Monday, November 15, 2010

WINTER OF DISCONTENT: Thriller - A Cruel Picture

I don’t have kids. To be honest with you, I don’t particularly want kids. There are several reasons – I’m too fucking broke to provide an education/future for them; the world’s overpopulated and environmentally damaged; I’m too scared I’ll turn into my father – but the main one is the thought of this scenario coming to pass:

INT. Evening. NEIL’s den. Enter NEIL JNR.

NEIL JNR: Daddy?

NEIL: Yeah?

NEIL JNR: Why didn’t you tell me you’ve got a blog?

NEIL: Er, you know about my blog? You can use a computer?!?

NEIL JNR: Daddy, I’m five, sure I can use a computer. I didn’t know you could.

NEIL: Does Mommy know you’ve seen my blog?

NEIL JNR (shaking head): Uh-uh.

NEIL: Best we keep it that way, son.

NEIL JNR: Daddy?

NEIL: Yeah?

NEIL JNR: What’s an exploitation movie?

NEIL: Well, son, it’s a cheaply made motion picture, usually designed to cash in on the popularity of an already established genre, albeit with a greater focus on, say, graphic violence or explicit nudity. Like all categories of cinema, the exploitation film has certain subgenres, such as nunsploitation, Nazisploitation, carsploitation, rape/revenge or women in prison films.

NEIL JNR: Daddy, you’re using words of more than one syllable. I’m five, damn it. WHAT’S AN EXPLOITATION MOVIE?

NEIL: See this DVD?

NEIL JNR: The lady on the cover is real pretty. Almost as pretty as Mommy.

NEIL: Yes, she is Her name’s Christina.

NEIL JNR: What’s the movie about?

NEIL: Let’s watch it together and find out.


107 minutes later.

NEIL JNR (hysterically): Mommmmmmeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!

Here’s all you really need to know about ‘Thriller – A Cruel Picture’: “the roughest revenge movie ever made” – Quentin Tarantino. That’s right, folks, Quentin freakin’ Tarantino, the man who’s seen more movies than the rest of the planet put together and who could probably write the definitive guide to grindhouse cinema, considers this picture “the roughest revenge movie ever made”.

And here’s everything you always wanted to know about ‘Thriller – A Cruel Picture’ but were afraid to ask. It’s all at David Zuzelo’s magnificently lurid site Tomb It May Concern. This guy is a veritable encyclopaedia on the film and it’s not for nothing that he’s credited on the 2004 Synapse Films DVD release.

The plot – a join the dots narrative of all things unpleasant – goes like this: as a little girl, Frigga is sexually abused by a dirty old man, the trauma of which leaves her mute. Fifteen years later, Frigga (Christina Lindberg) is all grown up and womanly with it but still unable to speak. Her parents, poor but honest farmers, spend money they can ill afford sending her to the big city for appointments with a specialist. One fateful day, she misses the bus and accepts a ride from a sophisticated and worldly-wise gentleman named Tony (Heinz Hopf) who –

Oh, who the fuck am I kidding? Writer/producer/director Bo Arne Vibenius tries to suggest that the naïve and trusting Frigga is taken in by the suave and affluent Tony, but honestly if you’d been assaulted by a dodgy bearded guy as a kid would you really trust someone who looks like this

… and takes you do to a restaurant with this kind of décor …

… where they serve champagne in these glasses?

I don’t want to come off the snob or anything, but for fuck’s sake you serve a fucking sorbet in those kind of glasses not fucking champagne! You fucking classless prick, Tony!

(If it wasn’t for the spliced in hardcore porn scenes, this would easily be the most offensive part of the film.)

Anyway, Frigga pays the price for trusting a fucking classless prick who not only dines at shit restaurants where the maitre d’ looks like a bouncer and they don’t know a champagne flute from a fucking sorbet glass (sorry to bang on about this!) but has a bachelor pad that looks like this

… where he serves wine from a girly fucking basket.

Jesus, I hate this guy!

The long and the short of it is, Frigga ends up strung out on smack and forced to work as a hooker. Tony, ever the consummate businessman, forces her to sign a contract. This done, he appends her signature to a letter to her parents stating that she never wants to see them again. All ties severed and Frigga dependent upon Tony’s daily fix, she’s put to work. The idea of disrobing for her first client doesn’t go down too well with her and she claws his face to shreds. Tony persuades her not to commit such a social faux pas again. That’s “persuades” as in “takes a scalpel and puts her eye out with it”. Frigga spends the rest of the movie modelling matching eyepatches (and inspiring Tarantino’s Elle Driver homage in ‘Kill Bill’).

