Rape and revenge

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Rape and revenge
Years active1970s - present
CountryInternational; started in Sweden and America
Major figuresIrréversible, Promising Young Woman, The Virgin Spring
InfluencesEuropean art cinema, Exploitation film
InfluencedFeminist film, New French Extremity

Rape and revenge, or revenge rape, is a film subgenre was used in black comedy, horror, thriller, and vigilante films, all of them bears great similarities to the subgenre, which is characterized by violent revenge for crimes committed in the film's premise.

It was particularly popular in the 1970s, originally classified as a part of exploitation film movement and dovetailed with the second-wave feminist movement.[1] Although the subgenre was part of a sole film genre, it sometimes used the subgenre in fictitious films such as Western and fantasy films, and later expands into a media genre as an opposite including anime and manga, television series, and theatre.

Notable for its graphic depiction of violence, rape, torture, and sexual imagery; the subgenre has attracted critical attention and controversy, often gain a cult following and retrospectively associated with the New French Extremity, underground cinema, and predominantly arthouse cinema.[2][3][4][5]

Themes and characteristics[edit]

"Rape and revenge" was the pioneer, and so far, most controversial subgenre in the mid-20th century that focus the main protagonist, especially for those of portrayal of the female character, seeks revenge on itself or the victim and turned into an anti-hero/vigilante to engage a vicious plot to eliminate the perpetrator/rapist(s). Unlike the other films, the main character's revenge is carried not only by the rape victim but only by the third party, primarily the victim's parents and friends.

Each early films rose in prominence in the 1970s and relied heavily on the shock value of brutal rape scenes, followed by the even larger shock of the main character's sadistic revenge.[6]


It is relatively unknown or never assumed by filmmakers about the subgenre in the early 20th-century except the 1931's film A Woman Branded, the plot about a woman who was raped and contracted venereal disease, seeks revenge on the man who raped her; possibly considered as the earliest precursor of "rape and revenge" subgenre, retrospectively.

The Virgin Spring is the first film that coined the term as "rape and revenge", served as a film subgenre.

The Virgin Spring[edit]

In 1960, the term ''rape and revenge" coined Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring, also considered the earliest film and precursor of the subgenre; the story of the film about a father seeks vengeance on his daughter to three herdsmen (two of them who raped and murdered her). According to director Ingmar Bergman, he was reading about the legend of Per Töre when he was a student, the plot follows the main character who had seven daughters who fell victim to seven rapists, which led him takes inspiration for the film as well as influences came from Japanese cinema, with Bergman particularly being a fan of Rashomon (1950).[7]

After the release of the same film in Sweden, the 1973's film Thriller – A Cruel Picture definitively codified the ethics and development of the genre, although the film was permanently banned in the same country.[8]

Influences and pioneers[edit]

The Last House on the Left, depicted rape and graphic violence, drew substantial attention and is considered one of the pioneers in the subgenre.

After the following U.S. release of The Virgin Spring, it inspired Wes Craven's debut The Last House on the Left, which is the base of both Bergman's film and Swedish ballad "Töres döttrar i Wänge".[9][10] Like the Bergman's film, the plot of The Last House on the Left is carried by the two victim's parents exact vengeance to the criminals. In some cases, the film was more brutal and controversial than the Bergman's film, due to explicit rape and mutilation.

In the United States, it continues to produce several rape and revenge films in the 1970s including Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, Michael Winner's Death Wish, Lamont Johnson's Lipstick, and Meir Zarchi's I Spit on Your Grave; some of them are mainly screened in mainstream theaters, while others were screened independently in underground cinemas as exploitation films.

In addition to American films, rape and revenge films have been made in the Philippines (e.g.; Lino Brocka's Insiang), Japan (e.g., Takashi Ishii's Freeze Me), Finland,[11] Russia (The Voroshilov Sharpshooter), Argentina (e.g., I'll Never Die Alone; [2008]; original title: No Moriré Sola), and Norway (e.g., The Whore [2009]; original title: Hora).

Several female directors have tried their hand at the genre to subvert its codes including Virginie Despentes' Baise-moi (2000), Coralie Fargeat's Revenge (2017), Jennifer Kent's The Nightingale (2018), and Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman (2020), the latter revitalized the subgenre and garnered multiple awards and nominations.[12]

Some of the films, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Promising Young Woman, are subverted examples of the subgenre where a character was raped and murdered off-screen before the protagonist seeks revenge, although both films lack the use of graphic violence and onscreen rape.[13]

Motifs of the subgenre, meaning that without being claimed as belonging to the genre, sometimes appears as a subplot in films to take up the codes at one point such as Stanley Kubrick's Clockwork Orange, Gaspar Noé's Irréversible, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, Lars von Trier's Dogville, and Paul Verhoeven's Elle.[14][15]

Explanation of the subgenre[edit]

Irréversible, despite the use of subgenre in the film, the entire structure was reversed from the end to middle (the latter shown in screenshot) of the film's plot.

