Rape and revenge

From Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

Rape and revenge
Years active1970s - present
LocationInternational; started in Sweden and United States
Major figuresI Spit on Your Grave, Irréversible, The Virgin Spring
InfluencesEuropean art cinema, Exploitation film
InfluencedFeminist film, New French Extremity

Rape and revenge, or rape-revenge, is a horror film subgenre characterized by an individual enacting revenge for rape or other sexual acts committed against them. Rape and revenge films are commonly thrillers or vigilante films.

Notable for its graphic depiction of violence, rape, torture, and sexual imagery, rape and revenge films have attracted critical attention and controversy, often gaining a cult following and retrospectively associated with the New French Extremity, underground cinema, and arthouse cinema.[1][2][3][4]

Themes and characteristics[edit]

"Rape and revenge" was the pioneer and, so far, most controversial film hybrid-genre of the mid-20th century that focuses on the main protagonist. It has pioneered and is considered controversial for the portrayal of female (main) characters who become anti-hero(s)/vigilante(s) that engage in a vicious plot to eliminate the perpetrator/rapist(s) who have harmed them. There is some debate as to whether or not the revenge must be carried out by the assault victim to be considered part of this genre, or if it may be carried out by their loved ones as well [citation needed].

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.[5]


The genre stems from a fascination with revenge in western culture, beginning with the descriptive tragedies of the Greeks and continuing in Elizabethan England (by Thomas Kyd and William Shakespeare). This desire for revenge or to experience revenge has also been the catalyst of many horror films and novels in general, not just those dealing with sexual assault and rape.

The hybrid-genre's most well known and well labeled works are from the latter half of the 20th century, except the 1931's film A Woman Branded, which is about a woman who was raped and contracted venereal disease and seeks revenge on the man who raped her. It is possibly considered as the earliest precursor of the "rape and revenge" subgenre, retrospectively [citation needed].

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).[6]

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.[7]

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".[8][9] 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,[10] 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.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13][14]

Explanation of the subgenre[edit]

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.[15]

Notable films[edit]

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.[20] In retrospective years, the film renewed positively and expressed inspiration of several films, described as a relatively auspicious heritage to rape and revenge films.[21]

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.[1][2][3][4] 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".[22]

Rape and revenge films, like many horror films, cause controversy by making the audience complicit in the violence of the story. Because of this, both old and new films of the genre struggle with the balance of creating a realistic story that forces the audience to confront the horrifying reality, not putting so many horrifying things on the screen as to isolate your audience, and not making light or sexualizing the horrifying topics that do end up in the film.[23] 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.[24] 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."[25]

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.[26] 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".[27]

Despite this, the anime gained higher than average percentage of female viewers and novelist Rui Tsukiyo expressed their surprise on Twitter.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ a b Creed, B. (1993). The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-05259-9.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Gado, Frank (1986). The Passion of Ingmar Bergman. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 241. ISBN 0822305860.
  7. ^ Trädgårdsmästaren – Kommentar at the Swedish Film Institute (in Swedish)
  8. ^ "Wes Craven: the mainstream horror maestro inspired by Ingmar Bergman". The Guardian. 31 August 2015. Archived from the original on 29 September 2015.
  9. ^ "The Bergman Film That Inspired Wes Craven". The Criterion Collection. 3 September 2015. Archived from the original on 23 August 2022.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Tobias, Scott (2023-02-08). "Punishing rape-revenge drama Irréversible has been recut – but why?". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2023-08-18.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Ebert, Roger (2003-03-14). "Irreversible". Rogerebert.com. Retrieved 2010-01-25.
  16. ^ "13 Assassins (2010) - Takashi Miike - Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related". AllMovie.
  17. ^ "Savaged (2013) - Michael S. Ojeda - Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related". AllMovie.
  18. ^ a b c Schubart, Rikke (2007). Super Bitches and Action Babes. McFarland and Company Inc., Publishers. pp. 83–104. ISBN 9780786429240.
  19. ^ "Grave of the Vampire (1972) - John Hayes | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related". AllMovie.
  20. ^ "The 33rd Academy Awards (1961) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  21. ^ Heller-Nicholas 2011, p. 22.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ Henry, Claire (2014). Revisionist Rape-Revenge: Redefining a Film Genre. New York, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  24. ^ "'I Spit on Your Grave' Opposed on R Rating". The New York Times. February 1, 1984. Retrieved June 9, 2020.
  25. ^ Frentzen, Jeffrey (October 31, 1984). "I Spit on Your Grave". Fangoria. No. 39. pp. 14–18. Retrieved June 9, 2020.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ "The Winter 2021 Preview Guide - Redo of Healer". Anime News Network. Retrieved 2021-10-20.
  28. ^ "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.