‘Thriller: A Cruel Picture’ is a Disturbing Tale of Innocence Lost [Blu-ray Review]

Thriller: A Cruel Picture

Even if you haven’t seen Thriller: A Cruel Picture, you are undoubtedly familiar with some of the films that drew influence from this grindhouse-era classic. Thriller paved the way for better-known rape/revenge efforts like I Spit on Your Grave. It’s even served as a well of inspiration for a number of contemporary filmmakers, including Quentin Tarantino. 

The film follows Madeleine (Christina Lindberg), a young woman whose traumatic past has rendered her unable to speak. One day, Madeleine misses the bus and makes the fateful decision to accept a ride from Tony, a strange man that introduces her to heroin and forces her to work as a call girl. Much to the surprise of her abductor, Madeleine learns martial arts, becomes proficient with firearms, and eventually sets out to exact revenge on her oppressors.    

This flick is a lot to take in and it certainly won’t be for everyone. It is graphic, sexually explicit, and hard to watch at times. However, Thriller is an iconic piece of exploitation filmmaking. If you enjoy the grindhouse era and can stomach the picture’s visceral nature, it’s a must-see.   

Also Read: It’s Time for ‘The Substitute’ to be Hailed as an Exploitation Classic

A large part of what makes the film iconic is a strong performance from Christina Lindberg. She is tough, spirited, and takes no prisoners. She’s not a hapless victim and she doesn’t take anything that her captor throws at her lying down. In spite of lacking the ability to vocalize, she manages to advocate for herself in a number of other effective ways. 

It’s a little bit unorthodox to have a non-speaking lead. But the lack of dialogue serves to constantly remind the audience of why she doesn’t speak. Madeline endures great trauma, dating back to her formative years, long before she was abducted and forced into sex slavery by the lecherous Tony. Her silence also gives her a stoic sensibility that makes her even more imposing when embarking upon her bloody revenge spree. 

My chief criticism with Thriller is the sexualization of rape. Everything that transpires between Madeline and Tony’s clients is shown in graphic detail for the sake of titillation. This is particularly true in the extended cut, which contains XXX inserts. Fortunately, the sequences that follow find Madeline becoming empowered and taking revenge on her terms. And that portion is a joy to watch. I just wish the sensitive subject matter had been handled with more respect. 

Almost as jarring as the sexual assault sequences are the slow-motion kill scenes which allow the viewer to savor every moment of Madeleine’s brutal reign of vengeance. Time seems to stand still as those by whom she has been victimized become the victim. 

Also Read: ‘Alligator’ Finally Surfaces in Stunning HD [4k Review]

Thriller is clearly an inspirational film for modern directors keen to recapture the essence of the grindhouse era. Its influence is especially apparent in films like Kill Bill. Auteur filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino outfits Daryl Hannah with an eye patch (as an homage to Madeleine). Further, the director incorporates several of the key themes from Thriller: A Cruel Picture into Kill Bill. Viewers may notice a number of similarities between the character of The Bride and Madeleine. Both endure sexual assault, undergo martial arts training, embark on a revenge spree, and endure a showdown with the man responsible for their trauma.  

As for the latest Blu-ray bow from Synapse, what can you expect? Well, the film looks great in high-def. But it still contains plenty of grit and crackle, which may put off some videophiles. However, I rather appreciate it. The imperfections serve to remind me of the flick’s origins, playing in disreputable grindhouse theaters. 

Also Read: ‘Deadware’ Is The Creepy Throwback We Needed [Unnamed Footage Festival 2022]

The Synapse Blu-ray release includes two versions of the film: The extended cut contains XXX footage and additional violence not seen in the original stateside release. The censored version is about three-minutes shorter and is less graphic in its depictions of sexuality and violence. 

The bonus features include a handful of still galleries, an alternate fight sequence that was excised from the flick, outtakes, and a theatrical trailer. Sadly, all of that appears to be ported over from the previous Synapse release. I wish this re-release included a few featurettes, a commentary track, and some interviews with cast and crew.  

Another distributor is releasing the film in 4K later this year with additional extras. So, if you are a fan of Thriller: A Cruel Picture and already own a copy, it may be wise to hold out for that. However, if you are solely concerned with tracking down a hi-def copy of the film, the Synapse release (which is available now) will likely be the more economically priced offering of the two re-releases bowing this year. 

  • Thriller: A Cruel Picture


Thriller: A Cruel Picture is unflinching and visceral. Not for the faint of heart.

User Rating 0 (0 votes)


Sign up for The Harbinger a Dread Central Newsletter