Thriller: A Cruel Picture (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Jul 12, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Thriller: A Cruel Picture (4K UHD Review)

Director

Bo Arne Vibenius

Release Date(s)

1973 (July 26, 2022)

Studio(s)

BAV Film/United Producers/AIP (Vinegar Syndrome)
  • Film/Program Grade: B
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: B
  • Extras Grade: A-
  • Overall Grade: A

Thriller: A Cruel Picture (4K UHD)

Buy it Here!

Review

In the annals of rape/revenge cinema, Thriller: A Cruel Picture (aka Thriller – en grym film) stands as one of the most extreme examples of that particular genre. Rape/revenge films aren’t exactly noted for their subtlety, but Thriller takes things to the next level: child molestation, forced drug addiction (with unsimulated injections), and extremely graphic violence, including eyeball torture that would make Lucio Fulci blush. In its completely uncut form, Thriller even includes hardcore insert shots. Unsurprisingly, those were eliminated from most versions of the film, and along with other cuts, was released in different territories under alternate titles that included They Call Her One Eye, Hooker’s Revenge, and The Swedish Vice Girl. Yet with or without the extra material, Thriller remains a harrowing experience for the uninitiated.

The irony is that writer/director Bo Arne Vibenius conceived of Thriller as a commercial project in order to compensate for the financial failure of his first film, Hur Marie traffade Fredrik. That was a family picture about a young girl who becomes a runaway after breaking a cherished vase, so Vibenius decided to go the opposite direction for his follow-up—about as far away from it as he could possibly get. Thriller stars Christina Lindberg as Madelaine, a young woman who is kidnapped by Tony (Heinz Hopf). He deliberately gets her addicted to heroin, gouges out one of her eyes, and forces her into prostitution. Madelaine complies, but she sets her money aside, learns the art of self-defense, and waits for the moment to unleash her vengeance on those who have wronged her.

It’s all strong stuff, especially in its uncut form, yet for some odd reason, Vibenius chose not to show Madelaine’s ultimate revenge on Tony. It’s a bit like the HBO adaptation of Game of Thrones, where the showrunners didn’t shy away from all of the rape and degradation suffered by Sansa Stark, but then they opted not to show the moment where her tormentor gets his comeuppance. It’s possible that Vibenius simply lacked the resources to pull off the makeup effect that would have been necessary, but it’s still a strange omission in a film that doesn’t shy away from displaying the most graphic of horrors that were enacted upon Madelaine. Instead, Vibenius locked his camera on Madelaine’s face, showing her cool satisfaction with a job well done. Whatever the reasons, focusing on Madelaine was an appropriate way to conclude the film. Thriller isn’t necessarily a cathartic experience for viewers, but it certainly was one for Madelaine. Her revenge is a dish that was best served cold.

Thriller: A Cruel Picture was shot by cinematographer Andreas Bellis on 16 mm film (in the Super 16 format) using Arriflex cameras with spherical lenses. That was blown up to 35 mm for Thriller’s theatrical release, which was framed at 1.66:1. For this 4K restoration, the original uncut 16 mm camera negative was used instead. There really isn’t 4K worth of detail to be wrung out of a 16 mm negative, even with the expanded area afforded by Super 16, but this presentation does uncover as much detail as is physically possible. Where 4K can shine with 16 mm is in the area of grain management, and this transfer does that very well indeed—it remains natural throughout, and there are no artifacts from the encode. There’s damage visible at times, including speckling and a few vertical scratches that run across the entire frame. There are also blemishes along the edges, especially at the bottom, where there are a few prominent stray hairs. The high dynamic range (HDR10) provides some noticeable improvements in contrast, with deep black levels, and a few bright highlights such as the lights on the police cars or the flames from explosions. Like some other Vinegar Syndrome titles, the color timing on the HDR grade is quite vivid, so the flesh tones veer a little pinkish at times, but not excessively so. It’s not a perfect presentation, but short of an actual frame-by-frame restoration, it’s hard to imagine Thriller looking much better than it does here.

Audio is offered in Swedish or English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio. There are two different subtitles options: one based on the English dub, and the other directly translating the Swedish dialogue into English. Thriller has a very stylized audio design, but the dialogue remains clear, and there’s also a bit of impact to the gunfire and the explosions.

Vinegar Syndrome’s 4K Ultra HD release of Thriller: A Cruel Picture is a 3-disc set that includes a Blu-ray copy of the film in 1080p, as well as a second Blu-ray featuring the English-language version They Call Her One Eye. (Vinegar Syndrome also offered a four-disc boxed set that included a UHD copy of They Call Her One Eye, which is now out-of-print.) The bulk of the extras are spread between the two Blu-rays, with only the commentary track appearing on the UHD, in order to maximize the available bit rate for the 4K transfer. The insert is reversible, with different artwork on each side. There’s also a limited-edition slipcover available directly from Vinegar Syndrome. The following extras are included, all of them in HD:

DISC ONE: THRILLER (UHD)

  • Audio Commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

DISC TWO: THRILLER (BD)

  • Audio Commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
  • Thriller: A Cruel Documentary (42:57)
  • Thriller: A Cruel Picture Teaser Trailer (1:46)
  • Thriller: A Cruel Picture Theatrical Trailer (1:27)
  • They Call Her One Eye Theatrical Trailer (1:33)
  • They Call Her One Eye TV Spot (:31)
  • Hooker’s Revenge Theatrical Trailer (2:54)

