Skip to content

Plot: griefstricken nobleman is forced to confront his family’s dark past.

There’s a reason why Necrophagus (released in North America rather cynically as either Graveyard Of Horror and alternatively The Butcher Of Binbrook to profit from the then-emergent giallo cycle and the gothic horror revival, respectively) is considered nothing but a long forgotten footnote in the annals of Spanish horror. Even by 1962 the Mediterranean and Latin American gothic was more risqué and sexier than this. It’s a feeble and futile attempt to do a period piece horror in the vein of Hammer for an Iberian audience – and Necrophagus obviously failed gloriously. With half the Spanish cast hiding behind pseudonyms, the usual washed up American expatriates collecting a paycheck and a director with more enthusiasm than talent you know exactly what you’re in for. It’s never a complete disaster like The Witches Moutain (1973) two years later and while it didn’t outright kill Madrid’s career it certainly didn’t help either. For all intents and purposes, Necrophagus is a beautiful trainwreck that could, and should, have been so much more than we ended up getting.

In the grand scheme of things Miguel Madrid Ortega is a largely overlooked director with a minuscule body of work that is largely inaccessible, obscure and forgotten. Ortega started out as an actor in the Jesús Franco production The Sadistic Baron von Klaus (1962) and a number of comedies and dramas before turning to directing. Unlike the oeuvres from Paul Naschy, Léon Klimovsky, Amando de Ossorio, Miguel Iglesias, Javier Aguirre, Juan Piquer Simón, and Jesús Franco his prime trio of features are mostly remembered for the wrong reasons. There’s Killing Of the Dolls (1975), a minor giallo that garnered some infamy with the tragical killing of its 29-year-old doll Inma DeSantis in an unfortunate car accident in the Sahara Desert in Morocco and the drama Bacanal en Directo (1979). His delightfully demented debut effort Necrophagus arrived just in time to profit from the gothic horror revival. Madrid was neither a hack like Raúl Artigot nor a talent taken before his time the way Claudio Guerín was.

After a business trip abroad aristocrat Lord Michael Sharrington (Bill Curran) returns to the old family seat in Scotland. There he learns that his wife Elizabeth (Inés Morales, as Senny Green) has expired in childbirth and that his brother and lord of the manor Robert (J.R. Clarke), the Earl of Binbrook and “the greatest scientist in the world”, has mysteriously disappeared. His brother has left Binbrook Castle to his wife Lady Anne (Catherine Ellison, as Catharine Ellison), her niece Margaret (Beatriz Elorrieta, as Beatriz Lacy) and his former assistant Dr. Lexter (Frank Braña). Living near are Elizabeth’s mother Barbara (María Paz Madrid, as Yocasta Grey) and Michael’s sisters-in-law Lilith (Titania Clement) and Pamela (María Luisa Extremeño, as Marisa Shiero). When Michael, shellshocked from the loss of both his wife and their unborn child, is met with hostility and obstinate silence whenever inquiring after his late wife. His sisters-in-law vy for his affections, berate one another for trying to sabotage Michael’s marriage and as such are constantly at each other’s throat. With the female members of the household shrouding themselves in secrecy and with no answers forthcoming, Michael decides to do some investigating of his own. The only person in town willing to talk is geriatric physician Dr. Kinberg (Antonio Jiménez Escribano).

As a man of science the only logical thing for Sharrington to do is disinterring his wife. There he comes to the shocking conclusion that not only her coffin, but all of the coffins in the cemetery, are vacant. The graveyard is haunted by cloaked, masked figures that pry open caskets. He finds out that his brother was on the verge of an important scientific breakthrough in his research into “the origin of man”. His latest experiment, one he performed on himself, dealt with “the transmutation of human cells” and left him with a craving for human flesh. Lady Anne and Lexter are aware of Robert’s carnivorous appetites and satiate his cravings by providing him with cadavers exhumed from the burial ground, or fresh bodies from Lexter’s deceased patients. Since that time the town does not speak of its hidden horror, The Butcher Of Binbrook, who they keep from preying on the living by feeding him their dead. To avoid suspicion Lady Anne and Lexter have ensnared caretaker Mr. Fowles (Víctor Israel) and Inspector Harrison (John Clark) in their graverobbing scheme. Lady Anne is broke and in a deviant sexual liaison with Lexter, and the two won’t let anything or anyone – living, dead or undead - get in the way in their quest for self-enrichment.

