Color, 1973, 108 mins. 14 secs. / 90 mins. 3 secs.
Directed by Bo Arne Vibenius
Starring Christina Lindberg, Heinz Hopf, Despina Tomazani, Solveig Andersson
Vinegar Syndrome (UHD & Blu-ray) (US R0 4K/HD), Synapse (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
1970s exploitation films don't come much wilder or more memorable than Thriller: A Cruel Picture, a Swedish shocker designed by writer-director Bo Arne Vibenius as a surefire moneymaker after the failure of his family-friendly debut feature. The gambit sort of worked with the combination of slow-motion art film and savage rape-revenge thriller (with a bit of hardcore sex in its original form) getting reworked throughout the world including its U.S. release as They Call Her One Eye (among other titles). It proved to be the signature role for star Christina Lindberg, a striking and compelling screen presence and frequent men's magazine model who also starred in Maid in Sweden, Sex & Fury, and Young Playthings. The film enjoyed a major surge in popularity once it hit mainstream DVD in the '00s, with Quentin Tarantino famously assigning it as homework viewing to Daryl Hannah for her eyepatch-wearing role in Kill Bill.
Rendered mute after being molested in the woods as a child, Frigga (Lindberg) lives with a farm on her parents until she makes the huge mistake of accepting a ride into town with Tony (Hopf). A slick pimp who lures her in with a fancy meal, he soon has her doped up against her will on heroin and forced into a life of sexual slavery after slicing open one of her eyes with a scalpel. Determined to find a way out, she hides some money and begins taking secret lessons in martial arts and evasive driving-- both of which come in handy when she prepares a sawed-off shotgun and goes gunning for revenge against those who did her wrong.
Though it has more than enough sleazy content to compete with another other film of its era, Thriller isn't really the slam-bang trash epic you might expect. The pace is actually dreamy and deliberate with a droning electronic soundtrack accompanying the numerous slow-motion attack scenes. It's really Lindberg's show all the way, here commanding your attention all the way through without uttering a line of dialogue. The jury still seems to be out when it comes to the explicit close-up sex shots in the middle of the film, which were achieved by recruiting a couple of real-life sex show performers; whether it represents the full degradation of our heroine's situation or marks a tasteless concession to the nascent porno craze erupting in Scandinavia, there's no doubt it gets your attention. Vibenius has a strong eye for setting and detail throughout with the autumn scenery and working class settings making for a memorable backdrop, and the decision to wrap it up on a poetic note of implied violence rather than a full-on bloodbath works surprisingly well. Rather than using this film as a launching pad for a bigger and more mainstream career, Vibenius instead recruited his cinematographer on this film, Andreas Bellis, to star in the far more explicit Breaking Point before hanging up his directorial hat.
From its gimmicky debut at Cannes (complete with promotional eyepatches) to stories about a real corpse utilized for the infamous eyeball shot, Thriller has been a film shrouded in controversy for decades that's continued throughout its incarnations on home video. Its DVD debut from Synapse Films in 2004 did much to bolster its reputation even as the label feuded very publicly with Vibenius, with both the full-strength version and a a softened "Vengeance Edition" (minus the hardcore inserts, as They Call Her One Eye) becoming quite the topic of discussion among cult film collectors. Extras on the Synapse DVD include a TV spot, theatrical trailers under both titles, a double feature trailer with House of Whipcord (retitled The Photographer's Model) as Hookers Revenge [sic], a 1m7s outtake reel (more shotgunning and eyeball puncturing), a 5m23s custom reedit of the harbor fight using alternate shots, a 40s "Movie in Pictures" montage of stray frames, five galleries ("In Bed with Christina," behind the scenes, advertising and promotion, a deleted fight scene, and production photos), and filmographies for the star and director.
In a situation to rival the great Kill, Baby Kill! showdown of 2007, Synapse announced a Blu-ray release in 2022 at the same time Vinegar Syndrome announced a UHD and Blu-ray combo edition, with the latter being the one that actually made it out the door. Initially the title was issued as a four-disc set available as part of its Halfway to Black Friday sale, featuring 4K UHD and Blu-ray versions of the uncut version and both formats for the physical media debut of the genuine 90-minute They Call Her One Eye AIP dubbed cut. That one sold out at light speed, so the generally available retail version now has a UHD of the uncut version plus Blu-rays of both cuts. Transferred from the 16mm camera negative, the film looks outstanding here with the UHD in particular looking very crisp and colorful. There's more image info here (especially on the left) compared to the earlier transfer, and the original version (with Swedish or English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono tracks with optional English translated or English SDH subtitles) also runs longer than ever before, clocking in at 108m14s versus the 106m38s of the Synapse with some extra softcore footage during the sex client montage.
The UHD and Blu-ray of the uncut version come with a commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas who talks about her rape-revenge books, the definition of sex trafficking, the gender politics of rape-revenge films, and the use of a mute protagonist a la Ms. 45. The track has very long silent gaps throughout, so keep the fast forward button handy. The first Blu-ray also adds on a truly bizarre new featurette, "Thriller – A Cruel Documentary" (42m57s), which is written by Vibenius (who never appears on camera) and narrated in twangy fashion by referring to him only as "Film Lover." Actually bearing the on-screen title "A Film Lover's Saga," it does have worthwhile video interviews with Lindberg, stuntmen Bo Sunnefeldt and Lasse Lundgren, and actor Gunnar Palm, who have lots of great tales from the set and the Cannes screening including what they know about those corpse rumors. However, it's interspersed with tangents about the director's artistic impulse and influences, wrapping up with a section about the films he'd still like to make including a Thriller sequel that sounds... well, questionable. Also included are the Thriller teaser and trailer, the They Call Her One Eye trailer and TV spot, and that Hookers Revenge combo trailer.
The second Blu-ray is devoted to They Call Her One Eye, which features comparable image quality and represents a substantial recut of the film omitting the hardcore footage (obviously) with numerous edits throughout including some brief alternate footage; you can find a thorough breakdown of the differences here. It's likely many viewers may find this their preferred version (or at the least the one more likley to break out in mixed company) since it's faster and has more of a traditional drive-in pace. The bulk of the video extras are on this disc starting with "Adrián and Christina" (57m25s), an interview by filmmaker Adrian Garcia Bogliano from 2017 with Lindberg; that's followed by an Alamo Drafthouse Q&A with Lindberg (31m43s) from a 2017 Thriller screening with Joseph Ziemba and Annie Choi and "Christina Lindberg: The Paris Interview" (59m44s) with Christian Valor from 2015 in a hotel room. Between the three you get some obvious overlap but she talks a lot about all of her films, her memories of her director, the plans to do a sequel at one point, her encounter with Tarantino, and tons more. Also included are a behind-the-scenes still gallery (1m58s), publicity image gallery (3m21s), artwork and press gallery (2m36s), radio spots (1m51s), an expanded reel of outtakes (5m53s), two Lindberg music tracks from her 7" vinyl single (6m59s), and a Vibenius-directed SAAB commercial demonstrating his love of slo-mo destruction and synthesizer music.
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray)
Reviewed on July 18, 2022.