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Thriller - A Cruel Picture (Vinegar Syndrome) UHD/Blu-ray Review

    Ian Jane

  • Thriller - A Cruel Picture (Vinegar Syndrome) UHD/Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: May 27th, 2022.
    Director: Bo Arne Vibenius
    Cast: Christina Lindberg, Heinz Hopf, Despina Tomazani, Per-Axel Arosenius
    Year: 1974
    Purchase From Amazon

    Thriller - A Cruel Picture – Movie Review:

    What do you get when you combine a potentially insane director, a gorgeous Swedish sex kitten with an eye patch and a shotgun, eyeball slicing, more slow motion than Sam Peckinpah could ever dream of, and a fun lesbian encounter? Thriller - also known as, They Call Her One Eye, also known as The Hooker's Revenge, that's what!

    Lindberg plays Frigga, who at a young age found herself the victim of a sexual assault. We see this play out in the film’s opening scene as a creepy old pedophile lures her in and then has his way with her. The cops don’t handle the case the way that they should. The rape damages her psyche and leaves her a mute, and a rather antisocial mute at that. Her parents send her into town on a regular basis from her rural home to get treatment to help her with her condition and one day, she misses her bus. Fearing she'll be late, she accepts a ride from a man named Tony (Heinz Hopf), a suave looking and stylish man who turns out to be quite dastardly in his intent.

    Tony's a pimp and a drug dealer. Frigga is his latest victim. Once he gets her in his car, he abducts her to take her back to his lair where he'll get her hooked on heroin and force her to work as a hooker in exchange for smack. Tony keeps his stable of women separated from the rest of the world and from their families in order to better control them, and if they should try to make an escape he threatens them with their lives.

    As Frigga is introduced into the sex trade underworld, she quickly shows her strength by raking her nails down the face of her first john. She makes an escape attempt but it's too late, Tony's got her hooked on heroin and she ends up coming back to him to feed the monkey on her back. She gives up on fighting back and seemingly accepts her fate as a whore in Tony's employ. She seems docile enough until she hears that her parents have been killed and it's then that something deep inside her snaps - everything comes flooding back to her, the abuse, the rape, the drug use and the horrors of life. Frigga weans herself off of the dope and in an amazingly unrealistic amount of time trains herself in karate, learns how to drive, becomes an expert with a double-barreled shotgun and decides to get her bloody revenge on Tony and his thugs once and for all.

    Expertly directed by Bo Arne Vibenius (second unit director on a pair of Ingmar Bergman films - Persona and Hour Of The Wolf - both quite far removed from Thriller and its follow up, the even nastier Breaking Point), this film does have a few noticeable flaws but benefits from such a fantastic female lead that they're easy to overlook. Yeah, it's slow in spots and yeah it's dated and yeah the slow motion is way too over the top and right, no one could learn how to drive or learn martial arts or shoot or get off of heroin that quickly, but who cares! This is an exploitation/revenge movie. Throw logic out the window because it doesn't apply here and forcing that logic on this film and others of its kind only serves to detract from the enjoyment that Thriller delivers. Some will read deeper into it, but at its core, this movie is a simple excuse to watch a hot chick in precarious situations stand up to her oppressors and kick their collective asses. Parts of it are dreamlike, parts of it are sexy, parts of it are repulsive and you can read into it what you like but Thriller is what it is and that's a down and dirty movie about a hot chick with a shotgun and there’s no reason you’d want it any other way.

    The fact that the cinematography and sound design are as great as they are is the icing on this tasty Swedish cake - but this one is all about Lindberg and why not? She pulls it off and carries it wonderfully. She looks innocent enough that she’s perfectly cast in the earlier scenes and we completely feel for her when she falls victim to Tony’s horrible methods. At the same time, she’s got plenty of sex appeal and Vibenius exploits that a few times throughout the movie, the most obvious scene being a lesbian encounter that Frigga enjoys with another one of Tony’s kept women. Lindberg also handles herself surprisingly well in the action scenes, wielding a shotgun with style a lot more convincingly than you’d expect a petite sexploitation starlet/men’s magazine model to be able to do.

    Note that this version of Thriller, transferred for the first time from the original negative, includes an additional minute of footage in the lesbian scene, featuring a very naked Christina Lindberg, that was not included in previous DVD and Blu-ray editions released in North America.

