Women’s ‘Revenge’ Films

One of my favourite genres of all, films where women “return fire”, usually for rape/assault, but also for other forms of male violence-against-women, occasionally revenge for men’s betrayals in other forms, eg setting up women to take the fall for crimes. These films may, or may not, include female kick-butt action – but my group of favourite revenge-flicks refers mainly to those films where the main themes and storylines, revolve around women taking action against male abuse, (and ‘win’) regardless of any action/violence content.

I have several favourites in no particular order, but with a preference for the rarest of all – women’s ‘collective’ revenge films, in which several women band together and work-as-a-team or form vigilante groups. In these films, I am struck by the film’s representation of female solidarity and teamwork beyond friendship. Indeed, often the women do not like each other.

One of the earliest is “Act of Vengeance” (1974) (aka ‘Rape Squad’) in which five women, all victims of a serial rapist, start a rape crisis support group, and a vigilante squad.

“The Ladies Club” (1986). Various women come together to form a rape vigilante squad, with an unusual (and sometimes funny) method of punishment of rapists. Interesting, in that not all of the women are victims themselves, but are acting on behalf of other women and girls among their family or friends.

More recently, “A Gun For Jennifer (1996)”and “Chaos (2001)” also stand out of the crowd. In ‘A Gun for Jennifer’, the movie poster says it all: Dead Men Don’t Rape, as five women with a history of violence against abusive men (one killed her father for childhood incest when she was 15) band together. In ‘Chaos’ we see a diverse group of women band together, because well.. some of them have just had enough of the misogyny of even the nicest guys in their lives. Chaos has a lot of unique features, seamlessly combining serious feminist social commentary on prostitution and trafficking, with humour and crime thriller sub-plots.

Other notables include “No moriré sola (2008) (Argentina, aka I’ll Never Die Alone), where the two survivors of a four-girl group take revenge on all of the men who have abused them, and Tomboys (2009).

There are far more films made about individual women seeking revenge for their own abuse, and during the 1970s in particular, these “Rape-Revenge” films became a popular cult genre of the B-grade ‘grunge-house’ flicks, (aka ‘grindhouse’ or ‘exploitation’ genre films). Many are just B-porn/horror/blood&gore, but a few are exceptional, very angry, Furiously Female anti-male flicks.

Some were just so poorly made as films, that despite a strong premise, any message is lost in the appalling production standards eg Lipstick (1976). A number of more mainstream Hollywood-style films came into vogue beginning in the 1980s which tend to focus on women taking legal, or officially sanctioned revenge against male abusers through courts of law, or are otherwise presented to the audience sympathetically as morally justified or unofficially sanctioned. Examples include: “The Accused (1988), The Burning Bed (1984)“, “Extremities (1986)” and one of the most popular of the mainstream films of this type was “Thelma & Louise (1991)“.

By the 1990s, many of these mainstream Hollywood factory-fodder propaganda films had morphed into increasingly significant male-assisted plots. It seems women could no longer take action on their own, but need some form of male approval, even if only as supporting justification after-the-event. Examples include “Sleeping with the Enemy (1991)”, “Dolores Claiborne (1995)” and “Enough (2002) ”. Some variations on this theme, include women taking revenge for violence against a male relative, husband or boyfriend eg “The Brave One” (2007). Outside of the popular Hollywood studio films, the situation is somewhat better, both in Independent (non-corporate studio) films and from non-English speaking countries.

Some notables (Ihave more than this) in my favourites list in rough chronological order:
Thriller – en grym film (1974) Sweden (aka Thriller: A Cruel Picture)
Madeleine (Christina Lindberg), is sexually assaulted when she is 5, and the trauma leaves her mute. When she is a teenager, she accepts a ride from a man who makes her a heroin addict, and then becomes her pimp. At one point, she is stabbed in the eye for refusing a client, becoming the infamous “Pirate” with a black eye-patch. She starts buying weapons, taking classes in driving, shooting, etc. to finally take revenge on all those who have wronged her.

I Spit on Your Grave (1978) USA (aka ‘Day of the Woman’)
About Jennifer, a writer who rents a place in upstate New York to finish her novel, attracting the attention of male locals. They catch Jennifer one day in the woods and rape her. Jennifer is later raped again by the four men, and her draft novel is also destroyed. But as she slowly recovers, she then seeks revenge on the four men who raped her. One by one, bloody justice is served.

Män kan inte våldtas (1978) , Finland, (aka Men Can’t Be Raped )
An unusual drama , based on a novel. A 40-ish librarian is date-raped, but as she recovers from her shock over the incident, she contemplates what would constitute a similarly invasive humiliation for a man, asking herself the question, “can a man be raped [by a woman]?” Donning a good disguise, she begins to stalk him.

