Monday, September 19, 2011

Little Evil Man -- The Sinful Dwarf

There are about 8 things wrong with this picture.
1973.  Denmark unleashed one of the strangest, most unnerving films of all time onto an unsuspecting public.  The Sinful Dwarf.  The film stars Torben Billie, a reported one-time host of a children's television show, as Olaf, a cane-carrying, snarling, evil little man who lives with his mother in a boarding house.

Olaf's mother is Lila Lash (Clara Keller), a one time singer of some sort of stage show.  She sports a horrible scar on her face that makes it look like someone tried to turn her into the Joker, but stopped at the first cheek.  She implies that the scar, which looks like a knife wound, came from a fire.  I believe Olaf was behind it.

Olaf and Lila run a boarding house.  When the film opens they rent out a room to a young, struggling couple.  What this couple doesn't know is that Olaf has a secret in the attic.  In a small room is a dungeon of sorts where abducted young women are injected with heroin and then pimped out by Olaf and his lovely mother.  They both have eyes on the new wife in the building, too, so you imagine things won't end well for her.



The film opens with a young lady whom I presume is suppose to be a young girl.  She's setting up a hopscotch layout on the sidewalk, hair in pigtails.  A close-up of her face puts her at 20 or so, but all her actions say she's about 12 years of age.  As she's hopping around, a dwarf with a horrible limp and a cane approaches her and puts a toy dog on the ground.  The girl thinks this is the bee's knees and follows Olaf to his boarding house.  "I have more toys upstairs!" Olaf growls.  She follows him into the attic(!), where he knocks her out with his cane.  The next time we see her she'll be naked and drugged up.

Okay, I'm far from the "blame the victim" type, but if you follow a creepy dwarf to his attic and the only thing he's said to you is that he has more toys upstairs, and that upstairs turns out to be an attic -- you can't be surprised by what comes next.  What good has ever come out of something like this?  And that is another reason I believe this girl is supposed to be far younger than she looks, which makes everything creepier.

Olaf in a saner, non-raping moment.
Lila has her own brand of creepiness, too.  Besides being a drunk, she has an equally alcoholic female friend who comes over who Lila often sings for after a few drinks.  The first song routine, which will stick in your head like the dance scene in Calvaire features Lila in full-costume, green eye shadow and what looks like green lipstick all over her scar.  A vision that only a dwarf could love.

There are numerous other moments of sheer madness.  The opening credits feature music that sounds like it belongs on Massacre's Killing Time release, and one scene of utter cruelty features Olaf raping the bride ... with the handle of his cane.  Observe that while the cane is violating the young woman, Olaf gives it a little twist.



There is a lot about this film that feels wrong.  Some of the johns who come into the dungeon to have sex with the women are shown fully naked, romping around.  While others you never get to even see their faces.  Then there's Torben.  I've never seen this man in anything else, but the way he plays this role makes me think he didn't have to dig very deep to bring it out.  (I can see interviews with other actors, all of them saying the same thing.  "Oh, he was dedicated.  He was in character the entire time.")  This and more gives the whole film this odd feeling that it is real.  (One moment that defies explanation, but still feels right, is when a cop and the captured bride's husband find her in the dungeon.  They have Lila with her, and the cop asks the husband, "Do you know how to fire a gun?"  The husband answers that he does, and the cop hands him his weapon and leaves the room.  There is little doubt as to what he wants the husband to do.)

The Sinful Dwarf is a brilliant film insomuch as it is so wonderfully wrong.  Abducted women forced into heroin addiction and pimped out.  A drug dealer named Santa.  A rape by cane.  Voyeurism.  Implied pedophilia.  A soundtrack that seems like it came from four different movies.  Forced cunnilingus. And the feeling that this movie isn't that far removed from reality.  Try saying that about the Saw franchise.  You can't.  It has, despite that brilliance, kind of dropped from the radar.  Let's face it, not many of today's critics have seen it, let along reference it.  (Can you see Ebert, in his review of Eat Pray Love saying, "This film would've benefited greatly by an appearance from Olaf and his cane."  It just doesn't happen.)  That's a shame, too, as this film is nothing but a lesson in effective filmmaking.

One final thought.  Torben, as he is simply billed in the film, died in 1993.  How he died, I do not know.  What I'm curious about, however, is what they found in his apartment/house/trailer/shack.  Were there adult toys?  Disturbing Polaroids of underage girls?  That cane?  How far removed from Olaf was Torben Billie?  Where did the role stop and the man begin?  I'll probably never know the answer to that, and because that is the case, he will always be Olaf to me.


Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I was not given this film to review, and if you click on a link I may earn a commission.  A bit of advice to all the ladies, too: If a dwarf tries to lure you into his attic with a toy dog, do your best not to follow him.  Unless, of course, you like free heroin and sex with strange looking foreigners.  

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