    Thriller - A Cruel Picture – UHD Review:

    Thriller - A Cruel Picture arrives on UHD from Vinegar Syndrome “newly scanned & restored in 4k from its 16mm negative” framed at 1.66.1 widescreen in an HEVC / H.265 encoded 2160p with HDR. The transfer is, in a word, excellent. It’s naturally very grainy but that grain resolves perfectly and detail is as strong as you can probably realistically expect it to be, much improved over the previous DVD and Blu-ray editions that have come out in the past. Colors look excellent here, blues and oranges in particular really shine, and skin tones look nice and natural throughout. We get strong black levels and very nice shadow detail, with no evidence of crush or compression artifacts even in the darker scenes. There are no problems with any compression artifacts and while you might spot a few small white specks here and there, overall the image is very clean and free of any noticeable noise reduction or edge enhancement. This looks really, really good.

    24-bit English language DTS-HD Mono options are offered up in Swedish and in English with separate subtitle tracks available for both options. Both tracks sound pretty decent. Range is a bit limited at times but the clarity is fine and the levels are properly balanced throughout.

    The only extra on the UHD is a new commentary track from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas that goes over the way that the film is bookended, goes into detail about the film's opening scene, the point of this movie and other rape/revenge movies and how it complicates notions of how justice and should be handled, how the opening scene sets up the idea that sexual violence will go unpunished by the police, the different visual motifs that are used throughout the film including the autumnal color palette, how it's unfair to dismiss rape/revenge films as all being the same, the use of the hardcore pornographic inserts used in the longer uncut version of the film, details on Lindberg's life and career, how this picture deviates from the more orthodox rape/revenge film, the depiction of trauma in the movie, the film's place in exploitation film history, how the movie compares to other Swedish rape/revenge movies and lots more. It's a very thoughtful piece that peels back the layers of the film and dives pretty deep into its themes, although there are multiple lengthy gaps where she goes silent for a few minutes.

    There are a host of other extra features included on the two Blu-ray discs that are bundled with the UHD, however, starting with the forty-three minute Thriller – A Cruel Documentary that features narration written by Vienius by a woman with a southern accent named Rachel Matchett who refers to the director as 'Film Lover' and 'Filmmaker' and not by his actual name for some reason. Written and directed by Rickard Gramfors, this piece features new interviews with lead actress Christina Lindberg, stuntman Lasse Lundgren, and actor Gunnar Palm. We learn here how Vibenius came to be a huge film fan at a young age, his training and education, his service in the Swedish army and how he got his start in the industry after going to the Swedish Film School. We then learn about his work on some Bergman projects before then going on make his first feature, a children's film named How Marie Met Fredrick, which flopped. This caused him to then create Thriller as a commercial endeavor while working doing commercial films. Lindberg talks about what appealed to her about the script and the movie in general, how she saw some of herself in the role, learning hot to handle weapons and do martial arts, working alongside the other cast members, driving without a license, having to explain to the police what was going on, the use of sex show performers for the hardcore inserts, shooting the scalpel scene, the low pay that she received for her work in the movie, the feminist response to the film that she has encountered, the cult following that has developed around it and meeting Tarantino. Stuntman Bo Sunnefeldt goes over his work as part of Sweden's Action Man Stunt Team, how he got into the industry, what he was responsible for on Thriller, how some of the stunts were staged and executed. Gunnar Palm talks about his work as a race car driver, the work that he did in the industry and how he got involved with the production. We also learn about the slow motion photography, the film's small crew, the 16mm photography and low budget, why the hardcore scenes were included in the uncut version and how they are meant to be repulsive and not arousing, the controversy that arose over the film's release, publicity stunts that were done to promote the movie, how Sam Arkoff bought the film to be distributed by AIP and how the trimmed twenty-two minutes from the movie for its release as They Call Her One Eye, how Vibenius then went on to make Breaking Point, the director's story for a sequel and how the version of the movie on this disc is his preferred director’s cut.

    Finishing up the extras on the first Blu-ray disc are theatrical and teaser trailers for Thriller, a trailer and a TV spot for They Call Her One Eye, a theatrical trailer for Hooker’s Revenge, menus and chapter selection options. The commentary from the UHD release is also carried over to this disc.

