Thriller – A Cruel Picture

aka They Call Her One-Eye

Bo Arne Vibenius, 1973

With the recent switch to bi-weekly reviews here at FFS, we’re mixing things up a little. Sundays will cover the usual contemporary stuff, while Tuesdays are now home to retrospective reviews on the best, worst and just plain weirdest from the wider world of exploitation cinema. And where better to start than with one of my favourites, Bo Arne Vibenius’ artful, nihilist revenge story They Call Her One-Eye.

As a vintage genre piece, the usual caveats apply. If you’re expecting work at the technical standard of productions with actual budgets, this is not your movie. We’re firmly in the realm of grubby 16mm film stock and extremely limited resources here, and it’s rated on its relative merits. Some people just can’t get along with this stuff, but I find they provide unique experiences on their own terms if you’re willing to meet them halfway.

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I wish they still shot this kind of stuff in 16 mil.

This Swedish film tells the tragic tale of Frigga (Christina Lindberg, Sex & Fury), a young woman rendered mute after a childhood assault. After finding some degree of peace and happiness with a simple farm life, her world is once again thrown into disarray when she is captured and forced into heroin addiction and prostitution by a local lowlife (Heinz Hopf, Exposed). Following a vicious punishment after refusing to co-operate with a deviant client, Frigga decides to put the money she’s been earning towards lessons in self-defence, weapons handling and stunt driving. Slowly developing a formidable array of skills as she struggles through her day-to-day existence, eventually she finds her time has come, and everyone who wronged her is headed for a reckoning.

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Special guest director: J.J. Abrams.

What sets this one apart from contemporaries like I Spit On your Grave (which I’ve never had much time for) is the tone and style of the piece. There’s a sense of isolation that runs throughout, making even the most explicit scenes feel strangely repellent, especially in its intended cut with its jarring hardcore inserts staged by stand-ins. It’s dressed like obvious exploitation but feels more like an art film in its execution, falling into a hypnotic, repetitive rhythm with a queasy, disgusted air that seems to mirror the emotional state of its protagonist.

It all hangs on the performance of Lindberg as its iconic lead, striking an unforgettable image as the tortured soul with a nifty line in colour-coordinated eye patches. She was best-known at the time as a cover girl, and while her performances in other films had their limitations, she fits this role like she was born for it. Silent throughout, she gives this unusual part a surprising amount of weight with a haunted presence that feels removed from her surroundings while hinting at hidden depths. She’s jaw-droppingly beautiful, but in a doll-like way that accents the fragility of her character and makes her trials that much harder to bear.

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You might have to pray a little harder for that happy ending.

A sense of irreparable destruction runs throughout, where even the eventual acts of catharsis seem to ring hollow. Frigga’s revenge plays out in hyper-slow motion over a booming feedback loop of echoing noise, giving the scenes a surreal, weightless quality that denies the viewer a real sense of satisfaction from their outcome. Whether that was an intended effect or simply a result of overusing the technique to mask some weak action direction is another matter, but it adds an interesting twist regardless.

At their basest level, revenge films of this stripe tend to work by titillating with their opening acts and thrilling with a redemptive conclusion, but this film subverts or at least challenges both (however intentionally) to great effect. The cards are stacked against a typical outcome right from the start, with an already damaged heroine with no means of resolving trauma inflicted before the central events of the film even happen. It matches the expected beats for the most part, but feels like something very different, with a little more thought and a lot more venom to it. Anyone coming into this one for guilty thrills might well leave disappointed, but I found its slow-burning attack engaging, though certainly depressing.

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I’m guessing he wasn’t a Christinas Svampskola fan.

After languishing in obscurity for far too many years, Thriller now holds its rightful place as one of the most distinctive and influential examples of its strange little sub-genre. Referenced by everything from Kill Bill, MacheteHobo With A Shotgun and Sweet Karma to Christina’s upcoming return to the patch in Cry For Revenge, time has been kind to this once-forgotten gem. Not everyone will get along with the confrontational content, minimal dialogue and glacial pacing, but those who do will find a curiously hypnotic film that lingers in the memory long after lesser contenders have been forgotten.

 

4 Stars - Excellent

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