The Horror Honeys: Let the Revenge Fit the Crime!

Let the Revenge Fit the Crime!

A Revenge Honey Horror History List by Linnie

The concept of revenge stemming from the rape or brutalization of a woman has been a part of the cultural lexicon since the advent of storytelling. Set up in a three-act structure, these stories generally consist of:

1) our main character suffering a sexual assault, rape, and/or torture, often left to die; 
2) the character survives, or they die, but then their death is discovered by a loved one, and; 
3) the main character (or a loved one) takes revenge against the assailant, torturing or killing them.

'Straw Dogs' or the movie where I fell in love with Dustin Hoffman
It is widely considered by most film scholars that Ingmar Bergman brought rape/revenge films to the mainstream with his minimalist masterpiece, The Virgin Spring, which went on to inspire decades worth of work from Wes Craven (The Last House on the Left), Meir Zarchi (I Spit On Your Grave) and Sam Peckinpah (Straw Dogs). Many films, like those mentioned above, as well as Irréversible, Thriller - A Cruel Picture, and my favorite, Ms. 45, are fairly well known. But there are a wealth of lesser-known revenge films that explore the genre is ways that are surprisingly original, especially given that the structure of these movies tend to remain the same.

The following are five of my favorite, less-seen rape/revenge films. They may not be easy to watch, but they're always a fascinating snapshot of the era in which they were created.

Act of Vengeance aka Rape Squad (1974)

Out of all of the rape/revenge films that I've seen, and I've seen most of them, Act of Vengeance is the film that gets the details depressingly right. When a man known as the Jingle Bells Rapist (because he forces his victims to sing the holiday tune... for no apparent reason) strikes woman after woman, it becomes blatantly clear that the police aren't going to do a thing to help. Indicative of sexual assault cases at the time, you witness male detectives handling the case, blaming the women, and trying to traumatize them into dropping the case all together... Okay, maybe things aren't THAT different now. But not willing to remain victims, a group of women band together to catch Jingle Bells and end his reign of terror for good. In the 70s, it was actually common for women to form groups that took to the streets to warn other women to be safe, and while I find the rape scenes in Act of Vengeance to be almost impossible to watch, this movie is a must see for any student of horror OR women's history.

Daughter of Darkness (1993)

China isn't much for subtlety when it comes to rape/revenge, and Daughter of Darkness is no exception. The difference here is that this film will shake you down to your very core. When a young girl finally snaps after years of abuse and rape at the hands of her own family, it is up to her police officer boyfriend to help her cover up the crime. With a brilliant performance from Lily Chung, this Category III Hong Kong horror film (our version of a NC-17) is absolutely devastating, even though it is tinged with humor. While sequels were made (Daughter of Darkness 2, and Brother of Darkness), they didn't match up to the original.

The full movie is on YouTube for some reason... But I'm not telling you to watch it there.
That's on you.

Extremities (1986)

"What she did to survive, is nothing compared to what she'll do to get even."

Unfortunately, Robert M. Young's Extremities was and has been widely overlooked because of the presence of Farrah Fawcett. Say what you will about her time as an "Angel," but she's fabulous in this almost-rape/revenge film. After being sexually assaulted by a man who then steals her purse, Fawcett's pleas for police assistance go ignored, and one night while home alone, the man who attacked her enters her home, led there by all her personal info. After a tussle, Fawcett manages to turn the tables on her attacker, and the question becomes, exactly how much violence does it take before you become the monster? This is not the kind of film I watch often, but when I do, I am always floored by it.

Coward of the County (1981) (TV Movie)

The late 70s/early 80s were a BIG decade for turning popular songs into movies. The most popular was Ode to Billy Joe, based on Bobbie Gentry's song of the same(ish) name (for the record, that movie stinks and almost ruined my opinion of the song). However, my favorite "based on a song" movie has always been the one I watched on badly-recorded VHS as a kid, Coward of the County. Spun from a Kenny Rogers song (who also starred in the film), Coward tells the story of Tommy, a young man who promised his dad that he would never get in a fight, and thus was dubbed a coward by the people in his town. But after his wife is brutalized by the vicious Gatlin brothers, Tommy is forced to decide whether or not he is ready to break that solemn vow. You can find this classic TV movie pretty much everywhere now, so give it a watch!

Sleepers (1996)

"This is a true story about friendship that runs deeper than blood. This is my story and that of the only three friends in my life that truly mattered. Two of them were killers who never made it past the age of 30. The other's a non-practicing attorney living with the pain of his past - too afraid to let it go, never confronting its horror. I'm the only one who can speak for them, and the children we were.

It's a common assumption that all rape/revenge films focus on women, and while that may apply to the majority of the genre, it isn't true across the board. A good example of an outlier is Barry Levinson's Sleepers, a movie that still haunts me almost 20 years after I first saw it. When a group of young friends are sent to a youth detention center for a prank gone wrong, they are sexually and physically brutalized by the facility's vicious guards. As adults, they are given the opportunity to seek revenge, and then must suffer the consequences of confronting pains long buried. 

"Revenge. Sweet lasting revenge. Now it's time for all of us to get a taste."

Sleepers hasn't remained a part of the conversation as much as some of these other films, and many critics (rightly) questioned whether or not it was homophobic. But I will never forget the way I felt, the utter terror in the pit of my stomach, the first time I saw Sleepers.

Have you seen the films on this list?
Talk about them with Linnie on Twitter: @linnieloowho