Rape and revenge films generally follow three simple rules of the plot as a narrative structure, nearly similar to three-act structure;

  1. Rape: The main character / victim is (violently) raped and maybe further abused, tortured or left for dead; the perpetrator(s) sometimes consider the victim dead.
  2. Return: There are two optional decisions whereas to survive or not.
    • The main character is heavily devastated by the victim's death.
    • The main character / victim is barely survived, but still devastated, and may rehabilitate themselves under psychological circumstances.
  3. Revenge: The main character (and optionally a third-party) exact vengeance and engage a plot to eliminate their rapist(s).

In Irréversible, the structure was reversed, with the first part depicting the revenge before tracing back the events which led to that point. Roger Ebert argues that, by using this structure as well as a false revenge, Irréversible cannot be classified as an exploitation film, as no exploitation of the subject matter takes place.[16]

Notable films[edit]

Notable filmmakers[edit]

Opposite of the subgenre[edit]

Anime and manga[edit]

Redo of Healer attracted controversy and notable as a rape and revenge genre in Japanese media.

Redo of Healer is an extreme example of the subgenre as an opposite of rape and revenge films; only developed in Japanese media, especially light novel and anime adaptation; similar to the structure (but subverted and introverted), the plot is about a 14-year-old young man who wishes to being a healing magician before is exploited and raped repeatedly in the kingdom for four years, and later decided to redo everything and takes revenge on the corrupted empire.[21]

Several anime and manga series including Berserk, Ninja Scroll, and Sword Art Online have experienced the subgenre used at one point, but the latter two backfired by eliminating them (e.g., for anime version of Sword Art Online in two episodes; one for Oberon almost sexually assaults Asuna in front of the protagonist Kirito, but Kirito exacts vengeance both in virtual reality and in real life at Oberon; while the other one for Raios and Humbert attempt to rape two young women as the other protagonist Eugeo struggles to fight himself by violating the code and exacts vengeance towards them[22]) after the attempted rape.


In television series, 13 Reasons Why, Game of Thrones, I May Destroy You, Jessica Jones, Sweet/Vicious, and Westworld are examples of the subgenre.[1]


In 1979 version of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is an example of the subgenre as an opposite of rape and revenge films, in which is a musical theater by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler. It generally features the structure, the plot is about Benjamin Barker, a married man who falsely accused of his crimes, seeks vengeance on his wife who was raped by Judge Turpin; Barker became disillusioned and offers his job as a barber in Fleet Street, secretly plotted himself to kill Turpin.[23][24]

Reception and legacy[edit]

The Virgin Spring received polarized reviews from critics, but subject to censorship since its U.S release, and later won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, marked the first rape and revenge film to win an Academy Award.[25] In retrospective years, the film renewed positively and expressed inspiration of several films, described as a relatively auspicious heritage to rape and revenge films.[26]

The subgenre has attracted critical attention and controversy, especially when it is akin to horror cinema – is probably one of the most controversial genres, accused of voyeurism and complacency by its detractors.[2][3][4][5] Much of this critical attention comes from feminist critics examining the complex politics involved in the genre and its impact on cinema more generally. More recently, a broad analysis of the rape-revenge genre and concept was published in Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study, by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. The book argues against a simplistic notion of the term "rape-revenge" and suggests a film-specific approach in order to avoid generalizing films which may "diverge not over the treatment of sexual assault as much as they do in regard to the morality of the revenge act".[27]

I Spit on Your Grave faced highly controversial and censorships in nowadays.

The controversy stems from the fact that films in the genre can often be accused of using the moral of the story as a pretext to justify extremely graphic murder and rape scenes. For example, I Spit on Your Grave, notable for its controversial depiction of extreme graphic violence and depictions of gang rape, sparked controversies with feminists protesting the movie and people accusing the movie of glorifying rape. The Motion Picture Association of America tried to prevent the film's producers from using the R rating. After the association gave the film an R rating, the producer of the film added rape scenes, making it an X-rated movie. Ultimately, an agreement was reached where the film removed any references or explicit shots referring to anal rape and the MPAA restored the original R rating.[28] In an interview with Fangoria, director Meir Zarchi said as a response to the backlash:

"Frankly, I'm not concerned whether it receives bad press or not. It doesn't touch me one way or the other whatsoever. If you told me that the public does not like it and the critics like it, then there is something very, very bad about that. Who am I reaching? Three-hundred critics around the United States, or 2,000 around the world? It's really the public that counts, the 20 million who have seen the film around the globe."[29]

The remaining films Irréversible, The Last House on the Left, and Thriller – A Cruel Picture continue to spark substantial attention and controversy, with Irréversible notable for nine-minute continuous rape scene and repeatedly bludgeon-to-death scene, prompting widespread outrage among audiences during the film's premiere, including the cast from the film, and film critics stormed out.[30] The anime adaptation of Redo of Healer also attracted controversy for the first two episodes, depicting rape and graphic violence at one point as a plot device, with one review describes the anime:

