Swedish Sensationsfilms: A Clandestine History of Sex, Thrillers, and Kicker Cinema
Reviewed by Marc Savlov, Fri., April 29, 2011
Swedish Sensationsfilms: A Clandestine History of Sex, Thrillers, and Kicker Cinemaby Daniel Ekeroth (translated by Magnus Henriksson)
Bazillion Points, 320 pp., $19.95 (paper)
Regular attendees of the Alamo Drafthouse's Weird Wednesdays already have more than a passing familiarity with the warped world of Swedish exploitation cinema, and, honestly, you'd be hard-pressed to throw a brick and not hit a Bergman fan in Austin. This encyclopedic overview of the grimy-great underbelly of Swedish filmmaking reveals more delightfully depraved and downright perverse "sensationsfilms" than possibly even Lisbeth Salander could countenance. Swede Stieg Larsson's phenomenally successful novels and their equally spiky film adaptations are less culturally aberrant than the upcoming Hollywood remakes would have you think. Sweden's Sixties-era cinematic exports were known, loved, and even parodied in the pages of Mad magazine for their chilly gravitas (à la Ingmar) and their frequently fulfilled promise of then-rare onscreen sexuality (an explosively titillating combo that eventually resulted in both Woody Allen and Wes Craven, oddly enough). But who knew American sleaze-auteur Joe Sarno, of Confessions of a Young American Housewife fame, also helmed Fäbodjäntan, "the most notorious Swedish porn film of all time"? Granted, I've yet to make my way through Sarno's entire cinematic CV, but arousing the entirety of Sweden is a feat likely unmatched to this day. Sweden preemptively returned the favor a decade earlier with the equally docu-rotic I Am Curious (Yellow) in 1967, but the blood, guts, sex, and death in genius shockers like Bo Arne Vibenius's Thriller: A Cruel Picture are infinitely more fascinating than the frank, hippified sexcapades of Vilgot Sjöman's (Yellow) and follow-up I Am Curious (Blue). Virtually any film starring the intense, feline charms of Christina Lindberg (of Thriller, aka They Call Her One Eye, a particularly spurty fountain of inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill) is guaranteed to arouse something, anything, and likely influenced Larsson's Lisbeth.
Author Ekeroth's lavishly illustrated tome delivers on its titular promise and then some. It's exhaustive in every way, providing capsule summaries and intriguing miniessays on films ranging from the mildly odd (Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt in cowboy shoot-'em-up Wild West Story) to the must-see (the one-sheet for 1965's Morianerna features the defining U.S. attitude toward Swedish cinema at the time, proclaiming "Only SWEDEN could SHOCK like this!"). In between, Ekeroth provides a running commentary on the history of cinema censorship in his native land. Sweden was the first country to have a government-entrenched board of film censors, with the resulting tension leading time and again to some of the most intellectual and politically charged exploitation films in all of cinema. Swedish Sensationsfilms deftly chronicles these hypersexualized odes to bad girls, worse men, and doom-dark ultraviolence with obvious reverence for the subject matter. And it's just plain impossible not to dig a polymath author like Ekeroth, whose side projects include playing bass for Stockholm death metallers Tyrant and coming up with album titles like At War With Straightedge. Really. That's just cool as fuck (yellow).