Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Where I Draw The Line: Sweden's Backwoods and Warehouses

The Rape Revenge subgenre is a pretty touchy subject (DUH!) but contrary to what your gut is probably telling you there are some men who have gotten it right. The Italians (as if it needed to be said) have not. Some Americans have done respectable things with it (Abel Ferrera for example did an ok job with Ms. 45 and Meir Zarchi took the crown with his I Spit On Your Grave), but mostly the international filmmaking community gets ahold of it and some weird mojo results. A few years ago when Quentin Tarantino went around name-checking all the films he’d stolen from when making Kill Bill! like Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell and The Blood Spattered Bride one of the more obscure was a Swedish film with the absolutely bonkers title Thriller: They Call Her One Eye. There’s some dispute about the title, as I found out in trying to seek this film out. The version that Tarantino would like you to see was not called They Call Her One Eye; that was the name of the watered down American drive-thru version. For some reason the watered down version got its own DVD, which in my opinion is ludicrous. The difference between the two is about 10 minutes of hardcore sex and really I don’t think the subtraction warranted another DVD. It was by all accounts a way to confuse people into buying two discs. Because when I got ahold of They Call Her One Eye I went around moping for weeks afterward because the film that Quentin Tarantino said he couldn’t finish all of in one sitting was a boring piece of trash. Later I got my hands on the unedited version and found out it's the first excruciatingly filthy, indefensible boring piece of trash to be banned in Sweden. But it's still a boring piece of trash.

Thriller: En Grym Film
by Bo Arne Vibernius
Madeleine or Frigga in the original Swedish, has been dealt a pretty bad hand. As a girl she was abused by a tramp who then died of what was either a stroke, a heart attack or rabies. As a young woman she goes to the bus station after work and succumbs to a ride from a sleazy 70s-guy called Tony. She’s become mute since her traumatic childhood and can’t really say ‘no’ in a way that sends sideburns’n’sunglasses packing. She goes out to dinner with him and then goes back to his apartment and his real intentions becoming clear. He beats her up, pumps her full of heroine and then probably rapes her. When she wakes up she tries to leave but doesn’t get very far before Tony tracks her down in his car (in a public park full of people who refuse to do anything to help her, no less. Vibernius has almost as dim a view of humanity as Cormac McCarthy) and brings her back. After about a week of filling her with heroine, Tony informs Madeleine that she’s addicted to heroin and will do exactly as he says. First order of business: become a prostitute! Second: keep some of the profit and get Mondays off…? Yeah, I don’t know of any other murderous psychopath who gives the hookers Monday off but shit, I’ve never been to Sweden either.

Tony has actually made a profitable little operation out of kidnapping women and turning them into junkie prostitutes, but he rules with a fist of iron. Madeleine gets out of line with one of the clients so Tony cuts her eye out. Because she doesn’t return home, her parents give up on her and then kill themselves. When her only prostitute friend is cut to pieces by a client, she decides the best route is take some time and really do some damage with wisdom and skill on her side. She takes her money and on her days off learns to drive muscle cars, handle guns, and becomes an expert in marshal arts and self-defense. Tony and his scummy clients better watch out.