"Redo of Healer may well be the most notorious and divisive anime series this season, in this case it earned a reputation for using revenge rape as a key recurring story element in the original material".[31]

Despite this, the anime gained higher than average percentage of female viewers and novelist Rui Tsukiyo expressed their surprise on Twitter.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "How Movies and TV Address Rape and Revenge (Published 2017)". 2017-01-12. Retrieved 2023-08-08.
  2. ^ a b Clover, Carol J. (1992). Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-00620-2.
  3. ^ a b Creed, B. (1993). The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-05259-9.
  4. ^ a b King, Claire Sisco (2003). "Review of "Thelma & Louise" by Marita Sturken and of "The New Avengers: Feminism, Femininity, and the Rape-Revenge Cycle" by Jacinda Read". Retrieved October 6, 2007.
  5. ^ a b Read, Jacinda (2000). The New Avengers: Feminism, Femininity, and the Rape-Revenge Cycle. Manchester, UK and New York: Manchester University Press. ISBN 0-7190-5905-4.
  6. ^ Austin, Isobella (2021-02-19). "'Rape-revenge' films are changing: they now focus on the women, instead of their dads". The Conversation. Retrieved 2023-08-10.
  7. ^ Gado, Frank (1986). The Passion of Ingmar Bergman. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 241. ISBN 0822305860.
  8. ^ Trädgårdsmästaren – Kommentar at the Swedish Film Institute (in Swedish)
  9. ^ "Wes Craven: the mainstream horror maestro inspired by Ingmar Bergman". The Guardian. 31 August 2015. Archived from the original on 29 September 2015.
  10. ^ "The Bergman Film That Inspired Wes Craven". The Criterion Collection. 3 September 2015. Archived from the original on 23 August 2022.
  11. ^ Makela, Anna. "Political rape, private revenge. The story of sexual violence in Finnish Film and Television". Archived from the original on September 7, 2004. Retrieved 2010-01-25.
  12. ^ Machado, Carmen Maria (2021-01-29). "How "Promising Young Woman" Refigures the Rape-Revenge Movie". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2023-08-08.
  13. ^ McEntee, Joy (2021-10-15). "Vigilantism and the Law in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"". Film Criticism. 45 (1). doi:10.3998/fc.977. ISSN 2471-4364.
  14. ^ Tobias, Scott (2023-02-08). "Punishing rape-revenge drama Irréversible has been recut – but why?". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2023-08-18.
  15. ^ Brooks, Xan (2016-05-21). "Elle review: Paul Verhoeven's brazen rape revenge comedy is a dangerous delight". the Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2023-08-18.
  16. ^ Ebert, Roger (2003-03-14). "Irreversible". Rogerebert.com. Retrieved 2010-01-25.
  17. ^ "13 Assassins (2010) - Takashi Miike - Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related". AllMovie.
  18. ^ "Savaged (2013) - Michael S. Ojeda - Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related". AllMovie.
  19. ^ a b c Schubart, Rikke (2007). Super Bitches and Action Babes. McFarland and Company Inc., Publishers. pp. 83–104. ISBN 9780786429240.
  20. ^ "Grave of the Vampire (1972) - John Hayes | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related". AllMovie.
  21. ^ "Redo of Healer (TV) - Anime News Network". www.animenewsnetwork.com. Retrieved 2023-08-17.
  22. ^ "'Sword Art Online' Censors Controversial Sexual Assault Scene For Streaming Services". Anime. Retrieved 2023-08-18.
  23. ^ Rooney, David (2017-03-01). "'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street': Theater Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2023-08-08.
  24. ^ "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street". www.tcm.com. Retrieved 2023-08-08.
  25. ^ "The 33rd Academy Awards (1961) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  26. ^ Heller-Nicholas 2011, p. 22.
  27. ^ Heller-Nicholas, Alexandr (2011). Rape-Revenge Film: A Critical Study. New York: McFarland. p. 230. ISBN 978-0-7864-4961-3. Archived from the original on 2013-03-19.
  28. ^ "'I Spit on Your Grave' Opposed on R Rating". The New York Times. February 1, 1984. Retrieved June 9, 2020.
  29. ^ Frentzen, Jeffrey (October 31, 1984). "I Spit on Your Grave". Fangoria. No. 39. pp. 14–18. Retrieved June 9, 2020.
  30. ^ Palmer, Tim (2006). "Style and Sensation in the Contemporary French Cinema of the Body". Journal of Film and Video. 58 (3): 22–32, p.27. ISSN 0742-4671. JSTOR 20688527.
  31. ^ "The Winter 2021 Preview Guide - Redo of Healer". Anime News Network. Retrieved 2021-10-20.
  32. ^ "Redo of Healer Female Viewership Is Higher Than Average". Anime Corner. 2021-03-25. Archived from the original on April 9, 2021. Retrieved 2021-04-09.