Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Thriller: A Cruel Picture (aka They Call Her One Eye) (1973): Rape-Revenge Goes Military

Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973)
AKA They Call Her One Eye
dir: Bo Arne Vibenius

In the late '60s and early '70s, Swedish movies, especially the ones successfully imported, were considered to be more sexually explicit than American cinema. It was almost considered to be smut for people who considered themselves too classy for outright porn or sexploitation. Indeed, many of Sweden's films dealt in sexually explicit imagery that were as frank as their subject matter. Most notably in the case of I Am Curious (Yellow), a political protest movie which some states attempted to ban and which led to a movie theater being burned down due to sexually explicit material.

Sweden was also home to arthouse sweetheart Ingmar Bergman, who had made The Virgin Spring, a non-explicit rape-revenge meditation that would be remade into Wes Craven's Last House on the Left.

Combining these two extremes, as well as incorporating a militaristic fetishization, Bo Vibenius created Thriller: A Cruel Picture as an attempt to make the most commercial film ever made. Vibenius pushed the content and tone so far that he went over the edge and across the line into a deeply disturbing area that few movies reach. Thriller was one of those brutal films where the projectionists would feel free to make their own edits where they felt like the movie was too rough for their tastes.

Thriller: A Cruel Picture is still notorious for its use of hardcore pornographic sexual images, as well as an infamous eye scene, all of which are currently only used in the hardcore version of the movie. Yes, even to this day, Thriller: A Cruel Picture is censored into 2 separate versions. When first released in the US, there was an 84 minute version released as They Call Her One-Eye. When it got a 2004 DVD release, Synapse Films released two separate versions. Thriller: They Call Her One Eye (Vengeance Edition) which is 104 minutes, and Thriller: A Cruel Picture (Limited Edition) which is the full 106 minutes.

The movie itself is a violent rape-revenge fantasy that is emotionally cold and distant, but not entirely graphic in its depictions of rape, especially if you consider the extended sequences of both A Clockwork Orange and Last House on the Left. However, when he was making the movie, Vibenius added in shots of hardcore pornography into many of the sex scenes to make the movie more...marketable? At the time, in the US at least, hardcore porn was starting to take off a bit. Pornographic movies like Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door were making money like gangbusters. So, adding hardcore porn seemed like a good idea for this movie. But, most of the pornographic movies were not violent rape-revenge moralistic movies. The full version of Thriller: A Cruel Picture also includes a graphic, close-up, eye piercing scene, which goes even further than the eye slicing scene in Un Chien Andelou.

But, Thriller: A Cruel Picture is no Un Chien Andelou. It is also no The Virgin Spring. Thriller: A Cruel Picture is raw and made in a more exploitative tone. Thriller: A Cruel Picture is a brutal, and disturbing picture that doesn't really flinch from anything.

What is Thriller? It is the story of a girl who was raped as a child. She went mute as a result. And, then she was kidnapped on her way into the city where she was drugged, forced to take heroin, raped, stabbed in the eye, and put to work as a prostitute. She starts to gather her money. But when her prostitute friend is killed, she realizes that, without action, death would be her fate as well, and starts training with the military to learn how to drive, how to shoot, how to fight. Basically, how to become a single woman weapon. In the end, she takes bloody revenge on her clients and on her captors.

The movie is brutal. But, what's weird is the decision to include hardcore pornography. It is filmed completely out of context with the rest of the film. Vibenius intercut the hardcore scenes into the montages of sex with the johns. This choice makes those scenes feel more erotic than disturbing or exploitative, and it makes watching the scenes even more disturbing by almost getting off on the abuse of this woman. With the new sex scene, the montages with the johns stop being emotionally raw, and start evoking more complicated emtions. The effect shifts the movie from being a purely brutal movie to being a different animal of conflicting emotions. I don't know if that makes it art, or if it means it is a bad choice. One could argue that it is showing the pleasurable side of sexual abuse from the john's point of view, and that by intercutting the raw emotions of the victim with the pleasure of the abuser, Thriller is creating a morally complicated, and perhaps corrupt, viewpoint of the scene. But, whether that makes it morally bankrupt or if it makes it art is probably subjective.

The other scene that is censored is the eye gouge. But, the eye slice fits with the rest of the film. It is slow, unflinching, and squirm worthy. The audience takes no pleasure from seeing the eye gouged. I would even argue that seeing eye damage is one of the top cringe worthy body parts. As such, it would be nice to have one more version of the movie with just the porn taken out, but the eye left in.

Tarantino has gone on record loving this movie, and it is easy to see why. He also based Elle Driver on the lead character. This is a movie that plays with form and visuals while also working to disturb and form a "sex trafficking is bad" mentality. It's a necessary film\, but it is hard to actually say that it is essential viewing.

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