Running Time: 104 mins
Director: Bo Arne Vibenius
Starring: Christina Lindberg, Heinz Hopf
Genre: Action, Thriller, Exploitation
Frigga (Lindberg) has been left mute after being raped by an elderly man in her childhood. Now an adult (or at least almost adult) she’s set out on a trip to her speech therapist when she accepts a lift into town by a charming and handsome stranger who proceeds to drug her; hook her on heroin and farm her out into the world of prostitution as one of his earners but what he doesn’t know is that revenge is a bitch.
Vibenius’ Swedish revenge thriller not only spawned two generations of attempted copycats but firmly cemented both star and film as pivotal in the European Exploitation explosion. There are few films that can command an audience in forty years after it’s release in the same way it commanded them when it first arrived on the big screen but Thriller: A Cruel Picture (aka They Call Her One Eye) is one of those few…in fact it might have fathered the others. Vibenius’ narrative is a simple one; it is heartfelt and portrays the antagonist in the most rudimentary way and this is the film's brilliance. You are allowed to hate the bad guy; he’s a bad guy…he’s a drug pushing, pimp, rapist... is there any worse a guy out there? For that you’re allowed to crave blood and revenge and it’s these instincts brought out by Vibenius’ narrative that Bo plays to during the film's graphic and devilishly constructed set pieces.
She is a cinematic lotus flower and though still incredibily beautiful is made of sterner stuff than you could have ever prepared for. Those unfamiliar with Lindberg or unfamiliar with Thriller only have to look at the influence the character had on cinema and most notably Quentin Tarantino’s depiction of Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2 not to mention Jack Hill’s Patch in The Switchblade Sisters which would arrive two years after Thriller. This film is to Lindberg what Coffy was to Pam Grier and forty years on is still a testament to the bravery the actress had in seeing what the film was going to become long before a yard of film was shot. Heinz Hopf (as Tony) is superb. He has the role of man you’d love to kill over and over again but plays the character with a humanity rather than how he’s portrayed on the page. Rather than soften the character it only serves to make him more of a monster as true evil always think they’re doing good (or if not good then at least their entitled to do it/in the right). It’s Hopf’s humanity that fixes Tony as a great bad guy and propels the narrative in the direction it needs to go.
Cinema, above all else, is a visual medium. The best films are the ones which no sound is required to follow the narrative. Take a Hitchcock film, mute it and you will still be able to follow the plot such is the strength and focus of the image. Remove the subtitles from Thriller: A Cruel Picture and you will be surprised to find that the same is true of it. So strong is Vibenius’ direction, his shots and visual storytelling that the audio is not required. It doesn’t matter that the film is in Swedish, the language of cinema is universal and ever lasting. This might sound simple but there are many, many supposedly “brilliant” directors working in cinema today who are incapable of achieving this level of professional accomplishment.
Thriller: A Cruel Picture enters it’s fortieth birthday in style. It is, as it has always been, a tough, unflinching, brutal yet beautiful film that has taken the idea of “genre” and has improved upon it by sheer force of will and visual magnificence. An incredible powerhouse of a film.