Ms .45 (1981) USA (aka ‘Angel of Vengeance’)
Paying homage to ‘Thriller’ (above), with its theme of silence (common in feminist films) a shy, mute woman working as a seamstress in NYC is raped twice in one day, and turns street vigilante in response.

Bandit Queen (1994) , India . On of my all-time favourites. True story of Phoolan Devi . Born poor, she was sold into marriage at 11, ran away – then gang-raped by the high-caste men of her home village, and exiled. She joined a group of mountain bandits, in time, becoming their leader. Sent to prison in 1983 (for the massacre of the village men who had gangraped her), and freed in 1994. Hounded by police for years, but honoured by the press (as a modern female Robin Hood), she later entered Indian politics, but was assassinated in 2001.

Freeway (1996) USA. The poor girl’s ‘Hard Candy’. A twisted take on ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ story. A teenage girl on the run from her social worker, hitchhikes to her grandmother’s house and picked up by a charming man, who happens to be a serial killer/pedophile.

Freeze Me , Japan, (2000)
Japan, and other Asian countries, have a lot more in the female kick-butt action genre, including the woman’s-revenge sub-genre. But they tend to be far more gruesome, and probably deserve a post all their own. Some end up as very watered-down Hollywood remakes. So only a couple have been listed here, Freeze Me, (aka ‘Freezer’), applies the ‘Revenge is a dish, best served cold’ to extreme lengths, as Chihiro murders her gang-rapists, one after the other, storing their corpses in freezers along the way.

Ek Hasini Thi (2004) , India (aka ‘There was a Beautiful Girl’). A great Indian film, Sarika is a young single office-worker living in Mumbai. She meets Karan, a dapper “stockbroker” who takes a fancy to her. Sarika, young and niave, is set up by Karan and wrongfully imprisoned for drug smuggling and imprisoned, where her personality undergoes a radical change; bent on revenge on all those responsible, with Karan at the top of her list.

Alexandra’s Project , Australia (2003) Revenge of the totally pissed off housewife Alexandra, tired of years of emotional abuse, takes her final revenge on her husband with a birthday ‘surprise’ he’ll never forget. Look out for lots of cool metaphors too, with the locks, as in “marriage-as-prison”.

Hard Candy (2005), USA . Gripping psychological thriller, as the girl plays cat-and-mouse with the pedophile.

Chinjeolhan geumjassi (2005) , South Korea, (aka ‘Lady Vengeance’). Lee Geumja, leaves prison after serving 13 years for child-kidnap and murder. Framed and blackmailed by the man who really did it, (and continued to do it to others) she swears vengeance, as hell as knoweth no fury like a woman who’s really (really) angry . A long film, it covers the long years Geumja spent planning, recruiting the help of a large number of characters she met in prison.

Updated 22 Jan to add:
Sweet Karma (2009) – Canada
The film takes place within the world of the illegal sex trade in Toronto.  Karma, is a shy mute Russian girl (the silent, mute woman has become a standard trope of female revenge films), and believes her sister who was sucked into being trafficked from eastern Europe, has been killed.  Karma then infiltrates the prostitution ring to seek revenge, arriving in Toronto with a new batch of trafficked girls.  This film is totally gripping, and the performances are extraordinary, even just as a crime thriller right through several tense twists and turns, with a very powerful ending.

Next post, will be the spin-off of this category – but those with more generic themes about male rape-culture, rather than specific events.

13 thoughts on “Women’s ‘Revenge’ Films

  1. Have added an update, I had forgotten “Sweet Karma” 2009 from Canada.
    Sweet Karma pays homage to ‘Ms .45′, so if you liked that film, you’ll probably like Sweet Karma, which has been modernised, placed in the context of globalised sex-trade trafficking.

  2. There’s always The Woman Avenger, a kung fu movie from the 1980s starring Hsia Kwan Li as a woman who takes down her rapists one by one. I like that film, although it isn’t unproblematic for me (if that makese sense)

    • Yes, the Woman Avenger is in my ‘Women-in-Action’ list :) As for being problematic, methinx they all are. I deliberately didn’t say ‘feminist’ for that reason.

  3. I watched Tomboys and it really did not do it for me. The anger was directed at the ‘dick’. Personally, I think if they had cut off his head and put it on a stick that that would have been more satisfying. You know the dick in the head. Where I live in Canada there was a war between white exploiters and First Nations. The warriors of the First Nations cut off the dicks of their enemies and stuffed them in their mouths. The image of a head on a stick with a dick in his mouth I think would have satisfied my revenge fantasies alot more.Of course that movie would never be made. There is something wrong with the ideological structure of movies. Oh yeah, I forgot. Men own them.

