by Steve Habrat
Cruel is indeed one way to describe Thriller: A Cruel Picture, the ultra violent and ultra graphic tale of revenge from Swedish director Bo Arne Vibenius. The tagline of Thriller: A Cruel Picture describes it as, “The movie that has no limits of evil!” I think it is safe to say that the uncut version of the film has no limit on anything including unsettling drug use, slow motion brutality, and pornographic sex scenes that don’t cut away. Truth is, Thriller: A Cruel Picture ranks as one of the best exploitation films I have ever seen, and exploit it certainly does. The film puts the hero Frigga (Played by Christina Lindberg) through the ringer, exploiting the traumatic events that plague her (rape, forced drug use, addiction, prostitution, and revenge) and follow her around. When Frigga, or One Eye as she is often called, finally picks up a sawed off shotgun and begins hunting down all the people who have wronged her, you want to stand up and cheer her retribution on. We feel this way because director Vibenius shoves our faces in the explicit torment inflicted on her early on and even if we deem it obscene, it fuels our urge to root for her in the last forty minutes. Bravo, Vibenius!
Thriller: A Cruel Picture shows us the agony of Frigga (Played by Lindberg), a young girl who early in her life is sexually assaulted by an older man. In the wake of the encounter, Frigga is mute and withdrawn, living a fairly peaceful life in a small, secluded town. She grows up into a pretty young woman and one day, she misses a bus that is supposed to take her to a doctor’s appointment in town. As she stands at the bus stop, a suave pimp named Tony (Played by Heinz Hopf) pulls up and offers her a ride into town. He invites Frigga back to his apartment, drugs her, and then forces her into a life of prostitution and drug addiction. When Frigga resists, Tony stabs out her eyeball and begins calling her One Eye. As the fury builds in the mute One Eye, she begins attending karate classes and learning how to handle firearms. When she is ready, she takes to the streets and unleashes uncontrolled vengeance on the people who have wronged her. She soon finds the police bearing down on her, but that isn’t going to stop One Eye. Anyone dumb enough to get in her way finds themselves staring down the barrel of a sawed off shotgun.
The success of Thriller: A Cruel Picture rests on the shoulders of Lindberg’s Frigga/One Eye, who conveys so much pain without uttering a word. As a girl she is violated, her innocence being robbed and when she grows up, she appears to be living a fairly conservative lifestyle. She is a sweet, small-town girl who is still haunted by the traumatic event in her past. When she meets Tony and is forced into prostitution, her growing pain and frustration is conveyed in the shrill buzz of the film’s score. The buzz is sharp and sudden, usually played during the graphic sex scenes. Her face is slashed with anguish and pain, yet her eyes are cold, plotting, and mapping out her plot to take revenge. One Eye’s silence is all the more chilling when she is dishing out revenge, making her seem disconnected from the violence she is unleashing. But One Eye isn’t satisfied with only taking revenge on those who wronged her. She takes aim at police officers that attempt to halt her rampage and anyone else who makes the mistake of stepping in her path. She becomes the vexing embodiment of desensitization.
Thriller: A Cruel Picture is not for the faint of heart or the uptight. The first half of the film shows some truly disturbing images of drug addiction, Lindberg really shooting up with a mixture of salt and water. Your heart will break every time she holds her hand out to Tony for her daily doses of heroine. You will flinch every time she inserts that dreaded needle into her arm. The uncut version of the film also features authentic sexual intercourse between Frigga and her customers. The camera slithers around the actors, making sure we know that this isn’t faked or staged. If you fear the film is pornographic, take comfort in the fact that these scenes are not particularly erotic. They are actually quite disturbing, especially complimented by the shrill buzzing score that conveys Frigga’s anguish. Early on, there is a scene that shows the viewer how Frigga looses her eye. After she attacks one of her customers, Tony bursts into her room and pins her on her bed. He then slowly lowers a scalpel towards the camera, the camera acting as Frigga’s perspective. The film then cuts to Frigga, the scalpel piercing her eyeball. This scene was filmed using an actual cadaver. Yes, you are really seeing an eyeball being violently dug out of a skull. It’s gruesome stuff. The violence here is not restrained in the least, the last act composed of quiet and lingering slow motion shots of One Eye’s victims meeting the blast from her shotgun.
To say that Thriller: A Cruel Picture is an acquired taste is an understatement. You really have to be someone who likes cult cinema to fully appreciate the film. I think it is unwarranted to write off this film as depraved and tasteless, as I found Thriller: A Cruel Picture to actually be one of the artier offerings of cult cinema. On the DVD box, Quentin Tarantino is quoted as saying Thriller: A Cruel Picture is “the roughest revenge movie ever made” and ended up being one of his influences for Kill Bill, channeling One Eye in Daryl Hannah’s Elle Driver. Worth a look for its artistic approach (chilling POV shots) and handling of its subject matter, many will find themselves lured back to Thriller: A Cruel Picture, eager to experience it all again. It does boast some truly outstanding sequences (the hand-to-hand combat scene in slow motion would drive Matrix fans nuts), addicting the viewer with its raw, undaunted execution (live rounds were supposedly used in the weapons). A classic among sleaze cinema that happily lives up to your expectations, exceeds them, and then aims a shotgun right in your face.
Thriller: A Cruel Picture is available on DVD in both the regular theatrical edition and the uncut version.