Saturday, December 20, 2008

Cult Oddities: Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973)

I don't know what I was expecting from that title. Thriller: A Cruel Picture certainly wasn't going to be about kittens and inspirational triumphs over disability -- even if our heroine, Madeleine, is a partially blind mute. Nevertheless, given the immediately vicious subject matter, I couldn't help but admire the restraint of director Bo Arn Vibenius.

Until THAT happened... And that... And let us never forget about THAT... Or those...

Mere moments later I was admiring the director's complete lack of restraint. Instead of having us feel a more simplistic pity at witnessing such disgusting acts befall an innocent girl, Vibenius places the viewer directly into Madeleine's one-eyed perspective. Her turn from idealistic child to doped-up prostitute to bad ass action star is about as cold and calculating as her sadistic clientele. Subjecting us to the graphic displays of penetrative rape and ocular savagery exacted on Madeleine makes us feel more than a little dirty, and just a little bit violated. Like a prison movie, we're watching her cleverly bide her time. Like one hell of a revenge movie, we're anticipating that big, bloody payoff.

Once Madeleine finally does master her revenge training, we get many of those now cliched slow-mo gunshots that are used to lesser, nauseating effect in shameful action flicks everywhere (aka John Woo's career). You know, the sort where people fly into cardboard boxes with muffled, trailing cries of "BWAAAHHHH..." Here these scenes are stylistically significant and remarkably innovative, if eventually a bit tedious. It's glorified violence filmed gloriously, and it fully satiates the carnal bloodlust the viewer's been building. It also manages to fill in a third of the film's runtime, but who needs story developments when you have this much pent up rage to unleash?

Thriller: A Cruel Picture is skillful, high-caliber exploitation. Quentin Tarantino most famously translated his love for the film into Kill Bill. Just like that film, Thriller goes far into extremes of violence, and in this case sex as well, but similarly pulls back in its final moments for a more thoughtful characteristic tweak. Madeleine's a bad ass to be sure, but she's above the ugliness exacted upon her, or at least her enjoyment of it. For Madeleine it's all about the statement.

Hence she has an appropriately quirky and self-aware fashion sense. Madeleine transitions from bright and bewildered in golden yellow, to her "rage period" of blood-red crimson and matching eye patch. Then onto your standard hipster black -- best for mourning and mass annihilation.

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