The Horror Geek Speaks: Thriller: A Cruel PictureOne of the many films that served as an inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill.
To be totally honest, the main reason people will see Bo Arne Vibenius' 1974 film, Thriller: A Cruel Picture is because it was one the numerous inspirations for Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill. Christina Lindberg's character One Eye is the clear inspiration for Darryl Hannah's Elle Driver. It's unfortunate that this is the only reason people will see Thriller, because, truth be told, it's a really great little exploitation film.
Lindberg is One Eye, a mute young woman who hasn't spoken a word since being raped in a park by a pedophile as a young girl. She lives on a farm with her parents and things seem to be pretty good – until she meets up with a slick-talking pimp who kidnaps her, hooks her on heroine, and turns her out. One Eye's life changes dramatically: she has an eye cut out for disobedience, her parents (who think she left because she hated them – another of the pimp's cruel machinations) kill themselves, and the young woman is forced to fulfill any and every kind of sexual perversion imaginable. This is a movie that definitely lives up to its A Cruel Picture subtitle.
However, since One Eye is hopelessly hooked on heroin (which the pimp doles out to her daily as long as she behaves), she has a certain amount of freedom on her day off. She can actually wander the city since she's sure to be back in time for her next fix. One Eye uses this time to learn how to shoot, drive a car, and kick ass in hand to hand combat. Once she's acquired these skills, it's time for payback – the ruthless and bloody kind.
One astute observer of the film remarked that Thriller was more "Michael Haneke and Sam Peckinpah than Jess Franco." This is a great way of describing the film. It definitely falls well into the realm of sleazy exploitation cinema, but there's an art to the presentation that's missing in a lot of the more base films of the genre. I'd not only mention Haneke and Peckinpah, but also Abel Ferrara as there are a number of striking similarities between this film and Ferrara's seminal Ms. .45. A mute heroine who's been raped is pushed to revenge and becomes a goddess reborn in both films – yet each stands as a unique piece of cinema in its own right.
Lindberg is right up there with Zoe Tamerlis as far as lead actresses go. Both play the mute victim role with a surprising amount of depth and nuance. Lindberg's performance is far better than Hannah's spoofing of the role in Tarantino's film as well. This is yet another example of the problems I have with Tarantino's handling of that particular film – if he genuinely loves these movies like Thriller, then why borrow elements from them and treat them as cheap jokes? Elle Driver is a poor caricature of One Eye – and if Tarantino wanted to pay homage to the character, he could have done so in a more serious fashion.
The film itself is a heady mix of sex and violence, complete with numerous hardcore insert shots. If pornographic sex bothers you, there are a few parts of this film you'll want to skip. Yet, in this regard, it's more like Baise Moi than Tinto Brass' Caligula – Caligula used sex like a typical porn film, while Thriller and Baise Moi use it as a story element that exists in the film because it's an organic outgrowth of the plot. In this regard, it's still exploitative, but it does serve at least something of a higher purpose.
The violence is pretty tame overall – Vibenius loves to shoot each murder in slow motion, which is sort of cool at first, but tends to drag things out as the film progresses. There are lots of exploding blood squibs, but not much else in terms of gore – the film's one decapitation is kept entirely offscreen, implied more through sound than any sort of visual.
Speaking of the sound, the film has one of the oddest, most jarring soundtracks I've come across – and it complements the film perfectly. Again, you can sort of see its influence in the music Tarantino chose for Kill Bill.
In the end, Thriller wasn't the first film to be banned in Sweden – but it was the first homegrown film to be banned there. It's hard to imagine it inspiring that sort of reaction today since it's almost quaint in comparison to some of the other films out there. Even the sex is your garden variety porn – not anything resembling legitimate rape or things of that nature. Yet, it's still a mean little film – and one worth checking out if you're at all interested in cult exploitation cinema or if you're just curious about some Quentin Tarantino's cinematic influences.