There is a bit of a mirrored loop when it comes to Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003, 2004) movies and a couple of other films… I’ll start with Tarantino. Watching them again and the more I like Jackie Brown (1997) and the earlier movies. I went to the cinema twice to see Once Upon a Time …in Hollywood (2019) and the Hateful Eight (2015). They too are very good.
But watching Kill Bill now and the thrill is gone as it seems a bit slow and patchy. Is that just Tarantino? Maybe I just need to watch them again. They are, however, an inspiration for this article, especially the character played by Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill with a patch over her right eye. Her death scene is a masterpiece in Kill Bill Volume 2 – that can’t be denied!
The image of Elle Driver as she is known in the Tarantino film is based on a character from a Swedish movie made in 1973. That film is entitled Thriller: A Cruel Picture and the title character is a mute and eventually one-eyed character who is forced into heroin addiction and sexual slavery.
She is more or less kidnapped in the beginning and must perform as a prostitute lest her twice-daily fix not be given to her. Oh, did I mention she is mute from being sexually violated as a child?
Tarantino is a fan of the film and the performance of Christina Lindberg. It is not particularly excellent although the character is definitely iconic. Iconic enough to spawn imitation in more than one way.
I have seen the uncut version of the film recently online and it contains hard-core sex scenes inserted to cash in on the craze in Denmark and Sweden at the time. If you like that sort of thing in your movies… it can get a bit repetitive. At least we are spared it in the beginning when the child is raped!
Some fifteen years later, she is picked up by her future pimp and enslaved. Once addicted and giving pleasure to her clients, Lindberg at first refuses, only to have her left eye punctured and gouged out. Legend has it that this scene used an actual cadaver. And when you look at the scene, for 1973, it’s a pretty darn real eyeball – no fake here. I am convinced it is a real eye that is punctured. It is slightly chilling.
The rest of the movie concerns her parents’ suicide and Lindberg’s escape and training to use weapons and her hands for revenge – which, of course, she does.
This film, the shortened version which is known as They Call her One Eye, is a relation to I Spit on your Grave in that it is a rape and revenge movie and is one of those “grindhouse” movies that Tarantino is so fond of. It also could have kicked off the Charles Bronson Deathwish series which debuted the following year. It is pure vigilante.
It could also be argued that Uma Thurman’s character in the Kill Bill movies was inspired by Lindberg’s character.
You know this girl with an eye-patch and flowing brown hair has gone through a lot so when she escapes, buys a car and saws off her first shotgun – you know some men are really going to pay!
Lindberg represents the girls and women of the #MeToo movement long, long before… the girls who no one was going to fight for except herself and especially those girls who will never come forward. And that is the beauty of the personal revenge movie, particularly those of sexually abused female characters. Justice is theirs and for want of a better word, we are rooting for them to deliver the evil their just desserts.
Lindberg also kills in slow motion just to extend that thrill a little further.
And she doesn’t have to say a word as her actions speak much, much louder. Apart from the use of a real corpse, it is documented that live ammunition was also used on the set and that an insurance policy was taken out on Lindberg as a result. It sounds more like a publicity stunt. Her name in the film is Madeleine, another name used by Mary Magdalene in the Bible – another misunderstood character.
One by one the bad guys go down at the end of her shotgun as she uses her martial arts to belt up the police in one protracted sequence. They are uncaring men after all, although she still guns down the odd bad girl without any qualms. She nicks a police car to continue her quest which will eventually lead to the pimp himself.
To quote Tarantino, the film has “the coolest actress in Sweden in the roughest revenge movie ever made.” The film was virtually unknown, even in Sweden, until Tarantino championed it and in 2017 the Swedish Film Institute even went so far as to restore it.
“It’s just a misunderstanding,” says the pimp when they finally confront one another. Nice trick as he pulls out a gun! But Madeleine is well ahead of him, kneecapping the bastard before burying him up to the neck in rocks… There is a great close-up of Madeleine at this stage just before she drives off.
The cut version of this film is missing twenty minutes. Try and see the restored version if you can stomach it at all!
Another film apart from Kill Bill related to this Swedish film in a couple of ways is Ms. 45 aka Angel of Vengeance (1981).
Ms. 45 is directed by Abel Ferrara (1951-) whose releases of late have not been at first run cinemas. He was the man behind the UK video nasty Driller Killer where he also starred as a stressed out and broke artist driven to kill the homeless with a drill all because he never wants to become one!
While Ms. 45 follows the rape and revenge cycle kicked off by Thriller and Bronson’s Deathwish (1974), it is also one of Ferrara’s best movies. Ferrara’s career peaked in the mid-90s with films such as King of New York (1990) and Bad Lieutenant (1992), both crime-related features.
For the latter, Ferrara was using drugs like the protagonist played by Harvey Keitel and is quoted as saying: “The director of that film needed to be using, the director and the writer – not the actors.” Whether it was heroin, it is possible, as one of the co-writers of Bad Lieutenant was the star of Ms. 45 – Zoe Tamerlis Lund aka Zoe Tamerlis (1962-99 heart failure). It was more likely cocaine though. Tamerlis, who plays the mute lead in Ms. 45, in an obvious nod to Thriller, was a well known drug addict in her short lifetime.
