|Years active||1970s - present|
|Country||International; started in Sweden and America|
|Major figures||Irréversible, Promising Young Woman, The Virgin Spring|
|Influences||European art cinema, Exploitation film|
|Influenced||Feminist 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. 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.
Themes and characteristics
"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.
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
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).
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.
Influences and pioneers
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". 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, Russia (The Voroshilov Sharpshooter), Argentina (e.g., I'll Never Die Alone; ; original title: No Moriré Sola), and Norway (e.g., The Whore ; 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.
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.
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.
Explanation of the subgenre
- 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.
- Return: There are two optional decisions whereas to survive or not.
- 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.
- 13 Assassins (2010)
- 22 Female Kottayam
- 6 Guns
- American Mary
- Avenged (2013)
- Bad Reputation (2005)
- Bandit Queen
- Big Driver
- The Birth of a Nation (2016)
- The Crow
- Coward of the County
- Daughter of Darkness
- Death Rides a Horse
- Death Weekend
- Death Wish
- Death Wish II
- Demented (2010)
- The Devil All the Time
- Eye for an Eye (1996)
- Fear Island
- Freeze Me
- Girls Against Boys
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009, 2011)
- Gone (2012)
- Grave of the Vampire
- A Gun for Jennifer
- Gun Woman
- Hannie Caulder
- The Hills Have Eyes (1977, 2006)
- Hora (2009)
- The Horseman
- The House of the Spirits
- I Saw the Devil
- I Spit on Your Grave (1978, 2010)
- I Spit on Your Grave 2
- I Spit on Your Grave III: Vengeance is Mine
- I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu
- Jackson County Jail
- Jungle Warriors
- Kill the Rapist?
- The Ladies Club
- Lady Snowblood
- The Last House on the Left (1972, 2009)
- Last Stop on the Night Train
- Lipstick (1976)
- Liquid Sky
- Men Can't Be Raped
- Ms .45
- Naan Sigappu Manithan (1985)
- The Nightingale (2018)
- Nocturnal Animals
- Promising Young Woman
- Rape of Love
- Red Sonja (1985)
- Revenge (2017)
- Revengers Tragedy
- Rings (2017)
- Riot on Sunset Strip
- Rise: Blood Hunter
- Rob Roy (1995)
- Run! Bitch Run!
- Savage Streets
- Savage Vengeance
- Savages (2012)
- Shutter (2004, 2008)
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
- The Stendhal Syndrome
- The Strange Thing About the Johnsons
- The Stranger (1995)
- Straw Dogs (1971, 2011)
- Sudden Impact
- Teeth (2007)
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
- Thriller – A Cruel Picture
- Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives
- Titus (1999), a modernized adaptation of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus
- Tomcats (1977)
- The Virgin Spring
- Voroshilov Sharpshooter
- Wild Things
- Wild Things 2
- Wild Things: Diamonds in the Rough
- Wild Things: Foursome
- Lino Brocka (forementioned Insiang and Angela Markado)
- Wes Craven (forementioned 1971's The Last House on the Left and 1977's The Hills Have Eyes)
- Meir Zarchi (forementioned I Spit on Your Grave franchise, including Zarchi executive-produced the reboot)
Opposite of the subgenre
Anime and manga
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.
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) after the attempted rape.
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.
Reception and legacy
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. In retrospective years, the film renewed positively and expressed inspiration of several films, described as a relatively auspicious heritage to rape and revenge films.
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. 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".
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. 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."
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. 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".
|Effects and motivations|
- Captivity narrative
- Extreme cinema
- Midnight film
- Psychological fiction (drama, horror, thriller)
- Revenge tragedy
- Splatter film
- Social thriller
- Video nasty
- #MeToo movement
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