    The second Blu-ray disc contains the alternate English-dubbed They Call Her One Eye cut of the movie, restored from its original 16mm negative. This version runs 1:30:03 as opposed to the uncut version at 1:48:14. The transfer uses 26GBs of space on the 50GB disc and is framed at 1.66.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition with 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono English language audio and optional English subtitles. This is the R-rated version that AIP showed in North American theaters after purchasing the distribution rights for the film and it eliminates all of the hardcore footage in addition to making other trims and edits to the picture in the training scene, sex scenes and car chase scenes. It also shortens the opening scene. It also has different credits. This cut lacks the impact of the uncut presentation but it’s nice to see it included here for posterity’s sake.

    Additionally, the second Blu-ray disc includes more supplements, starting with Adrian And Christina, which is an interview that filmmaker Adrian Garcia Bogliano conducted with Lindberg in 2017. This piece runs for over fifty-seven minutes and goes into loads of detail about Lindberg's life and career. Over the span of the interview, they basically go, in chronological order about her life, starting with where she was born, what it was like where she was raised and what her family was like. She then talks about how she started modelling for men's magazines once she was twenty, how some of the pictures got her noticed by film producers and how this led to the making of Maid In Sweden. As the talk goes on, she talks about moving to Stockholm, working on bigger films and becoming quite well known in Sweden. She then goes over what it was like making movies at the time, playing herself in a lot of her films, some of the people that she worked with, what she thinks about some of the films that she made back in the seventies, starring in Thriller and how that film was received, how Exposed was the film that really put her on the map internationally, what it was like going to Japan to make Sex & Fury and how the Japanese film industry differed from the Swedish film industry, different people that she collaborated with over the years during the boom years of Swedish exploitation movies, relationships that she was involved in, her thoughts on the fandom that has risen up around these movies since they were made, going to Hollywood for a retrospective and meeting Tarantino and whether or not she will continue to make movies in the future.

    Christina Lindberg: The Paris Interview is an interview that Christian Valor conducted with the actress in 2015. This runs just under an hour and covers her work for different men’s magazines, working with different photographers, being photographed in France with other models, her thoughts on French culture, what her childhood was like, moving to Stockholm and meeting the King of Sweden, her work on aviation magazines, her love of nature and flowers, different movie roles she's had over the years, studying journalism, different actors she's played alongside, befriending Lee Hazelwood, working on a few films in Germany and Japan and, of course, working on Thriller.

    The Alamo Drafthouse Q&A featurette documents the question and answer session that Lindberg did at a screening of the film in Austin, Texas on November 11th, 2017. Here, over thirty-two minutes, Lindberg speaks to Joe Ziemba and Annie Choi from AGFA/Bleeding Skull/Alamo Drafthouse about censorship issues around the movie, how she evolved from model to actress to mushroom aficionado, how she got her start in movies, doing nudity in film, taking her roles seriously, working on Thriller, how the movie was savaged by critics and flopped at the Swedish box office, meeting Tarantino (who, shockingly "talked all the time"), the feminist response to the movie, working in Japan, using live ammunition on set, the hardcore inserts in the movie, working with Joe Sarno and taking martial arts training.

    Finishing up the extras on the second Blu-ray disc are a behind the scenes still gallery, an artwork and press gallery, a handful of different radio spots, six minutes of outtakes (presented without live sound but set to music), two tracks from Christina Lindberg’s rare 7” single record release titled “Christina!”, a one minute SAAB television commercial directed by Vibenius (shot in slow motion and set to a weird ambient music soundtrack), menus and chapter selection options.

    As to the packaging, we get some reversible cover sleeve art and a nice embossed slipcover. Note that a now sold out two UHD/two Blu-ray edition from Vinegar Syndrome offered the AIP/They Call Her One Eye cut on UHD in 4k as opposed to the 1080p version included here, in addition to some fancier packaging, but that the extra features are otherwise the same across that limited edition and this standard version.

    Thriller - A Cruel Picture – The Final Word:

    Thriller: A Cruel Picture remains a landmark of Swedish exploitation filmmaking, a fantastic showcase for Lindberg’s considerable charms and Vibenius’ penchant for sleazy style. Vinegar Syndrome’s UHD/Blu-ray combo pack release offers up an excellent 4k version of the uncut version, Blu-ray versions of the uncut and AIP versions and loads of extra features making this a great way to experience the movie. Highly recommended.

    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized Thriller - A Cruel Picture Blu-ray screen caps!

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