Tamerlis apparently just loved heroin and chose it as a lifestyle.
Ferrara apparently said of Tamerlis: “She loved heroin. She was killed by heroin.”
She lived Lindberg’s character in Thriller on that level in real life, although Tamerlis took it further as a lifestyle choice by advocating its use in the media. It is surprising she did not die of an overdose before her final demise caused in the end by her taste for cocaine, which induced heart failure at the age of 37.
Tamerlis plays mute Thana in Ms. 45. In it, after a long day at the factory as a dressmaker, she is raped in an alleyway, by a man in a mask, who was apparently played by Ferrara. Just to make things worse, she gets home after this humiliating experience and is raped again by a burglar. But she kills him and dismembers him and stores him in the fridge as she deposits bits and pieces throughout New York in plastic and paper bags. She also has a gun left behind by the now deceased burglar and despite a nosey neighbour, who threatens to reveal everything, Thana is able to carry on a one woman revenge spree on the scum of the city using the gun.
Tamerlis, as Thana, has an ethereal beauty and she also appeared in Larry Cohen’s Special Effects the following year. With her full lips and big brown eyes you can’t help but feel for this girl as she indulges in shooting the crap out of all those bastards who have wronged her or any other women or girls over the years.
Thana works for a fashion house, hardly a feminist stronghold behind the scenes, but neither was the previous year’s A-list revenge film 9 to 5 (1980).
“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” as the even earlier I Spit on Your Grave (1978) showed us in graphic detail. Let’s not forget other female revenge movies albeit not rape and revenge movies such as Carrie (1976), She Devil (1989), Thelma and Louise (1991) and The First Wives Club (1996). They all pale in comparison to Thriller and Ms. 45.
Lately, there has been the more recent revenge movie Peppermint (2018), a film my father has taken to with a vengeance. It is in fact an instantly forgettable classic – if that’s possible! But it’s fun while it lasts. I guess that’s why my father loves it and watches it over again.
Tamerlis was a model in real life and, as the film progresses, she takes on the persona of a model – seen and not heard – growing more beautiful with each killing. This is first noticed when a creepy fashion photographer spots her and asks her back to his place… only for him to be peppered by bullets.
The character’s name Thana is taken from Thanatos, the Greek God of Death, which is his name’s literal translation. But its use is ironic as a visit by Thanatos usually meant a peaceful death and not a violent departure at the hands of Thana.
That is about as deep as this film gets, with its slow motion mass killing climax homage to Thriller in a packed room, in a country where this type of thing has become far too commonplace.
“That’s a charming name, is it Greek?,” asks a gay character before the murders begin randomly at a fancy dress party.
“It’s Greek to you,” says another.
Pimps, criminals in Central Park, Arab oil sheiks… they all must die in this cult film, which, for its budget of a reported $62,000, is Ferrara’s finest achievement on such a scale. It is also a record of the beauty of the then teenage but doomed Tamerlis. The last character killed is someone dressed as a bride…
That leads us back to The Bride played by Thurman in the Kill Bill movies, especially the first one where Daryl Hannah’s character Elle Driver is walking down the hospital hallway to visit her, to the theme of the film Twisted Nerve (1968). This whistled theme was written by Psycho (1960) composer Bernard Herrmann and has a tenuous link to Kill Bill but I will use it to mention the oft-dismissed British Twisted Nerve. The theme can be heard in American Horror Story as well.
It stars former child star Hayley Mills (1946-) in one of her first serious and grown up roles and is a disturbing and slightly underrated murder cum horror movie.
Directed by Roy Boulting (1913-2001 cancer), he also did the almost forgotten film version of the excellent play Thunder Rock (1942) and the early Jeffrey Hunter (1926-69 brain haemorrhage and skull fracture) effort Sailor of the King (1953) – both black and white movies worth checking out.
Twisted Nerve had to add a disclaimer at the beginning of the film because it suggested a link between Down Syndrome and chromosomal damage – to psychotic behaviour.
Boulting had already directed its stars Mills and Hywel Bennett (1944-2017 heart defect) in The Family Way about the trials and tribulations of newlyweds. It too was controversial for its nod to impotence in 1967. The pair would also star in the better than average Agatha Christie mystery Endless Night (1972).
Hywel Bennett’s character in Twisted Nerve has a Down Syndrome sibling and Bennett stalks Mills by pretending he is “mentally challenged” when really he is a murderer. Thus the controversy, helped or hindered, by a mock medical lecture during the film’s proceedings, pointing the finger, as it were.
Herrmann’s music at the beginning brought comparisons to Hitchchock which weren’t positive. Yet Hitchcock saw the film and was impressed enough to use Twisted Nerve stars Billie Whitelaw (1932-2014) and Barry Foster (1931-2002 heart attack) for his upcoming production of Frenzy (1972).
Boulting, who was more famous for his comedies in the 1950s, has done a reasonably slick job and Bennett is very creepy as he murders his father, who doesn’t like his son staying in his room reading muscleman magazines when he should be out making a living, perhaps on the stock market.