After about a month wondering how a movie with a plot so absolutely crazy and despicable could be so boring, I went looking for the real version. When I did, I saw the film that upset so many people. I did not, however, see a movie worth a goddamn. Take out the extreme violence and the real sex and you have the movie proper; a tepid story of the most impractical kidnapping and prostitution ring in history. Tony keeps giving Madeleine heroin, but never lets her move, so for a week she sleeps on his couch, waking only to get another dose. This means that a week’s worth of urine has to be soaking her skivvies by the time Tony’s ready to put her to work. Also, you or I might go to the fucking police on our first improbable day off but not our girl. Bo Arne Vibernius was making a rape revenge film and logic wasn’t about to stand in his way (which accounts for the fact that when Madeleine’s friend dies, there is apparently more blood soaking her mattress than the human body holds). Neither for that matter was coherence or consideration for his audience. Why are all the death scenes in slow motion I ask you? It just makes everything way, way boring and the fakeness of every squib becomes undeniably clear. The whole artifice of moviemaking is visible from the very start and Vibernius doesn't care that you know it. He was making a violent film and since he believed that the upstairs room in a dance studio was a place men go for sex with a one-eyed prostitute nicknamed the Pirate, that was enough for him. He wanted hardcore sex and his lead wouldn't consent to being laid by her co-stars? He just hired someone who would. He didn't care about realism in any sense; he had a story to tell and just told it, logic, money, sets, motivation, actors, censors and all else be damned.
His determination lead to some truly bizarre tangents. There's the inexplicable part where after killing people who are marginally involved with Tony’s scheme Madeleine just drives around running people off the road, killing innocent folks just for kicks. That’s where the film really loses its way; Thriller: En Grym Film doesn’t work as female empowerment (even the nominal kind that makes up most of these tasteless outings) because she’s apparently just a maniac who kills people cause she can. It makes no sense and doesn't try to. That's why things like the arrival at the climax happen. Madeleine offs a bunch of underlings and then arranges to kill Tony by mailing him a letter asking him to meet her in the middle of nowhere. That is strange enough on its own, but then Tony actually goes and meets her! She’s just axed half of Stockholm so I’m not exactly sure what his rationale is for showing up alone. But he does and she’s waiting with a trap involving a claymore mine. The way she finally dispenses with him has to be seen to be believed.

Now, with the film’s structure and ethos in place, add extreme violence (eyeball slicing and the like) and actual sex acts and you may not understand the film, but you will understand Vibernius. What sort of man hires a body double (a much heavier body than Christina Lindberg who couldn’t pass with or without her clothes on) so he can film unsimulated anal sex and insert it into his action movie; it’s not like the film is any more exciting with screwing and gore, it’s just more unappealing. This is not easy to watch, and I hesitate to call it pornography because aside from Last House on the Left, sex has rarely looked as unflattering or absolutely disgusting. And it is sex, by the way, not rape as you and I understand it. Any actual rape that may go on isn’t shown as such. The sex we’re privy to is all after Madeleine has been given Mondays off and a pension; she could go to the police anytime she wanted to, mute or not. That’s what’s so heinous about Thriller; Vibernius apparently doesn’t think enough of women to entertain the possibility that they’d be smart enough to try and get help. He believes that Madeleine would wait around and screw people because she was told to and that her only recourse is to dress like some kind of lesbian superhero and murder people with a shotgun. Nice one, ace! If Tarantino was really disgusted by this film’s gore content, I'd call him a lightweight. If he took offense to it’s content, I’d understand. But he simply stole from it (Elle Driver’s look, down to the eye-patch, was lifted from Thriller) so I shake my head in his direction.
Oh and while we’re on her eye-patch, let’s talk fashion for a minute. I’ve never seen a prostitute dress so much like one of The Watchmen in all my life. When she’s at work she has an eye-patch to match the color of every pair of underwear she owns and she wears a heavy-duty brown overcoat and brightly colored leather catsuits and stuff when she goes out murdering folks with her stolen shotgun. Now, she looks cute as a button when she’s on the prowl but I don’t think that that’s how things happen in real life. What kind of emotionally traumatized heroin addict dresses up like she’s going to a theme party everytime she’s going to kill someone? What sort of 16-year-old boy mentality is that? I thought murderers were supposed to be inconspicuous. I guess things are different in Sweden. Or maybe Bo Arne Vibernius is a dumbass. Vibernius actually fought Synapse entertainment when he heard they were releasing his film on DVD. Synapse won as they proved that they had bought the rights, and though I hate Thriller: En Grym Film, I'm glad the public can view it so that they know how dispicable a filmmaker Vibernius was. This is the legacy he deserves.