Yes, it has finally happened. The infamous Swedish rape-revenge film THRILLER, also known as THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (great title by AIP!), has been released on DVD. After Chrome Entertainment purchased the title from director Bo A. Vibenius, a lengthy delay kept the film's status in limbo until Don May, Jr.'s Synapse Films stepped up to the plate and took on the unthinkable. Synapse has tackled the controversial before: the semi-hardcore Radley Metzger classic THE IMAGE is still the best disc representing the work of the sexploitation genius and was a gutsy film to acquire for release, as its scenes of graphic sexuality were not easy to include on brick-and-mortar store shelves. But this was different: here was a film that was almost always cut on home video, and featured graphic violence in addition to actual hardcore sex scenes with penetration and ejaculation up close and personal. Fighting against improper elements and the director himself (!), Synapse has produced a disc that should be on every single cult film fan's shelf.
A young farm girl is sexually assaulted as a child and grows into a beautiful, but mute teenager (Christina Lindberg) living in rural Sweden. On her way to a doctor's appointment for treatment to regain her speech, she misses her bus and is given a lift by a sleazy pimp (Heinz Hopf, who would co-star with Lindberg again in a similar role in THE DEPRAVED), who drugs her and methodically addicts her to hard heroin. He then forces her into becoming a prostitute to get her much-needed fix, but when she claws the face of her first client, he gouges out her left eye with a scalpel and then charges her clients more for a night with "One-Eye." Soon learning that her parents have committed suicide after her disappearance, the beaten and violated beauty begins learning the arts of karate, stunt car driving, gunfire, and hand-to-hand combat to avenge herself. One day, decked in a trenchcoat and armed with a sawed-off shotgun, she takes her bloody revenge, one person at a time...
Simply put, THRILLER is one of the best exploitation films you've never seen. Cut by 22 minutes for U.S. release, the film has been hard to see in its uncut version ever since. It became a popular cult item through the grey market circuit, where Swedish-language tapes in appalling quality would make the rounds and shock newcomers who didn't know what to expect. While Synapse's disc isn't a sparkling transfer by any stretch of the imagination, it's worlds better than what viewers of this film will be used to. Anamorphically enhanced at 1.78:1, the image is littered with grain during most of the running time, but doesn't distract from the quality of the feature film and the colorful outfits and sets stay true to the color scheme of the film; the many shots of the autumn leaves are stunning and the image is clear and bright when it needs to be. Enjoy either the English dub of the film or the original Swedish track with English subs; both are worth listening to, with noted differences including the name of the heroine and changes in dialogue and sound effects.
THRILLER lives up to its subtitle: it is indeed a cruel picture. I am probably the only person who appreciated the hip dark humor of having Lindberg wear color-coordinated eyepatches throughout the film (what, did the pimp buy her a bunch of patches to be considerate?!), but other than that, this is a thoroughly dark and disturbing film. Quoted on the DVD box is Quentin Tarantino, who calls this "the roughest revenge movie ever made" and lifted the one-eyed female image and one of Lindberg's costumes for his "Elle Driver" character in KILL BILL VOLS. 1-2. The film is packed with brutal imagery: Lindberg is constantly shooting up (salt water, in real life), her only friend, a fellow hooker prisoner, is gorily dispatched by a rough client (off-screen, thankfully), and of course the infamous eye-gouging scene, which was a marked influence on Lucio Fulci to be sure.
That being said, THRILLER takes its time weaving its spell over the viewer. It resembles an arthouse film when there isn't some sleazy activity splashed across the screen. There is very little dialogue and the sparse musical score and odd sound effects mix only really comes into play during scenes meant to horrify (including hardcore sex inserts with porn actor stand-ins, which I'm sure Christina Lindberg was not happy about!). It's an hour into the film, after establishing the character, her plunge into hell, and following closely her training methods, before Lindberg begins annihilating her targets, all in slow-motion gory shotgun blasts. She also beats the shit out of a pair of cops trying to arrest her in a warehouse, blasts the window out of a truck blocking her during a chase scene, drives multiple cars off the road in fiery explosions (Lindberg did her own driving, but had no driver's license!), and outsmarts the fleeing villains at every turn. By the finished film, Lindberg's body and soul have been bruised and battered beyond recognition...and you'd better have an uplifting flick to put on after, because there is no real happy end to be found here.
Fellow Swedish sex siren Marie Liljedahl was the epitome of the Scandanavian beauty in the 1960s, but she retired from films in 1970 after the scripts she was offered became progressively sleazier and nastier. This is where Christina Lindberg's film career began. Her film debut was in MAID IN SWEDEN (1969), an obvious remake of Liljedahl's INGA (1967), and from there she appeared in gutsier projects than her predecessor. While I think Liljedahl projected a genuine innocence in her films, Lindberg was the better actress of the two. She could exhibit more emotion and depth in her character with a simple look on her face, and as shown in THRILLER, has a much wider range than Liljedahl. She transforms from naïve innocent to bloodthirsty assassin over the time frame of the film, and is completely believable the entire running time. Lindberg also has a truly eye-popping figure: while she resembled an everyday high school girl at all times, when she disrobed, fans were surprised to see a pair of gargantuan breasts looming at them! Liljedahl sure didn't have THOSE! Lindberg's filmography has been tough to see in the United States; her most popular films haven't been released on domestic VHS or DVD, and she is only now gaining the icon status she richly deserves. Synapse will soon release another of her Swedish sex films, ANITA, next year, and RetroSeduction Cinema will soon release SWEDISH WILDCATS and YOUNG PLAYTHINGS, and I can hardly wait for all of them! I can only hope someone decides to release THE DEPRAVED, MAID IN SWEDEN, DOG DAYS, and her German sexploitation films soon.
