Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Sinful Dwarf (1973): or, Don't Sell the Danes Short

Let's be frank here: if you're a filmmaker in the 70s and you decide to give your movie a title like The Sinful Dwarf, you're making a bold statement. You're promising levels of exploitation and awesomeness that any flick by any director would find it hard to deliver. I mean, how could you compete with the images such an evocative titles conjures in the fevered, imaginative mind of someone like myself? Nigh impossible, one would think.

So when I sat down to view this long-sought-after slice of 70s Danish sleaze, I was already preparing myself to be a little let down. So, was I?

Let's take a look at some selected excerpts from my movie-watching notes: "Holy shit [...] WOW. That's Exploitation! [...] Slimy [...] This is GRIMY. I need a shower already [...] I feel unclean [...] I feel so dirty, yet strangely aroused [...] OUCH. Nasty! Omg [...] That's one sinful dwarf, yo! [...] Okay, def. going to shower now..."

You win, Sinful Dwarf. You win.

What can I say about this movie? There were things about it I enjoyed, but to say I enjoyed the whole film would be a bit misleading, as my notes should make clear. There were parts that made me very, very uncomfortable, but I definitely didn't hate it so much as I was shocked by its astounding levels of perversity and the grimy veneer of sin that darkened every frame. I guess the best I can do is to say I found it a very powerful film, in that it provoked a visceral emotional reaction that stuck with me long after my post-credits shower.

We open with a pig-tailed, knee-socked Eurobabe playing hopscotch in a nice suburban neighborhood. She's obviously in her late twenties, but she acts like a little girl, which made me wonder whether she was meant to be a little girl or if she was just retarded. At any rate, it's not long before THE SINFUL DWARF appears, hobbling on a cane and leading a mechanical dog on a leash. The girl is fascinated by the toy, and the dwarf leads her Pied-Piper style back to the Hostel-esque factory building where he lives. "I have more toys...upstairs!" he promises, and she readily follows him to the extremely creepy attic. There's quite a nice buildup here as the mentally-challenged hottie kneels on the floor to play with the toy, and the dwarf gets a sadistic, maniacal expression on his face. He raises the cane like Zeus lifting a killing thunderbolt, and BANG! Concussion of the Innocent.

A word about our star here. The titular morally-challenged little person is Olaf, assayed by the inestimable undersized Danish thespian Torben Bille--credited here simply as "Torben." And if you've ever wondered what four full feet of evil looks like, just feast your eyes on this:

WOW. I know the LPA hates this kind of stuff, but if there is an apotheosis of the deranged, nightmare-inducing dwarf that haunts the dreams of little children everywhere, brother, I just spent 90 minutes with him. I'd like to think that's a testement to Torben's acting skills. Because if he's not acting...*shudder*...

The set-up goes a little like this: Olaf's mother is a former showgirl who was scarred in a cataclysmic fire that consumed the dance hall where she was the star, the same year that little Olaf was born. "I don't want to think about that year," she tells a friend. "First the terrible fire--then Olaf--one disaster after another." Love you too, Ma.

Since the horrific end of her showbiz career, Mom has been hosting tea-parties for the Horrible Women's Auxilliary and pining for the good old days, periodically breaking into ultra-disturbing, Nora Desmond-style dance numbers to relive her former glory. To make ends meet, she and Olaf kidnap young girls, lock them in the attic, get them hooked on smack, and pimp them out to a series of faceless johns. It's a real cottage industry.


We pick up the action when newlyweds Peter and Mary come to the hostel seeking cheap lodging while Peter tries to break into the writing business. (Moral: when it comes to lodging, be willing to pay a little extra.) While Peter pounds the pavement, the beautiful young Mary is alone in the house with Olaf and his mom all day. Of course it's not long before the dastardly duo decide Mary would make a fine addition to their stable of Eurojunkies upstairs.

While it's unclear whether the whole junkie/prostitute set-up was Olaf's idea or his mother's or an unholy collaboration between the two, what IS clear is that Olaf derives a really obscene amount of pleasure from running it. In fact, Olaf seems to take a great deal of obscene pleasure from just about everything: be it delivering Johns to the attic dungeon, drugging up the nude girls, playing piano for one of his mother's frequent musical numbers, or--I should say ESPECIALLY--playing with his enviable collection of antique wind-up toys.

