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.