't bother listening to the included English language track, but I will say that the original Swedish language track sounds clear and virtually free of distortion. Heck, even the film's hideous Moog/Synth "score" sounds good, and that's saying plenty!
Synapse has also loaded up the disc with a ton of great bonus features, including extensive galleries that cover everything from the production, including a "lost" fight scene destroyed during the processing of the film. There's also an outtakes reel, an alternate fight scene, original TV and Theatrical spots, and more.
Thriller: A Cruel Picture is a blast from start to finish. While it's safe to say this film's not for everybody, chances are that if you're a regular reader of this site, you're probably going to dig it.