The screenplay by Madrid, under his usual alias Michael Skaife, is needlessly convoluted for what otherwise is a fairly straightforward Frankenstein variation. A non-linear narrative – full of sepia-toned flashbacks and dream sequences – isn’t what you’d typically expect of a gothic horror piece, and it needlessly complicates what ought to be a standard genre exercise. What it lacks in finer writing it overcompensates with that thick, decaying Mediterranean atmosphere of mildew, cobwebs and candlelabras. It desperately wants to make viewers believe it is British and a Hammer Horror movie but nothing could be further from the truth. Curiously, it’s also practically bereft of the two things that Mediterranean gothic horror usually thrives upon, namely nudity and blood/gore. Nudity, when and if it appears, is implied rather than shown, and the gore is absolutely minimal. The cinematography isn’t exactly riveting but at least director of photography Alfonso Nieva makes good usage of the San Martín de Valdeiglesias and Pelayos de la Presa monasteries in Madrid and the graven snow-covered landscapes look absolutely chilling. The ominous score from Alfonso Santisteban is fittingly brooding but hardly exemplary. Marisa Shiero, Titania Clement, and Beatriz Elorrieta hold their own well enough, but aren’t exactly on the level as Rosanna Yanni, María Elena Arpón, Betsabé Ruiz, or Rita Calderoni. Neither is María Paz Madrid a leading lady on remotely the same level as Eurocult pillars Lone Fleming, Luciana Paluzzi, Silvia Tortosa, Diana Lorys, Adriana Ambesi, or Perla Cristal. Necrophagus makes the most from its creaky production values, but the dire lack of funds are rather obvious.

Granted, everything here is decidedly second-rate. None of the lead cast were known stars or bankable names, with only supporting actors Frank Braña, Antonio Jiménez Escribano, and Víctor Israel lending any marquee value. In fact Necrophagus was such concentrated effort of awful that it single-handedly ended more careers in front of the camera than it ushered in. It was powerful enough to kill the careers of María Paz Madrid, Marisa Shiero, Titania Clement, Catherine Ellison, John Clark, and leading man Bill Curran. Many of whom did little, if anything, of interest afterwards. Of the supporting cast only Inés Morales, Víctor Israel, and Frank Braña were able to escape its shadow unscathed and had long careers afterwards.

In the 1960s Frank Braña had parts in Sergio Leone’s western epics A Fistful Of Dollars (1964), For A Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966) before turning up a decade later in cinematic cannonfodder and exploitation pulp as Alfonso Brescia’s budget – and talent deprived Battle Of the Amazons (1973), Miguel Iglesias’ jungle genre-hybrid Kilma, Queen of the Amazons (1976), the feminist barbarian epic Hundra (1983) (with Laurene Landon), and the three Juan Piquer Simón features Supersonic Man (1979), Pieces (1982), and Slugs (1988). Beatriz Elorrieta continued to act until 1986 before becoming a costume designer and working almost exclusively for her husband Javier Elorrieta. Víctor Israel was a macaroni western pillar with a storied career spanning four decades and several exploitation subgenres. As such he can be seen in Horror Express (1972) (with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing), The Witches Mountain (1973), The Wicked Caresses Of Satan (1975) (with Silvia Solar), The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975) (with Paul Naschy, Verónica Miriel, and Silvia Solar) and Hell Of the Living Dead (1980).

Everybody has to start somewhere and Necrophagus was but the second horror feature for special effects craftsman Antonio Molina, who had worked on Paul Naschy's Universal Monster-science fiction extravaganza Assignment Terror (1969) (with Michael Rennie and Karin Dor) and a host of spaghetti westerns and macaroni combat efforts earlier. Molina’s later credits include classic and not-so-classic Spanish horror ventures as The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman (1971), Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973) and Jess Franco’s Eurociné jungle cheapie Devil Hunter (1980). In the following decade Molina worked himself into the mainstream with Pedro Almodóvar’s Live Flesh (1997) and All About My Mother (1999).

Necrophagus has the look and feel of a Filipino production, or of a lesser Paul Naschy feature, and information on the existence of a more explicit international cut is scarce to non-existent. It’s entirely within the realm of possibility that the production couldn’t afford to shoot additional footage for an international market release. Unbelievably, Miguel Madrid won the prize for best director at the 1971 Festival of the Cine de Terror at Sitges, Catalonia for Necrophagus. That Madrid would only direct Killing Of the Dolls (1975) and Bacanal en Directo (1979) in the aftermath proved that he had more enthusiasm than talent and that him winning the best director award at Sitges was premature at best.

Plot: trauma transforms demure small-town girl into gun-toting angel of death.

