Thriller – a cruel picture
Original title: Thriller – En grym film
Directed by: Bo Arne Vibenius
Thriller /Sexploitation, 1974
Distributed by: Synapse Films
Sweden, Sweden, Sweden… What ever happened to the movies of Sweden. This country produced some of the most interesting directors, movies and actors ever, and then it all went to the shitter. Swedish movies of today have no edge, no charm, they are all either detective movies with the same five actors over and over again, shitty comedies trying to recapture some of the brilliance of the seventies cuteness – unfortunately with the same actors of then too, debut features focusing on immigrant culture clashes or disturbed abstract art fuck too dark and introvert to ever gain wider recognition or make an impression as on lee the director has an slight idea of what the heck he’s trying to say. Who actually green lights these films, and where's the gambles?
I have news for all of them; it’s all been done so much better some twenty-thirty-forty years ago. There’s an ignorance among the young audiences of today that is disturbing. People do not know their own celluloid inheritance, they sigh at Bergman’s name, calling him boring, they have no idea of directors like Arne Mattsson, Torgny Wickman, Bo Arne Vibenius, Bo Widerberg, Gunnar Höglund, Jan Halldoff, not forgetting our own flock of low budget exploitation masters Mats Helge Olsson, Peter Borg and many others.
Yeah I keep going back here and saying the same thing, many directors where lost in Bergman’s shadow, but it’s important that we always push forth these guys because they are the alternative directors, the directors that need to be profiled here in Sweden. I can’t understand when I meet who say that love the American and European Goth, Crime, Sleaze and Sexploitation flicks but haven’t even seen the Swedish pieces. The ones we need to embrace…
Most audiences of today don’t know shit. They go to the cinema, eat their fucking popcorn and all become professional movie critics, not knowing anything of the astonishing movies shot in and around Stockholm. If you don’t know background, then you really shouldn’t try to shoot your mouth of, if your frame of reference only goes as far back as the last Ulf Malmros/ Kjell Sundvall / Josef Fares flick. (Decent enough directors, but not my cup of tea)
One of my ambitions in life is to somehow establish a Swedish film museum that isn’t all about the great Ingmar Bergman (with no sarcasm attached – Bergman was the greatest and there’s no denying that and he would be featured), but also showcase these other fantastic craftsmen and artists in the light that they need to be exposed in. Even if it’s only a six-month exhibition in town, it needs to be done. Every country should have it’s own movie museum to enlighten those with an interest for trivia and facts. Yeah, a shrine to domestic cinema geekness.
Thriller - A cruel film directed by Bo Arne Vibenius under his Alfred Fridolinski pseudonym – and most of the crew used pseudonyms on this one too - is a provocative, wonderful example of the golden age of that genre warping period during the seventies. For sure, this movie wouldn’t ever be made today, and considering that Sweden has the oldest board of censors in the world, established already in 1911 – give a man a break will you! They just invented cinema and some beurocratic sod wants to review everything that is shown already… it says a lot about Sweden – it’s no wonder that Thriller ran into trouble for it’s violent and sexual content. When it was screened to the board on the fourth of April 1973, they banned it there and then. It’s often it’s claimed that Thriller was the first movie to be completely banned in Sweden, but that’s not entirely true, as this honour goes to Arne Ragneborn and his 1957 film Det Händer I Natt (It happens tonight). Ragneborn was so outraged by the decision that he never directed another movie again. Just over a year later Thriller was up for review again, this time in shorter form, with a new English dialogue soundtrack, and once again they hammered a no go ban on the movie. But Vibenius, being the clever guy that he is, had already set about selling the movie overseas with the moniker ”Banned in Sweden” a genius stroke as Sweden was supposedly the most sexually liberated place in the world, and a movie banned there... The cunning promotion would eventually pay off and the film would hit the States right in the gonads. Supposedly it’s this shorter overseas version, under the name They Called her One Eye that was submitted to the board a third time mid 1974. (The English dialogue version was also the second one presented to them) With a whole suggestion of scenes to be axed from the film (the infamous eyeball scene, two of the revenge/murders and the strangulation of Heinz Hopf in the final reel – the hard core sex scenes where all ready out. And no, that's not Lindberg getting porked, but frequently hired adult actors of the time who Vibenius brought in for the parts.) and somewhere near 22minutes shorter than that initial version the movie was finally released with the highest age limit possible to the theatres. It only played for about a week before disappearing from the screens. Although the movie did return during the video boom, and it did have some success overseas in the States as They Call Her One Eye. A movie that is among one of Tarantino’s favourites and his affection for Lindberg hasn’t gone unnoticed over here.