The fact that director Vibenius has been completely against the Synapse DVD release of THRILLER has cast an unfortunate shadow over the disc. While it's obvious that there was lots of love, care, and energy put into this disc, the film itself is so incredible thar the story of its making demands to be answered. I would have loved to hear how the eye-gouging was achieved (was it a real corpse?), details of working with Christina Lindberg and how she gave her career-making performance, the reasoning behind the hardcore inserts, how he achieved the multiple realistic car explosions during the rip-roaring chase scene, and generally allowing us a look into the genius who brought us this film. Ms. Lindberg does speak of her career with interested parties, so it's a shame that she declined to speak with Chrome, the original company slated to release THRILLER, and subsequently does not appear on Synapse's disc. A full-length interview with Lindberg appeared in Bob Sargent's Videooze magazine and was to be included, but due to space issues, had to be dropped. What a shame. That said, this is still a disc I'm proud to own and is a top contender for Best DVD of 2004. (Note to Don May: When you release ANITA, please try to talk Christina Lindberg into a career overview!)
The disc does not come without a nice platter of extras to appreciate the film. You get three trailers and a TV spot, all originating in the United States. The TV spot features footage that isn't in any of the other previews, but goes a long way to show what you could advertise on American TV in those days! The U.S. trailer appears in both its THEY CALL HER ONE-EYE incarnation (a trailer classic that sells the film incredibly well) and with an odd THRILLER title optic. Both trailers have Spanish subtitles...hmm...Interestingly enough, THRILLER was re-titled as HOOKER'S REVENGE, paired with Pete Walker's HOUSE OF WHIPCORD (which was re-titled THE PHOTOGRAPHER'S MODEL), and re-released on a double-feature bill. The trailer for the duo is included, and is a very good, if misleading, preview (it sells HOUSE OF WHIPCORD as a sex comedy!).
A brief outtake reel features slow-motion snippets of Lindberg blasting people away with her shotgun, alternate takes of blood packets exploding, and a few more seconds of the warehouse battle. I can't believe it survived to be included here! While searching for vault elements to restore the film to is full length, Synapse discovered various other trims and edited snippets, and pieced together an alternate warehouse fight as a lark. Most interestingly, it features "normal-motion" footage of Lindberg knocking over the two cops and flipping them over her shoulder. Lindberg really proves her mettle here, if you can't judge by the slo-mo sequence in the finished film. Even more entertaining is the fact that it has Lindberg flying through the air to kick one of the cops in the face! I almost preferred this alternate sequence created by Don May and Co. to the film's version! "Movie in Pictures" is very strange...it takes a matter of seconds and uses specific frames of the film in a flip-card manner to allow the viewer to literally step through the film.
You get not one, not two, but five separate galleries! "In Bed with Christina" is self-explanatory: harkening to her nude modeling days, Lindberg is presented in never-before-seen nude photos taken on the set of the film, in her cute little pink eyepatch. The "Behind the Scenes" gallery was my favorite, seeing the actors out of character and seeming to be genuinely having a good time making the film (one strange one has Lindberg covering her breasts when the camera isn't rolling...was our Ms. Sweden a tad shy...?); look for director Vibenius in his on-screen cameo, then go back and find him in the film! The "Advertising and Promotion" section is made up primarily of American materials (the film was barely released, if at all, elsewhere); a full-length lobby card set, an alternate pressbook under the THRILLER title, the original Cannes pressbook (what a find!), the U.S. THEY CALL HER ONE EYE pressbook, and suggestions for exploitation ideas to entice moviegoers into the movie (including the concept of having eye-patch-wearing beauties parade around the lobby!). And if you're wondering why no materials from its homeland Sweden, you should know it was banned there and never shown theatrically until in recent years! Most interesting is the "Deleted Fight Scene" gallery; the original fight scene wherein Lindberg kills the two hitmen sent by her pimp was shot outdoors, including the subsequent tussle with the two cops, but the lab the footage was sent to didn't understand it was supposed to appear in slow-motion (as it was shot) and tossed the scene in the garbage. The finished scene was shot in a warehouse to save time and money of having to reshoot in the first place. The "Production Photos" are made up of stills shot on-set to promote the film, spotlighting the horrendous and despicable acts Lindberg has thrown her way, and also featuring many gorgeous poses of Lindberg, looking appropriately lethal.
Also included with the package is a fabulous animated menu, which has One-Eye shooting you in the face when you choose to view the film! A two-page booklet presents brief liner notes by Robert Marcucci and a Special Thanks list which (much to my surprise) includes my name! And I think this is the first instance I've seen of an acknowledgements page thanking the lead actress for "being one of the most drop dead gorgeous women on the planet"!
The image of beautiful Christina Lindberg, clad in a black trenchcoat (which must have influenced THE MATRIX) and wielding a mean shotgun, is one that is hard to erase from the memory, and the film in which it appears is one you will never forget. This is the genre disc of the year for me, but do NOT hesitate to pick it up NOW! It is available in a very limited edition of 25,000, so don't wait until it's lost forever. (Casey Scott)
BACK TO REVIEWS