Some films take on a life of their own, with their hype and notoriety getting bigger and bigger over the years. Thriller: A Cruel Picture is one those films. Still banned in its native Sweden, it’s one of the films people like to name-check when talking about European revenge cinema. And of course Quentin Tarantino is a big fan, going as far as baseing Daryl Hannah’s character in Kill Bill on Thriller’s protagonist, Frigga, played by Christina Lindberg.
So, what is it all about? Is it really that incredible?
First, let’s start with a simple synapsis. Well, it is just a tad convoluted…but here goes.
Frigga is mute, a condition brought on by the trauma of being raped at the age of nine. Ten years later and frigga is 19 years old, living with her parents in the Swedish countryside. Her parents are humble people and have devoted their lives to her, giving her nothing but support and their unconditional love. One day she misses her bus into town and accepts a ride from a passing car. The driver, Tony, turns out to be a sleazy pimp and before you know it he has drugged her and started working on getting her addicted to heroin. He sends a letter to her parents, in her name, telling them the she despises them and never wants to see them again. The heroin addiction kicks in and soon Frigga is “open for business”. When she violently scratches the face of her first “client”, Tony takes a scalpel and cuts one of her eyes out (in grisly close-up a la Un Chien Andalou).
Frigga is fitted with an eye patch and Tony starts to offer her as “The Pirate”. Numbed by the drugs Frigga accepts her miserable existence. Then, when she finds out that her grief-stricken parents have killed themselves, she decides to take action and starts plotting her revenge. Saving all the money she’s making, she starts using her days off to take classes in shooting, driving and martial arts. Eventually, she escapes…and it’s revenge time.
So, yes Thriller is very bleak and the subject matter itself makes it hard to watch. But, it also suffers from massive pacing issues, mainly due to its director’s obsession with slow-motion action sequences and gunfights. Unfortunately for us, Bo Vibenius is no Sam Peckinpah. The few violent scenes that are shown in real time are much more hard-hitting than the slow-mo scenes, so it’s a shame he had to go overboard with the effect. There’s also very minimal use of sound and music. Occasionally this works in it’s advantage, but most of the time it just feels like something is missing.
Christina Lindberg is perfect in the role of Frigga. Her childlike appearance and innocence makes her rough treatment so much harder to watch and her hard-as-nails revenge so much more effective.
Now, one thing that I don’t understand is why she gets days off from her imprisonment. What does Tony have to gain from that? As far as I see it, since he obviously doesn’t have a good bone in his body, it’s just risk and no gain at all for him. And why does she keep coming back? There’s the heroin addiction, which means that she has to return “home” for her next fix, ok, I can kind of buy that. We get it drilled into us that all her abusers/clients are wealthy important men (and woman…yeah really), so she probably is a bit hesitant to reach out to any men in power. But, she never even considers it.
Heinz Hopf is also great as sleazy pimp Tony, switching between manipulative, caring and psychotic in the blink of an eye.
I own the red version of the film, which is the uncut version. This mainly means that there are occasional hardcore porn close-ups (shot with different actors) during the sex scenes. I guess it was done to be able to market it to porn cinemas as well as your “normal grindhouse. Anyway, it’s just awkward, feels completely out of place and cheapens the whole thing.
Like so many of these films, it has been re-cut and re-released several times under different titles. There was Hooker’s Revenge…
…and They Call Her One Eye
In the end I guess I don’t see what the big deal is. I suppose it’s interesting that it comes from Sweden, a country more known for sex and nudity than action and violence…but then even the great Ingmar Bergman made an early addition to the rape-revenge genre with his Oscar-winning The Virgin Spring (Best Foreign Language Film in 1960)…which in turn provided the story for Wes Craven’s Last House On The Left (1972).
Don’t get me wrong, here. I do like Thriller and it is an important film, both within Swedish cinema and within exploitation cinema as a whole. It’s often quite stunning to watch and contains plenty of deservedly now-iconic imagery. It’s just that sometimes, all the brouhaha behind a film and it’s cult status makes it easy to over-look the fact that it’s a actually not as exciting as the hype….and a bit dull really.
Both versions of Thriller: A Cruel Picture are available on Region 1 DVD from Synapse Films