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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…

Plot: small-town girl discovers the sordid underbelly of Stockholm

Scandinavian exploitation starlet Christina Lindberg was born in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1950 and originally studied for archeologist before venturing into the world of modeling and later cinema. During high school Lindberg started modeling, first in swimsuit for newspapers and later in nude pictorials with Mayfair, Lui and Playboy. Lindberg was a Penthouse Pet in 1970. In 1973 she released her photo book This Is Christina Lindberg by her photographer and soon-to-be husband Bo Sehlberg. Sehlberg refused to let her work with other photographers and forced Lindberg out of exploitation cinema. For much of the 1970s Gothenburg-born starlet Christina Lindberg was the subject of a number of mostly impoverished exploitation films awash with full frontal nudity and simulated sex. Together with Janet Ågren, and the lesser known Leena Skoog, Christina Lindberg was one of the more recognizable faces in the European exploitation industry.

Maid in Sweden, the most innocuous of Lindberg’s early oeuvre, professes to be a coming-of-age story and a journey of sexual awakening for a naive smalltown girl in the big city. Co-produced by Cannon from a screenplay by Ronnie Friedland and George T. Norris it is exploitation masquerading as a legitimate drama. Screenwriter Friedland had served as a second unit director on Joseph Sarno’s The Seduction Of Inga (1968), which goes in part to explain the many similarities between this and the source material. Norris would later pen the screenplay to the Robert Ginty vigilante actioner The Exterminator 2 (1984). Maid In Sweden leans closer to French erotic cinema of the day than to the mesmerizing surreal Czech fairytale Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) from Jaromil Jires. In the movie Lindberg does exude the same kind of cherubic charm as genre starlets Gloria Guida, Tina Romero, Susan Hemingway, or Jaroslava Schallerová.

The plot, or what little is supposed to pass for it, concerns itself with milkmaid Inga (Christina Lindberg, as Kristina Lindberg) who lives in a sleepy farming hamlet in Sweden. One day she receives a letter from her emancipated libertine sister Greta (Monika Ekman) inviting her to spent a weekend in Stockholm. The visit starts out innocently enough, but soon Inga’s beauty, and her tendency to disrobe at the drop of a hat, has her involved in a number of compromising situations. Perceptive viewers will have surely noticed that Inga and Greta were both characters in Joe Sarno’s The Seduction Of Inga, that starred softcore scorcher Marie Liljedahl - who starred in a number of sexploitation movies from 1966 to 1970 from directors as Hubert Frank, Torgny Wickman and the inevitable Jesús Franco - and which Maid in Sweden pilfers in terms of plot. Maid in Sweden is both episodic and formulaic with Lindberg’s often naked form as the only selling point for what is otherwise a trite and banal exercise in low-budget filmmaking. Lindberg’s later Anita Swedish Nymphet (1973) had better production values than this little number.

Instead of embracing its exploitation undercurrent Maid in Sweden actually tries to pass itself off as a coming-of-age story and a tale of sexual awakening. Something which the French Don’t Deliver Us From Evil (1971) and the Italian Monika (1974) did far better. Unlike Monika  and Honeybun (1988) a decade and a half later, Maid in Sweden does not hide its more dubious aspects behind a veneer of comedy and slapstick. Once Inga sees the bewildering effects that her considerable physical assets have on those around her, specifically men, she remains gridlocked in her conviction that everybody has her best interest at heart. When seemingly everybody around her then continues to take advantage of her smalltown naiveté it completely negates whatever little dramatic effect is supposedly generated as Inga learns nothing from her experience in the big city. When she returns home after the weekend nothing substantial has changed, neither has she (or anybody else) undergone any mentionworthy growth, or arc, as a character.

None of the plot is particularly believable. Greta’s douche canoe boyfriend Carsten (Krister Ekman) first opines that Inga is too much of a goodie two-shoes and lines her up with the abominable delinquent-in-waiting Björn (Leif Naeslund). After a tedious date montage the contemptible Björn, true to form as an acquaintance of the equally rephrensible Carsten, attempts to rape an oblivious Inga. Later, seeking trust and solace in a relative, Inga is raped a second time by her own sister in the prequisite bout of sapphic seduction. Far more damning is that twice does Maid in Sweden brush said behavior off as acceptable social etiquette. Adding an extra ick factor is that the Greta and Carsten coupling, who are the subject of one or two simulated sex scenes, are played by sibling actors. After taking a steamy shower, shot in slow motion for maximum effect, Inga then returns to boink the despicable Björn a second time in what can only be construed as Stockholm syndrome. Returning in silentio noctis to the apartment Carsten comes onto Inga, something she is – for reasons both unfathomable and unexplained – all too eager to reciprocate. Greta catches the two in flagrante delicto and, against all logic and reason, throws Inga (and not the far more deserving Carsten) into the streets.

The entire raison d'être of Maid in Sweden is to showcase Lindberg’s luscious hourglass figure as often and early as possible. It’s hard to fathom that the voluptuous, uninhibited, and then-twenty-one year old Lindberg never ended up working in productions from continental European directors as Jean Rollin, Jesús Franco, Joe D’Amato, or Tinto Brass. Brass especially would have shot Lindberg - whose figure is similar to that of Debora Caprioglio - in loving detail. At least the writers/producers behind Maid in Sweden were smart enough to realize that the minimal plot is merely a preamble to have Lindberg disrobing, or engaging in assorted lewd activities, with regular interval. Whether it is her changing clothes in a train compartment, imagening getting sexually assaulted, taking a soapy bath, or simulating intercourse. Maid in Sweden is exploitative to a fault and this movie would have fallen into obscurity if it weren’t for the frequently disrobing of its top-heavy star. In fact it frequently borders on a Scandinavian equivalent to an Armando Bó directed down-market Isabel Sarli exploitation flick. None of it is particularly pretty to look at, but nobody's here for the art anyway...