Bo Arne Vibenius assistant – and second unit directed under Ingmar Bergman and Gunnar Hellström. He would direct only three movies, two of which were steeped in infamy and banned in his native Sweden. One of these movies was Thriller – En Grym Film (released in North America as either Thriller: A Cruel Picture, or alternatively They Call Her One-Eye and Hooker’s Revenge, depending on the cut – just Thriller hereafter). After Hur Marie träffade Fredrik (1969) failed to perform at the box office Vibenius deduced that the only way to quickly recoup the incurred losses was to film what he would later describe as a, "a commercial-as-hell crap-film" in and around Stockholm. He managed to book not one, but two, of the country’s most eligible sexploitation starlets and devised one of the most nihilistic exercises in exploitation the world had ever seen.

Thriller is profoundly ugly, both in the interior and the exterior. It never aspires to anything else but to indulge its most repulsive, degenerate, and misanthropic inclinations. It does not deign from the inclusion of hardcore porn inserts, nor from visiting an ungodly amount of wanton cruelty and untethered depravity upon its main actress. That it ends in a bloody rampage of slow-motion shoot-outs and chop sockey karate in schintzy warehouses seems only right. At a minimum, Thriller is everything that Karate Girl (1973) was not – and then some. Only Rape Me (2000) almost 30 years later would come close as a functional contemporary equivalent.

If there was an antecedent for Thriller that would probably be The Last House on the Left (1972), itself a grindhouse perversion of Ingmar Bergman's seminal The Virgin Spring (1960). While Wes Craven’s low-budget shocker would go on to spawn imitations primarily in Italy the rape revenge subgenre wouldn’t gain traction until Meir Zarchi’s I Spit On Your Grave (1978) some six years later.

Perhaps even more interesting is how Thriller and Karate Girl (1973) were released the same year from opposite ends of the world, both geographically and culturally. Turkey’s most popular export to the world around the time was probably actor, director, producer, and martial artist Cüneyt Arkın and for Filiz Akin it was an anomaly in her otherwise very respectable +120 title filmography. Thriller truly stands alone in how it gets straight to point, and pulls absolutely no punches about its intentions whatsoever. This about the farthest from more humane examples of the form as Abel Ferrara’s Ms .45 (1981) and Cirio H. Santiago’s Naked Vengeance (1985) as you could possibly get. Only Nico Mastorakis’ masterclass in depravity Island of Death (1976) would come close to matching Thriller’s singular commitment to the blackest of nihilism, perversion, and degradation. Allegedly Thriller was screened at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival in France, although we weren’t able to find any historical data substantiating that claim. More likely it was sold to international distributors at the festival market. Back at home Thriller was banned, and only premiered a year later, in 1974.

At age 9 quiet and introverted Madeleine (Pamela Pethö-Galantai) was molested in a Stockholm municipal park by an old man, the experience rendering her mute. 10 years later Madeleine (Christina Lindberg) lives with her supportive parents (Per-Axel Arosenius, and Gunnel Wadner) where she spents her time petting bunnies at the farm and selling milk to the locals. When she’s not helping out on the family farm Madeleine attends school and speech therapy in the city. One day she misses her bus to a doctor’s appointment, and a suave man in a fancy sportscar drives up. He introduces himself as Tony (Heinz Hopf) and offers her a ride to wherever she was going in the city. Tony woos Madeleine by taking her to an expensive restaurant and wining and dining her. Being a simple farmgirl Madeleine is unaware that Tony has spiked her drink, and soon she wakes up disoriented in his apartment. To have her remain docile and compliant Tony keeps her a near-constant drugged haze. Realizing that she’s imprisoned and dependent on the heroin that Tony feeds her Madeleine is resigned to her fate in his prostitution racket. Her willingness to service clients for money and heroin doesn’t stop Madeleine from attempting several escapes. In return Tony first takes to humiliating and degrading her in the worst ways possible, and when that doesn’t have the desired effect he leaves her parents vicious, hate-filled writs. In a desperate last-ditch effort to escape Madeleine manages to reach town. There she learns that her parents have committed suicide over her plight before collapsing from sheer exhaustion.