I mean, just look at him. This is no child-like fascination with an object of naive wonder, no simple imaginative playtime. No, there's something strangely unclean going on behind those eyes, something ticking like a time bomb in Olaf's brain as he fingers the controls of his battery-operated police car, or winds the key for his cymbal-clashing monkey. Something perverse, something angry, something maniacal, something--dare I say it?--SINFUL.

So that's pretty much the plot. We move from one grimy, disturbing set-piece to another, waiting for the moment when Olaf and his mother descend on Mary for the kill. When the desperate Peter takes a job as a courier of toy shipments from Paris to London (toys stuffed with heroin, unbeknownst to him--and working for the very criminals who supply the smack to Olaf's home-based business), the opportunity just can't be passed up. It all leads to an expected but nonetheless powerful ending when Peter learns the truth and rushes back with a police escort to save the day...albeit about three days too late.

Of course it's in the aforementioned set-pieces that The Sinful Dwarf really shines--or tarnishes your soul, as the case may be. Here's just a sampling of the exploitation smorgasbord on offer:

  • Mary's surprising transformation from a frumpy-dress wearing prude to a smokin'-hawt sex kitten, thanks to a form-fitting long-sleeved tee.
"I dunno! I just woke up, and there they were!"
  • An extended early sex scene between Peter and Mary that just goes ON and ON, with some truly wonderful amped-up sentimental string music as a lovemaking soundtrack. Even better, during this scene Olaf wanders past the room and SEEMS TO HEAR THE MUSIC! This leads him to go to one of the many peepholes in the building and spy to his little heart's content.
  • Mom's Carmen Miranda number OUT OF NOWHERE--a song called "Choo Choo Bamba," played on a mistuned piano by the multi-talented Torben. The scene is intercut with scenes showing one of the johns upstairs having his way with a strung-out captive, with the jaunty musical cues timed to coincide with the pasty pelvic thrusts. If you don't feel dirty after this, check your pulse.
  • Many (merciful) cuts during the junkie-rape scenes that will make you wonder whether there were some hardcore pick-up scenes left out. Also, I wasn't entirely sure during the Peter/Mary scene referenced above that they weren't actually doing it.
  • Gratuitous Mom-tit shot. Horror! Definitely a MI-would-in-no-way-LF.
  • Olaf gets his horrifying jollies with a doped-up Mary.
Oh, and the heroin-pushing toyshop owner's code name? Santa Claus.

When I first heard of this flick I was thinking it'd be something like Bloodsucking Freaks, with its beyond-the-bounds-of-even-bad-taste gore scenes and campy interactions between the Maestro and his happily perverse assistant, the immortal Ralphus. But the camp factor is almost entirely absent from The Sinful Dwarf, which makes it that much more disturbing and grimy. BSF was comedy--comedy for those with an incredibly sick and misanthropic sense of humor, sure, but nonetheless they were clearly having a larf.

The family that laughs together...

Not so in The Sinful Dwarf. You start out laughing at some of the eccentricities, but once it goes from weird to disturbing it never looks back. I’ve watched several movies where I wanted to take a shower afterwards, but this is one that I actually wanted to pause so I could go take a shower in the first third, another right before the climax, and by the time the end credits rolled I needed a high-pressure sprayer.

So how to rate it? Well, for its visceral power, its memory-scarring images, and its audaciously outré offensiveness, I'm giving it 3+ thumbs. It set a goal for itself, and achieved it beyond any reasonable expectation. But be warned--unless you're a deviant like The Duke and me, you're likely to end by wondering how you can continue to live in a world where movies like this exist.

As for me...well, "I think to myself, What a Wonderfull World!"

*whispers*: "Call the po-lice!"


The Duke of DVD said...

Bravo, good sir, bravo. My dear Vicar, you have once again dragged us kicking and screaming down into the depths of depravity, a dank, cold place from whence we may never escape. I salute your vigor, sir.

Anonymous said...

Ohhhh man....How do I stop my head from spinning?!

Anonymous said...

Well....Viewed this one the other night....



The Vicar of VHS said...


This makes Bloodsucking Freaks look like...well, BSF still looks pretty nasty. But at least this gives it something to aspire toward.

So what do you think, CG, in your reviewer's opinion...

Were Peter and Mary doin' it?

Anonymous said...

No doubt about it.

The peephole doesn't lie.

Emily said...

Damnit, I just took a shower and now you made me think I should take another one! I watched this a good year or so ago, and's icky. But it totally delivers on the sinfulness of its dwarf, which is truly somehting to admire in my book.

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