Apparently, the interiors used in the movie were of the family home of Hayley’s father actor John Mills (1908-2005 stroke).
Killing his father with a pair of scissors and watching him die, Bennett leaves a raincoat atop the corpse. One for the brigade! He then goes back to where he is staying, to slip into bed with his middle-aged landlady, pretending to be “mentally challenged” and she sleeps with him “like a child”. Bennett has meanwhile made it seem his real self is out of the country seeking his fortune as an alibi.
Hayley Mills is beautiful and the film shakes off her Disney image well. Indeed she married the much older director Boulting a couple of years after making this film despite an age difference of over 30 years. Their son Crispian (1973-) is a musician. Mills marriage to Boulting didn’t last and she got pregnant with her second son by actor Leigh Lawson (1945-) who was Alec d’Urbanville in Roman Polanski’s Tess (1979) before their divorce. Enough of that!
“Is it really the home, the environment, the way a person that is brought up that creates the neurotic, the psychopath, the psychotic…” Or is it genetic!? So says a doctor explaining away the woes of the world before breaking out in a quote from George Sylvester Viereck’s (1884-1962) poem Slaves: “A twisted nerve, a ganglion gone awry Predestinates the sinner and the saint.”
An atheist poem, it is probably surprising that Viereck was a Nazi sympathiser who was jailed during the war years as a Nazi agent in the United States. That he couldn’t recognise Hitler as one of these twisted ganglion I don’t know, but Twisted Nerve is the centre of what is one of the first attempts to really explain “the bad seed” and genetic theory. Viereck’s life is also reflected in the movie by the fact he, like Bennett, rejected his father’s ideas of a life for him and became a poet. That his heroes growing up included Jesus Christ and Oscar Wilde all seems negated by his Nazi connection.
So, is Viereck a “bad seed” also? Like his hero Adolf Hitler? Or was he merely a man under the influence? Bennett really seems to be a bad seed as he hacks up his landlady with a hatchet before becoming so sexually frustrated with Hayley that he slaps her because she won’t do sadomasochistic things with a belt. The gig is up and Bennett produces a gun from his hand luggage where he also keeps a book about the theory of the genesis of kinky sex. It could be Viereck’s poems for all we know. Or Hitler’s Mein Kampf!
Here, this article has reached the antithesis from the premise we started with. We have a sexually perverse male under the influence of bad literature who may be born bad because of nature, as opposed to the rape and revenge of a woman who was born good and whose actions are purely psychological and caused, usually, by a male of the former type! They are polar opposites, the reverse again of opposites that attract in “normal” society. But then some marriages end badly too, don’t they?! The Bride’s in Kill Bill was such a relationship. And The Bride and Elle Driver in Kill Bill are polar opposites and, finally, Lindberg’s Madeleine is the mirrored opposite to Elle Driver too.
Yes, it’s all very perverse in Twisted Nerve, which is why I think Hitchcock was probably a fan. The film is also written by Leo Marks (1920-2001 cancer), who wrote the screenplay for the equally perverse, but much earlier movie, Peeping Tom (1960) that was also damned upon release. Peeping Tom was called “evil and pornographic”, yet Martin Scorsese admired Marks enough to use his voice as Satan in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). The original book for Frenzy, Arthur La Bern’s Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square was written in between in 1966. La Bern wrote a book on acid bath murderer John George Haigh (1909-49 hanged), a case Hitchcock studied while he directed Stage Fright (1950) in London, also about murder.
Anyway, Hitch’s Frenzy was percolating around the time of the controversy of Twisted Nerve. And Frenzy is a film that goes a bit further in terms of its violence and black kinkiness. Marks with Twisted Nerve had pushed the boundaries again and made way for Frenzy.
In the end, Bennett ends up shooting his image after being confronted with it in the mirror – a narcissist, so it’s psychological as well. He doesn’t like what he sees in the end, shattering the image of himself forever. Dragged off to prison, where he is probably to this day, he is the poet with Mein Kampf in his hand luggage with his muscle man magazines. He is the narcissistic Nazi – violent and evil. Who created him? Is it nature or nurture? Or does it go beyond childhood and into the society we inhabit today? And if there’s a God… Why? Read the Bible or Mein Kampf?
Bennett meanwhile has traumatised poor Hayley and wreaked untold havoc on her psyche. Will she in turn wreak revenge? Probably not, she seems too nice.
And what does this all have to do with the original premise of this article as we move from basic female rape revenge story to the genesis of murderers either through genetics or psychology. Or both? Or neither?! …
It was Daryl Hannah’s eye-patched Elle Driver – a psychopath if there ever was one – again whistling that haunting tune from Twisted Nerve, upon her appearance in Kill Bill Volume 1. As The Bride, symbol for all wronged women out for vengeance, says to poor Elle just before she lost another eye and caught fire: “Bitch, you don’t have a future.” Just as we like it!
Comparing it with Thriller: A Cruel Picture you’ll notice the subtle polar opposite and mirror image of the characters and that in Tarantino’s Kill Bill, while the shoe is now on the other foot… the patch is also on the other eye! To hell with Elle!!