It sort of felt like I was dwelling on a lot of the 80s flicks I own recently, so I thought I change things up a bit and talk about an older flick I picked up last year, Thriller: A Cruel Picture (or They Call Her One Eye, which I think was the title of the flick after it was edited and released in the US.)
I came across this film after doing a little bit of background research on Kill Bill. I’ve mentioned the Movie Nights my friend Kevin and I have (in the Two Thousand Maniacs post), and one of the recent lists of films we tackled were the flicks that influenced or were referenced in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. One of the things that we really dig about Tarantino is his penchant for making outstanding meatloaf films that directly draw on his favorite flicks of the 60s, 70s and 80s. The perfect example of this is Kill Bill which can be traced back to about 20 or 30 flicks that he wove together to make something both completely new, yet very true to its inspiration.
Practically every character in the film is inspired by a character in another film, and one in particular, Elle Driver (played by Daryl Hannah), has a funny story about it. Tarantino wanted Elle to be a mix of a character named Patch from the film Switchblade Sisters and Frigga from Thriller, so he sat Hannah down and had her watch both films so she could get an idea of where he was coming from. What’s kind of funny is that the version of Thriller that Tarantino had her watch was the unedited original print that contains about 15-20 minutes of seriously uncomfortable hardcore porn inserts. It’s probably one of the first times in cinema history that a well known director asked one of his actresses to sit through hardcore porn to get a feel for a character and wasn’t sued for sexual harassment. But that’s Tarantino, and it’s part of what I love about him (that he’d use a film like Thriller as reference, not that he forced an actress to sit through some hardcore.)
Having heard this story on the special features of the first Kill Bill flick, I knew that Kevin and I were in for a bit of a problem as far as the flick was concerned. See, Kevin had just seen his first slew of horror flicks not long before and now I was going to ask him to sit through some hardcore porn. I ended up renting it first to try and gauge the uncomfortable-ness of the situation and was torn. On the one hand the hardcore scenes in the flick were pretty freaking uncomfortable from both a story aspect (the main character Frigga is forced by a pimp named Tony to become a prostitute and heroin addict) and a cinematography aspect (most of the hardcore scenes, at least the scenes with penetration are close-up inserts of separate actors going at it slowly and the camera always tends to linger, so it really is more porn than story.) On the other hand the film itself, outside of its more exploitative aspects, is both pretty darn cool and highly influential on modern filmmakers from Tarantino, to John Carpenter, to the Wachowskis and John Woo. It’s truly an important film in this respect and something that we couldn’t miss. I ended up suggesting that Kevin watch it separately so we could both get through it to talk about it, which worked pretty well.
I bought the DVD after making this decision, mostly because I wanted to watch it again, but also so Kevin could watch it at his leisure and not have to put it on his Netflix queue if that bothered him. What’s funny is that about six months after we finished the Kill Bill reference list, Synapse, the company that distributed Thriller, ended up releasing the US edited version.
When I first sat down to watch this film I was pretty blown away. First of all, the main character, Frigga, played by the beautiful Christina Lindberg, is mute, so she has no lines in the entire film. Even though this flick, written and directed by Bo Arne Vinenius, was basically made to be as base and exploitative as he could to make up for the financial failure of his first film, it ends up providing a lot of artistic conventions that directors have been copying for years. Between Lindberg’s vengeance costume, all black with a long black leather trench coat and matching eye patch (Snake Plissken anyone), to the almost agonizingly slow motion fight scenes (John Woo and the Matrix), and the mixture of ultra violence juxtaposed with slow conversation pieces (ala Tarantino in most of his films) this film feels like it was made last year as opposed to 30 years ago.
I also respect the realism that Vinenius and Lindberg brought to the flick; even though it was not intended to be artistic, it’s truly one of the best examples of Exploitation I’ve yet seen. For instance, in the famous "eye gouging" scene, the director used an insert he filmed of a corpse’s eye, so that he could have the camera not pull back from the action. This is something that can go either way in terms of being effective or disturbing (for example the two version of Tarantino’s "ear slicing" scene in Reservoir Dogs), but in this case it was both. For the scenes where Lindberg’s character is shooting up, she used a real hypodermic needle filled with a saline solution, that was probably more important for the acting (method-wise) than the visuals, but effective none the less. Of course there are the infamous hardcore inserts, with money shots and all, that strip any possible romanticism from prostitution fantasies. All of this adds up for a very evocative flick.
The DVD release is very beautiful, both the the film restoration itself and the amazing artwork on the cover, though some of the special features are weird. Besides the alternate footage and deleted scenes, there is a very distasteful slide show of Lindberg photos that were shot during the porn scenes that seem to cross a line in terms of taste. In my opinion the sex scenes in the film, though included to appeal to a more base audience, were actually included to evoke the opposite reaction. I think Vinenius shot these to make the audience hate what the character was going through and to justify the actions that the character later takes against both her captor and her "johns", but the special feature picture show glorifies the actress’s choice to go topless and makes turns it into something that’s supposed to be titillating.
At the end of the day I would suggest to anyone interested in the film who hasn’t seen it to try the edited They Call Her One Eye version of the film, but if you are like me and just have to know what was truly intended, no matter how disturbing it may be, to go ahead and seek out the full A Cruel Picture version.