When she comes to Tony is not happy with her. He takes a scalpel to her face and gouges out her eye. Madeleine, disfigured and forced to wear an eyepatch, is called The Pirate, and continues to service clients. She befriends Sally (Solveig Andersson) and the two quickly bond over their shared experience of bondage and servitude in the brothel. With funds amassing Madeleine starts planning an elaborate revenge scheme. She buys a car and start taking driving lessons, learning about firearms, explosives, and martial arts. As the days turn into weeks Madeleine becomes something of a ghost at the brothel. Her mind not with the clients, her body becoming stronger. She quietly bides her time waiting for all different pieces to fall into place. When she returns home one day and discovers that Sally, her only friend through her hellish ordeal, has been murdered Madeleine realizes that now is the time to spring her long-desired (and much over-due) revenge plan into action. As Tony learns about Madeleine’s intense training regime he immediately orders two hitmen to eliminate his rogue asset. Things come to a violent and bloody head when Madeleine, now sporting a trenchcoat and wielding a sawn-off shotgun, exacts her vengeance. In short order the two hitmen, each and every last man that wronged her – and finally… Tony will pay. And the price is blood. For all the pain, humiliation, and degradation he has visited upon her.

All the signs in Christina Lindberg’s career trajectory pointed towards her eventual appearance in cruddy, and frankly indefensible, exploitation fodder as this. Dog Days (1970) was a coming of age drama with a mean Darwinistic streak that more or less defined her early filmography in quite a few ways. Exponerad (1971) and the Cannon co-produced Maid In Sweden (1971) established Lindberg as a softcore starlet and both served as little more than a showcase for la Lindberg’s famous hourglass figure. Before Thriller Lindberg made appearances in two Joe Sarno movies prior to turning up in a trio of Wolf C. Hartwig sex comedies and two Japanese pinky violence movies in 1973. Thriller is Lindberg’s most (in)famous film, largely because it functions as the culmination of just about every regressive inclination in her early filmography. While none of Lindberg’s movies up to that point had been graphic, or explicit, Vibenius had the audacity to use the cadaver of a recent suicide victim for the famous and graphic ocular mutilation scene. Thriller has a unsavory reputation that it completely and utterly deserves. It is cheap, sleazy, and cartoonish in its gratuitous vileness. It also subjects Christina Lindberg to a seemingly unending barrage of simulated depravities, assorted indignities, and just about every deviant kink in the sexploitation playbook. Thriller makes la Lindberg’s earlier output look like a breezy Gloria Guida sex romp.

Thriller is a strange beast indeed. The first half - or Madeleine’s descent into destitution, perversion, and prostitution - pretty much plays out like grimy drive-in sexploitation of the day. It’s the usual barrage of humiliation, sadism, and depredation, spiced up with hardcore inserts performed by anonymous performers. To create a sense of cohesion Vibenius intercuts reaction shots from Lindberg with body doubles where and when appropriate or needed. The second half is far more interesting as Thriller suddenly explodes with slow-motion shootouts straight out of Sam Pekinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969). In retrospect Karate Girl (1973) has become more famous in recent years, although Thriller has the added bonus of uniformly awful hand-to-hand combat and chop sockey sequences despite Lindberg’s eight-week training regime. In mainstream popular culture Quentin Tarantino paid tribute to Thriller in the form of Elle Driver in his two-part Kill Bill (2003-2004) saga, which combined the plot of the two Lady Snowblood (1973-1974) movies with a revenge tale out of an Italian spaghetti western, while the second episode was a meditative 1970s grindhouse counterculture roadmovie. Tarantino, after all, is arthouse cinema for those who have no interest in cinema, Western or beyond.

It’s as if Bo Arne Vibenius set out to make Sweden’s most desirable softsex stars, well, ugly. Christina Lindberg was a lot of things and, while not a good actress by any stretch of the imagination, she at least could always be counted upon to disrobe whenever the script required. Whether it was the deeply cynical and absurdly funny Dog Days (1970) (where she had an absolute minimum of dialogue) to the surrealist Exponerad (1971) that probably went on to inspire the Gloria Guida romp The Minor (1974) and the coming of age sexploitation of Maid In Sweden (1971) Christina always managed to enliven up whichever production she was in. Lindberg looked positively stunning and radiant in her earlier features but looks even more drowsy and dead-eyed than usual here. As if she would like to be anywhere else but here. The same goes for Solveig Andersson. Solveig for her part was a long way from her turn in Eva (1969) and she too looks way past her prime at the best of times. Which is quite the feat because some four years earlier Torgny Wickman had launched her as the embodiment of Swedish lust. Two of Nordporn’s biggest stars, rightly famous for their expansive bröst and röv, find themselves reduced to objects to be brutalized, defiled, violated – and callously thrown aside. Thriller is indeed a cruel picture, and it’s the sort of thing you wish upon nobody, especially not Christina Lindberg or Solveig Andersson. Lindberg went where Marie Liljedahl did not, and for once the sensationalist tagline of the American prints ("the movie that has no limits of evil!") was completely accurate. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore and, by all accounts, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing…