Wednesday, September 14, 2011

They Call Her One Eye

"Vengeance is a dish best served cold..."

Notoriously known in Drive-in circles as THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (which is really the best title for this film, particularly in terms of exploitation cinema) or HOOKER'S REVENGE, if you were lucky enough to experience it back in the late 70s (say '76 or '77), sandwiched between VAMPIRE HOOKERS and HOUSE OF HOOKERS as part of a traveling outdoor theater "Hooker Extravaganza" road show.

THRILLER - A CRUEL PICTURE was orignally titled THRILLER - EN GRYM FILM (giving the movie "artistic" cred as opposed to being a stark exploiter-cum-sexploiter as it was presented here in the States - its European distribution history is sketchy) in its home country of Sweden where it was subsequently banned for its extreme violence. THRILLER - A CRUEL PICTURE was written and directed by Bo Arne Vibenius - who, incidentally, became very angry when Synapse Films released the DVD of this film a few years back even though Vibenius originally gave Synapse his blessing.

But this was before Quentin Tarantino professed his love for THRILLER. While filming the KILL BILL double threat, Tarantino had the female cast - specifically Daryl Hannah - watch the Vibenius film. Without a doubt, THRILLER was one inspiration for Hannah's character of Elle Driver, who, like Frigga [the main character in THRILLER], wears an ever-changing eye patch. But I'm willing to bet eye patch inspiration was multi-dimensional for Tarantino. Another of Tarantino's favorite films is Jack Hill's SWITCHBLADE SISTERS, which also has a character who wears an eye patch. She is named, fittingly, Patch, and was played by missing-in-action B-Queen Monica Gayle [and Tarantino has never mentioned the Duke's Rooster Cogburn but, typically, when I see eye patch, I think Henry Hathaway's original TRUE GRIT - so, too, would film-buff Tarantino, one would think].

When Vibenius realized he could've jumped on the KILL BILL bandwagon and possibly made a bundle with the DVD release of THRILLER, it was too late - DVD clean-up and production had begun. Finally, Synapse released THRILLER in a limited edition - 25,000 - squaring it firmly with DVD obsessives (almost gone on Amazon, which carries two disc versions here [red box and uncut] and here [yellow box and the version seen at Drive-ins in the 1970s]).

Regardless, it should be on your shelf - whether you can warm up to it or not - simply because its so obscure and so weird. Besides the fact that its a great conversation piece and, if you want to shatter psyches, host a THRILLER screening at your next gathering.

That said, its difficult to peg Vibenius as an artiste based on this film but it does make the viewer wonder if the film's artistic elements (and there are quite a few on display) were accidental or naive or with purpose. And note that while the film's structure is unsettling, its pace is almost interminable.

Take, for instance, the opening sequence where we see a young Frigga wandering through an autumnal woods. The camera dwells on the colors of fall, bright yellows and reds (Frigga's jacket is also yellow), with the occasional sun flare hitting the lens, as Frigga meets an old man. The old man takes Frigga by the hand, walks with her and lifts her in the air and spins her around. The soundtrack plays some scratchy child-like tune, which is not at all joyful but filled with dread.

Vibenius presents this scene in a series of long, medium and POV shots, holding onto the the scenery for literally minutes. When the old man rapes Frigga, this turn of events holds little suspense (which, admittedly, adds to the disturbing element of this scene) but it goes on ad nauseum with ugly, fish-eye shots of the old man's face with his lips dripping tobacco seen from Frigga's perspective (we never see any physical contact between the old man and the young girl, but its certainly not implied - the intent is viewer as victim meant to impose a psychological reaction/relationship with the girl) . The scene ends with the old man being hauled off by the police while Frigga is cradled in her mother's arms. The mother slaps the man across the face but, obviously, Vibenius doesn't know how police procedural works - victims would never be allowed contact with their attackers after an arrest.

This scene sets action in motion but it also sets up the film's pacing - long shots, continuous shots of the mundane (people on the phone, people lighting cigarettes, people filling glasses with alcohol, etc). But, beyond inducing boredom, these continuous shots affect the viewer psychologically, lulled into a nightmare with little chance of escape. Frigga's world slowly devolves into one of complete degradation and eventual annhilation - an existential howl (though silent - because of the childhood trauma, Frigga is rendered mute) of pain and humiliation.

In a jump cut after the attack, Vibenius introduces Frigga (Christina Lindberg, who is now Editor-in-Chief of Swedish Aviation publication FLYGREVYN) as a young adult, working on her parents' farm, milking cows. One day, on her way to therapy, she's picked up by a man who brings her to his apartment where he seduces her with alcohol until she passes out. The man turns out to be a pimp, who has a stable of women strung out on heroin. After being force fed smack, Frigga loses contact with her mother and father, and experiences a myriad of sexual abuse. At one point, Frigga angers the pimp and, in retaliation, he cuts out one of Frigga's eyes with a razor in an excrutiating scene that Vibenius elects to show.

From that point on, Frigga dons a patch that matches not only her clothes but her moods - pink to match a pink neglige, which she innocently wears for her johns; red to match a red dress that signifies firey anger; and black to go with her black leather duster coat where she hides a sawed-off shotgun, hell-bent for vengeance.

Pre-dating TAXI DRIVER, Frigga goes through a training sequence - learns how to use weapons, is tutored in kung-fu, learns how to drive a car - to ready herself for slaughter, to get back at the people who have spent their time abusing her. Unfortunately, the training sequences are dull - and Frigga never really gets physical at all - the kung-fu is done mostly by her teacher, the driving by her instructor. Sure, she shoots, but that's easy.

While the pacing of the film is tiring, Vibenius shoots Frigga's final acts of revenge in excrutiating slow motion. Her weapon of choice is a sawed-off shotgun and she sprays buckshot everywhere - as her johns are dispatched, they fly, fall, flip in almost stop action motion - blood bags exploding in reaction to the slow motion pulsations of Frigga pumping her shotgun. These scenes are bizarre yet achingly beautiful - Vibenius uses this method at least a half dozen times and it never loses its impact. In fact, this motif in THRILLER - the use of ultra slo-mo for acts of violence - out Peckinpah's Peckinpah and almost approaches odd parody.

Ultimately, THRILLER's images burn into the viewer's subconscious - you certainly never forget the experience.

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