Thriller is a fascinating movie, and there’s no way you can get around it. Being a rather uncomplicated rape-revenge movie it see’s Christina Lindberg [Gustav Wiklund’s Exponerad (Exposed) 1971, Torgny Wickman’s Anita – ur en tonårsflickas dagbok (Anita: Swedish Nymphet) 1973 and Norifumi Suzuki’s Sex and Fury 1973. Lindberg also reprised her role as Frigga in the underground classic Sex, Lögner & Videovåld 2000] as Frigga - Madeleine in the English Language version – who’s been mute since her uncle molested her as a child. The choice of keeping the character a mute was a brilliant decision as Lindberg’s delivery of dialogue wasn’t her greatest skill. She lives with her parents on their farm and as she one day stands looking when the next buss to town goes by the sleaze-bag Tony (Heinz Hopf – Arne Mattsson’s great Mördaren – En helt vanlig person 1967, and Smutsiga Fingrar (Dirty Fingers) 1973 – Where’s the friggin' DVD release of that one? Also in Wicklund’s Exponerad against Lindberg and Bergman’s Award Winning Fanny and Alexander 1982, to name a few of the many fantastic movies he starred in.) offers her a ride into town. He takes her to his pad, and after getting her drunk to the point where she passes out he gets her addicted to heroin. Frigga tries to escape on several occasions, only to have Tony scar her for life, and in the process create one of the most fantastic iconic images ever; after stabbing her in the eye with a scalpel (supposedly the eye of a real corpse, hence the nauseating realistic scene) Frigga takes to wearing that hot eye patch over the gaping hole that once was her eye. Tony the creep now has leverage over Frigga as he forces her into prostitution in return for each day’s fix of smack. A variety of sordid customers come and go after having their way with Frigga, who is all alone in this dark world of extortion and grimy sex. Her only friend Sally [Solveig Andersson – from Torgny Wickman’s films Skräcken har 1000 ögon 1970 and Eva – den utstötta 1969] tells Frigga of the vile letter that Tony has sent to Frigga's parents telling them that she wants’ nothing to do with them anymore. This letter led her parent’s devastated and committing suicide. This is the spark that is needed for Frigga to start planning her revenge. As each customer pays her, she pockets a small percentage of the cash herself and pays for karate, driving and shooting lessons. As each day goes by she’s one step closer to taking her revenge, and after Sally dies it’s payback time. One by one she tracks her exploiters down and kills them with that fantastic stone cold look on her eye patched face, and yes, even the hot lesbian [Despina Tomazani - who is also in Singapore Sling 1990 director Nikos Nikolaidi's The Sweet Bunch 1983] gets a shotgun to the gut. Even the cops try to stop this one-woman murder machine culminating in that amazing eight minute slow-motion sequence of carnage. Finally after asking a hot dog vendor [Vibenius in a cameo] for directions, Frigga stands face to face with the fiendish Tony who first is shot in the kneecap, an IRA favourite, and then slowly decapitated in an ingenious device consisting of a rope, a horse and a bucket of apples.
There’s no way around it, Thriller is an amazing and impressive movie, that definitely stands out like a sore thumb in the eye of every cineaste – in a masochistic and pleasurable way that is.
The slow pace, the sparse use of dialogue, that stunning eye gouging, the sleaziness, the graphic hardcore inserts that leave nothing to the imagination, the gritty violence and the overall cynicism of the movie make it a masterpiece unlike any other. It’s simply one of those must see movies, and I still find it entertaining upon each revisiting – Christmas day night, a perfect ending to a stressful day. It was quite a while ago I last saw it before that, back in 2004 when it resurfaced on DVD, but back in the nineties I saw it quite a few times after a true cineaste I know (It’s you again Stefan) actually spent time with Vibenius reassembling Thriller, and his third feature, the completely insane and splendid Breaking Point 1975, to their original form. Needless to say many party nights ended up as movie nights watching old Swedish psychotronica – Thriller and Breaking Point being the new found lost treasures. Like a modern day ring virus, You have to see this film! was probably one of the most common drunken slurs when meeting fellow friends of mind-expanding movies out on the town. I’m almost certain that the Synapse DVD is from the same source as that was the version they assembled on VHS. I also received an original Swedish poster, which still is one of the most cherished entries in my movie poster collection.
So how come Bo Arne Vibenius, who had worked on several award winning movies; with Ingmar Bergman - Persona 1966 and Vargtimmen (Hour of the Wolf) 1968, Kjell Grede’s Hugo och Josefin 1967, Gunnar Höglund's Raskenstam 1983, Bo Widerberg’s Mannen på Taket (Man on the Roof) 1976, Vilgot Sjöman’s Tabu 1977, - all very good and respected productions - become the man responsible for one of, if not THE most renown Swedish exploitation flick ever?
After writing and directing his debut feature, the children’s movie Hur Marie träffade Fredrik, åsnan Rebus, kängurun Ploj och… (How Marie met Fredrik, Rebus the Donkey, Ploj the kangaroo and…) 1969, the anticipated success failed to come even though the movie received decent reviews at the time. The movie, in many ways before it’s time as it’s narrative is told from the children’s point of view, and features a fabulous sequence where during a high speed police chase on go-carts, Marie and Fredrik along with the police officers in pursuit take a break to eat cakes and drink pop before resuming the chase, is great stuff indeed and would probably work better today… Frustrated and disappointed he decided to make a movie that would appeal to all, and bar nothing from the process. Vibenius is often quoted as saying “I’m going to make a super commercial piece of shit movie”, and the results talk for themselves, Thriller is still talked about in pop culture, and being acknowledged by Tarantino as an inspiration for Kill Bill Vol. 1 2003 you know it made an impression.
I just wish that the stars could align correctly at one point in time and present a complete Vibenius Collection, because all three movies of his films to date (never give up the faith!) are all stunning pieces of craftsmanship. Hur Marie Träffade Fredrik is hilarious, like mentioned previously has a unique narrative, and I’d love to re-watch it with my own kids as I enjoyed it myself that one time I saw it ages ago on video. I’d almost kill for a decent release of Breaking Point as the memories I have of it are that it’s completely surreal, even more provocative than Thriller and was shot in the area of Stockholm where I used to live. Actually the video society Art Video Club that I worked for had our premises on the other side of the street to the school where Bob Bellings kidnaps a child in the movie. We freaked when we realised that we where a step from the location.
Thinking of the irony of Vibenius' “I’m going to make a super commercial piece of shit movie” statement made after the first film, it’s easy to feel its the kind of quote that makes legends, as this commercial piece of shit movie is the one that Bo A. Vibenius will be forever remembered for…
Until he releases some new piece of celluloid fury upon us that is, and that isn’t completely impossible, as there are frequently rumours of new films in the works. All from Thriller 2 – were Frigga is hired by a and of guerrilla soldiers in South America to start a revolution, and eradicate Drug lords and the CIA, to the futuristic Z-Rider (I have had the fortune to read a synopsis that was one of those, I have to see this, moments.) Whatever Vibenius comes up with, I'm sure it would definitely be a movie that all the fans of the masterful Thriller – a cruel film would line up to see, or buy when that desired DVD box set finally materialises.
The version that Synapse Films have released is the complete long version that all those years ago was submitted to the censors in all its gritty, sleazy grandeur…
Dolby Digital Mono - Swedish or English dialogue is optional, and English subtitles are available
Where as I complained the other day that the Synapse release of Jesus Franco’s She Killed In Ecstasy was lacking, this one is filled to the brim. An extensive gallery of stills, original TV-spots and theatrical trailers, outtakes, the story in pictures, an alternative harbour fight sequence, and a photo document on that unused fight sequence that the lab accidentally destroyed in post.