This bit of eye-gouging – shot in gruesome detail (Vibenius apparently utilized a corpse to achieve the effect) – irons out the communication breakdown between Frigga and Tony and she gets to work servicing her customers. In all the time she’s in Tony’s employ, Frigga seems to have just three regulars: an amateur photographer who enjoys snapping her in gynaecological detail, a fat bloke with a crap haircut and the world’s most embarrassing underpants, and a severe lesbian whose penchant for a bit of slap and tickle emphasizes the slap and completely overlooks the tickle.

In return for her exertions, Frigga gets a daily fix, Mondays off and a cut of her earnings. Which makes Tony one of the more generous and absurdly trusting pimps, never mind that he occasionally gets his jollies taking a knife to the old vitreous humor.

First day off, Frigga hops a bus into the country to go and visit her folks. She’s in time for the funeral procession. Distraught at Tony’s letter, they’ve topped themselves. Which seems a bit drastic. Personally, I’d have wondered if the letter wasn’t written under duress and filed a missing persons report with the police. But, hey, that’s just me.

Devasted, Frigga returns to Tony’s employ. And again, that isn’t the course of action I’d have opted for. Okay, so there’s the whole strung out on smack/nowhere to go now the folks are riding the night train to the big adios, but there are still other options open. Y’know: police, social services, methadone clinics, selling your story to the media for megabucks and checking into a private clinic. That kinda thing.

But, no. Frigga goes about things differently. Next day off, she takes some karate lessons …

… and gets some firearms training …

… and learns some advanced driving techniques from Sweden’s answer to the Stig.

Which brings us to the middle section of the film and the thing that a lot of people have difficulty with. Essentially, act two consists of montages of Frigga getting used and abused by her clients juxtaposed with montages of Frigga learning how to punch, kick, shoot and drive like hell. For those of you who haven’t seen the film, imagine the following. Montage one: Frigga is forced into posing for a pervy lensman; Frigga is brutally taken from behind by fat boy; Frigga is slapped around something rotten by a lipstick lesbian. Montage two: Frigga pulls some ‘Crouching Hooker, One-Eyed Dragon’ stylee moves; Frigga fires off a variety of guns; Frigga hurls a rally car along a dirt track. Repeat montage one. Repeat montage two. Keep repeating for twenty minutes.

Now imagine that the fat-boy-treats-Frigga-like-a-piece-of-meat scenes incorporate hardcore footage of vaginal and anal penetration, and ejaculation.

Vibenius apparent cut this footage in thinking it would boost the film’s overseas sales. Oooops, shot yourself in the foot there, old son.

There are two schools of thought regarding the hardcore inserts: (i) disgusting, disgraceful, revolting, repulsive, shameful, ban this sick film, bring back hanging and National Service, strongly worded letter to The Guardian, what is the world coming to?; and (ii) the squalid nastiness they bring to the film actually emphasizes the degradation Frigga suffers and therefore invests the second half of the film (in which our heroine gets her hands on a motor and a sawn-off shotgun and royally fucks up the collective shit of everyone who’s done her wrong) with significantly more weight.

I tend, albeit very slightly, to the second school of thought. I’d probably subscribe to it wholeheartedly if the revenge element of things wasn’t so flawed.

Apparently, Vibenius opted for the use of slo-mo to disguise Lindberg’s awkwardness in a martial arts scene. Unfortunately, instead of just using it sparingly in this one instance (or perhaps varying the speed of the slo-mo footage a la Peckinpah to create an impressionistic montage isolating the moment of death and fixing the human cost to both the victim and the killer never mind the moral imperative or bastardization thereof that occasioned the killing), he uses it during every fucking gunfight Frigga instigates (and there are plenty of them) and uses the same speed every time.

According to this review, Vibenius filmed at something like 1,000 frames per second which, in layman’s terms, means that in the time it takes Frigga to shoot someone or a kick a policeman in the face, you can leave the DVD running, make a cup of tea, nip out to the corner shop for a pack of biscuits to have with it, check your email, finish writing that letter to your mum, read a couple of chapters of a Stephen King novel, trim your toenails and still be back in front of the screen before the body’s hit the ground.

Still, for all that the hardcore shots make you feel sullied and the slo-mo business makes you check your watch, ‘Thriller – A Cruel Picture’ actually has enough to recommend it. For the most part, it’s well shot and attentively directed. The opening sequence where the young Frigga runs afoul of the paedophile is as sensitively handled as material of this ilk can hope to be. Christina Lindberg, in a wordless performance, is simply amazing. Cheap exploitation the movie may be, but Lindberg deserves a place in the annals for her brave, restrained and ultimately affecting turn. In a career that was otherwise defined by soft porn of the glummest variety (‘Anita’, ‘Exponerad’) and Japanese pink films (‘Sex and Fury’), there’s nothing else in her filmography that even suggests what she achieved here.