The commentary features author, critic, and recovering academic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, who literally wrote the book on rape/revenge films—three of them, to be precise: Ms. 45, Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study, and the heavily revised version of the latter. She says that Thriller is well within her wheelhouse, as indeed it is. She opens by reading an extended passage from one of her books, and acknowledges that she’s changed her thinking a bit since it was written, especially on the subject of the hardcore inserts. She then analyzes how Thriller fits into the rape/revenge genre, including its relatively uncommon human trafficking angle, and the vaguely anti-capitalistic themes that it represents. She never loses sight of the fact that Thriller is a pure exploitation film, however. Heller-Nicholas also provides a fairly extensive history of the entire rape/revenge genre. There are a few extended gaps throughout her commentary, but it’s still a valuable analysis of a film that defies easy classification.

Thriller: A Cruel Documentary features interviews with Christina Lindberg, actor Gunnar Palm, and stuntpeople Bo Sunnefeldt and Lasse Lundgren. The tongue-in-cheek narration (delivered in an incongruous southern drawl by Rachel Matchett) was written by Vibenius, who refers to himself only as “Film Lover.” The documentary provides biographical information about Vibenius, as well as details about the production of the film, including how Lindberg became involved. Lindberg confirms that it was indeed body doubles that were used for the hardcore inserts, and she also relates the story about how a real corpse was used for the eye gouging sequence. She also talks about the legacy of the film, including her encounter with superfan Quentin Tarantino.

DISC THREE: THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (BD)

  • Adrian and Christina (57:25)
  • Christina Lindberg – The Paris Interview (59:44)
  • Alamo Drafthouse Q&A with Christina Lindberg (31:43)
  • Still Galleries: Behind-the-Scenes (1:58)
  • Still Galleries: Publicity (3:21)
  • Still Galleries: Artwork and Press (2:36)
  • Thriller: A Cruel Picture Radio Spots (1:51)
  • Outtakes (5:53)
  • Christina Lindberg – Single (6:59)
  • Saab Commercial (1:02)

There’s no specific information regarding the elements used for this presentation of They Call Her One Eye, but it doesn’t appear to have been derived from the 35 mm blow-up. Instead, it looks like the 4K restoration from the 16 mm negative for Thriller was recut to conform to this version. (The fact that Vinegar Syndrome released a UHD for They Call Her One Eye would support that.) The only audio option is English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with no subtitles. Since it’s a truncated version of the original film, They Call Her One Eye is a curio that’s mostly of value for those who may have seen it that way originally. Still, it’s worth pointing out that there’s alternate footage here that wasn’t included in the original cut, so it's nice it for the sake of completeness.

Adrian and Christina is a 2017 conversation between Lindberg and filmmaker Adrian Garcia Bogliano, presumably shot on the set of their 2018 film collaboration Black Circle. It’s a comprehensive look at her life and career, with plenty of time naturally devoted to Thriller. She says that it was the intention of Vibenius to make a bad film that would make him a lot of money (according to Vibenius in Thriller: A Cruel Documentary, things didn’t work out that way). The Paris Interview is a 2015 interview with Lindberg, conducted in Paris by Christian Valor. He dives even more deeply into her career, including her modeling work, her dalliance with singing, and even her educational video about mushrooms. Lindberg genuinely seems to enjoy the fact that Valor asks her about her more obscure work. (Note that the audio drops out for a bit when he asks her about Joe Sarno, so her entire answer is inaudible—something censored by the legal department, perhaps?) The Alamo Drafthouse Q&A was shot at a 2017 screening of Thriller in Austin, Texas. It includes both the introduction to the film, where the hosts explain that they chose to screen a version minus the hardcore footage, as well as the Q&A that followed. There’s some understandable repetition between these three separate interviews, but taken together, they leave very few stones left unturned.

The rest of the extras collect ephemera both directly and indirectly related to Thriller. These include raw outtakes from the film that are particularly interesting, as they show some behind-the-scenes elements such as the boxes that were set up behind a stuntperson’s head to protect him as he fell. (It does include an interrupted take of the eye gouging scene, so caveat emptor). There’s also an audio version of Lindberg’s 7” single, accompanied by photographs and artwork, as well as one of the award-winning Saab commercials directed by Vibenius.

Synapse Films had already released Thriller: A Cruel Picture on Blu-ray earlier this year, though it’s since been removed from their website. There weren’t any significant extras on that disc that aren’t included here, other than a briefer outtake reel and an alternate version of the harbor fight, but most of the footage from both is incorporated into the longer outtake reel in this set. Most importantly, while the Synapse version was also billed as being uncut, it was actually a little over 50 seconds shorter than this one. The biggest omission was a scene between Madelaine and one of her female clients, though there were a few other less significant trims as well. Considering that this Vinegar Syndrome edition is truly uncut and in 4K, with a plethora of extras, it’s unquestionably the best version currently available on home video. Is it definitive? Well, Thriller: A Cruel Picture is one of those titles that has received frequent home video re-releases over the years, so who knows what the future may hold? For now, Vinegar Syndrome’s Ultra HD release is as close to definitive as you can get.

- Stephen Bjork

(You can follow Stephen on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook.)

 

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