    • Not one of my favourites either, tho’ I still think its interesting and worth including in this genre. I’m most interested in how women/girls relate to each other – thats why I prefer films about women-in-groups, they are the rarest of all.

      Tomboys has been there for ages, anyway. Time it was archived. Might replace it with better ones, or find links for other films which may already be available. I have some holidays coming up, may find time for more blogging/uploading etc.

  4. One of my favorite genres as well. I’m so happy to have found you!! (I thought I was the only radical feminist left standing.) May I recommend A Question of Silence? It’s a Dutch film from the early 80s, in which three women, all strangers to each other, attack a man in a retail clothing store and beat him to death when he confronts one of them for shoplifting. Their subsequent trial and psychiatric evaluations are fascinating, as is the response of the spectators in the courtroom. On the one hand, you can’t quite figure out why they did it, and on the other hand, every woman alive probably knows why they did it. I’d be really interested in your take on the movie.

    • technocrone: Thanks for the interest :) By way of background, I have 800+ films in my home collection, and I’m always collecting more. But, yes I have a ‘Question of Silence’ (which is loaded on Youtube I think), which is the first in a trilogy by Marleen Gorris. I also have her second film ‘Gebroken Spiegels (Broken Mirrors) uploaded elsewhere. They are in my “Message Films” Category, as they have strong feminist messages that are broader than just stories about female payback as my “revenge movies” category does (and my favourites are where the women win! Yay! Others are in ‘Surviving Rape Culture’ but the women don’t win so much there). I’m currently working on blogging about ‘Women-in-Action-2 – Crime’, and also “lesbians’ category.

  5. Fantastic list. I haven’t seen quite a few of them and am adding them to my queue. Saw HARD CANDY recently and definitely recommend it, and FREEWAY is one of my absolute favorite movies. Thanks for commenting on my blog and leading me over to yours.

  6. Wow. I just bookmarked this list. I’m a fan of the revenge genre, but I haven’t seen almost any of these films.

    I second A Question of Silence. It’s a classic, though almost impossible to find except on VHS. If it’s on YouTube, though, that’s fantastic!

    Also The Brave One is a revenge film starring Jody Foster. It’s gotten due criticism though, because most of the men Foster gets revenge on are black.

    • Thanks woj :)
      “A Question of Silence” (1982) is on my own channel on Youtube at:

      Marleen Gorris’s second film in the trilogy “Broken Mirrors” (1984) is online in full at: http://www.radfemspeak.org/Archives/
      (may need to scroll down). This film has too much violence for Youtube, and is a very powerful anti-pros/porn film.

      A later blog post will list these films and others, under ‘feminist message’ films, as I don’t categorise these as “revenge” films, but as “message” films.

      I did mention the Brave One, amonsgt several others, as one of the “popular” pop-culture hollywood movies, but not one of my favourites – as I don’t particularly like the male involvement/permission, or presentation of ‘Nice-Guys’ as secondary characters, in main(malestream) films.

      Nonetheless, I do mention them in passing because I appreciate how many women liked them, and know of them being so well-known – I just don’t happen to like them myself, and am not going to blog about them, OK :)

      QUOTE from my post:

      Some were just so poorly made as films, that despite a strong premise, any feminist message is lost in the appalling production standards eg Lipstick (1976). A number of more mainstream Hollywood-style films came into vogue beginning in the 1980s which tend to focus more on women taking legal, or officially sanctioned revenge against male abusers through courts of law, or are otherwise presented to the audience sympathetically (and supported by sympathetic males) as morally justified or unofficially sanctioned by patriarchy. Examples include: “The Accused (1988), “The Burning Bed (1984)“, “Extremities (1986)” and one of the most popular of the mainstream films of this type was “Thelma & Louise (1991)“.

      By the 1990s, many of these mainstream Hollywood factory-fodder propaganda films had morphed into increasingly significant male-assisted plots. It seems women could no longer take action on their own, but need some form of male approval, even if only as supporting justification/rationalisation after-the-event. Examples include “Sleeping with the Enemy (1991)”, “Dolores Claiborne (1995)” and “Enough (2002) ”. Some variations on this theme, include women taking revenge for violence against a male relative, husband or boyfriend eg “The Brave One” (2007). Outside of the popular Hollywood studio films, the situation is somewhat better, both in Independent (non-corporate studio) films and from non-English speaking countries.

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