With her eyepatch, ankle-length leather coat and sawn-off shotgun, Christina Lindberg’s Frigga is a bona fide cinematic icon.


Myra said...

i saw this at a screening in a converted loft in Jersey City and it blew me away... in slow motion even!! Christina Lindberg is pure hotness. i need to see more stuff with her

Troy Olson said...

Loved your opener on this one...I'm always wondering what happens when my daughter discovers some of the lurid crap I watch and if I encourage it or not...

I watched this film (without the hardcore inserts, apparently) and came away surprised that Lindberg wasn't a bigger exploitation icon. She had that look of innocence mixed with determined rage that suggests she could have done the female exploitation protagonist for years if she wanted to (it appears she tired of the business, though).

The Film Connoisseur said...

I enjoyed the movie, I liked the revenge angle and I liked a lot of the cinematography, but I though the porn was completely unnecesary. Im not one of these ultra conservatives or anything, I saw the scenes and they I wasnt offended or anything, but are we here to see porn, or are we here to see a film?

Its a strange film in that sense. It mixes a normal film, with its story, plots, and performances, with a cheap ass porn from the 70's To top things off, these wasnt erotic nudity, it was kind of gross, off putting...weird.

Also, whats with the ultra slow mo? Slow mo is cool when we are seeing something thats worth slowing down, but on this we would slow down to the point of it being unbearable. We are not even seeing something special or cool even, its just someone taking for ever to do a crappy kick that has nothing special to it either.

Slow motion has to be used sparingly and with something thats worth slowing down. On this one this was not the case.

Still, I did manage to enjoy the film.

Elwood Jones said...

This is already in the to watch pile and eventually I will get around to watching the darn thing, no doubt smirking away to myself, as I recall some of the lines of this review, as I especially loved the Champaign glasses part.

Cool review

Neil Fulwood said...

Myra - sounds like a cool way to pop your 'Thriller' cherry. I'd watched in my living room over a couple of beers and several comments from my wife about the kind of trash I watch. Christina Lindberg didn't make all that many films; she's gorgeous and often naked in a handful of Swedish sex dramas like 'Anita' and 'Exponerad', but they're kind of drab movies. Probably the next best thing to watch with her in is 'Sex and Fury'.

Troy - agreed: Lindberg had the looks (and that combination of innocence and vengeful determination is potent!) and the screen presence to have become a much bigger star.

Franco - those hardcore inserts are like a slap in the face when you're watching the film. It's already been established that Frigga has been coerced into prostitution and is repulsed by her clients (just look at the expression on Lindberg's face during some of those scenes); the hardcore shots ram home a point that's already been made. Maybe this says something about me, but it's ridiculous slo-mo that annoys me more!

Elwood - if my review brings a smile to your face while you're watching this movie, I'll consider that I've achieved something quite remarkable in the field of film blogging.

Thanks for your comments, folks.

Aaron said...

EPIC review, dude! Love it. I wasn't a fan of THRILLER when I first saw it but grew to appreciate it with repeat viewings. Lindberg's character is easily one of the most iconic exploitation film characters, if not THE most iconic. My only major complaint seems to be one that at least two of us agrees on, and that's the excessive use of super-slow-mo. Otherwise, I think it's a great movie. The scenes of Lindberg taking karate lessons are hilarious and I love it when the instructor gets all pissed and kicks her out!

Thanks for reviewing this, man. Absolutely loving the Winter of Discontent so far. Now where the fuck did I put my red underwear?

Neil Fulwood said...

Thanks, Aaron.

If you think this is epic, wait till you see my piece(s) on 'Cannibal Holocaust'.

Glad you're enjoying Winter of Discontent. I'm having a lot of fun with it myself. I've got some dodgy, dubious and thoroughly disgraceful titles lined up for next week and I'm considering a retrospective of a certain globe-trotting 1970s sexploitation franchise to kick off December with.

(Re: the underwear. The fact that it's red is bad enough, but there's fucking tigers on it. Man, I bet even Tony the pimp has more tasteful keks!

Aaron said...

Sweet, dude. Keep it up! I love reading your reviews of horror and exploitation films because I can relate to them more than, say, a Herzog or Eastwood review, or something like that. And if you're referring to the series of films that I think you're talking about, then YES, please do.

Neil Fulwood said...

If the phrase "dusky maiden" fits in with the series of cinematic masterpieces you're thinking of, then I reckon we're on the same page here.