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Is Revenge Sweet? My Thoughts on Rape Revenge Horror

I’ve talked about my feelings towards rape revenge films in previous posts (Revenge, The Perfection). It’s not a genre I’m exactly well-versed in since sexual assault and rape is something that I can’t really handle in film. There are exceptions (such as the posts I linked above), but overall it’s a genre I try to avoid. Recently, my sister watched I Spit on Your Grave which she thought I had recommended to her.

I can assure you, I never recommended I Spit on Your Grave.

I’ve never even seen I Spit on Your Grave.

I remember so vividly being in Family Video (which shout out to FV for holding on through all the streaming services, honestly) and seeing the cover of I Spit on Your Grave and having a gut reaction to it. If you’re unfamiliar let me paint you a word picture: a woman stands with her back to the camera, wearing a ripped and dirty t-shirt that is falling off one shoulder. She is not wearing anything on her bottom half aside from underwear which expose half her butt cheeks. We see only a quarter of the bottom half of her profile, and she holds a butcher knife with blood dripping off the blade. (You can also Google it if my word picture isn’t clear enough)

Even if you needed to head to Google for a clear idea of what this poster looks like, I hope that you at least were able to understand the issues with just that poster. The woman’s face is not even part of it. The primary focal point of the photo is her ass. The bloody knife is only there to let you know that at some point she will get inflict a little bit of pain. However, compare that to the Revenge poster. Let me paint another word picture: a young woman pointing a gun directly at the camera. She’s dirty, yes, and looks like she’s been through a lot…but she is not an object. She is the powerhouse of the picture, demanding all the attention and sending a pretty clear message that she is here to mess you up.

I don’t want to sit here and pit two films against each other. There are many people who love I Spit on Your Grave and I’m sure would argue that it, too, is a feminist revenge saga…but is it?

I know you’re probably wondering how on earth I can sit here and talk about rape revenge if I’ve seen such a small amount of the content out there, but rape in horror isn’t exclusive to just rape revenge films. There is a lot of sexual assault used in horror films, particularly the slasher/killer genres.

I’ve never liked to watch any media where rape is a major factor. There are films where rape is a side factor, or a backstory, but either isn’t on screen at all, or is done in a way that doesn’t make you feel gross. I’ve read the full synopsis of many movies to decide whether I can stomach the assault…with movies like I Spit on Your Grave or The Last House on the Left I have decided that I don’t want to put myself through the anxiety and the stomach ache just for a movie.

Basically I just want to address the issue with women and horror.

I’ve volleyed back and forth between whether or not horror is actually a feminist overall, or if it really is a female hating genre. I’ve done research, written papers, and presented paper at the Pop Culture Association 2019 conference all about women and their place in horror. So let me do some breaking down of my findings, my thoughts, and how those are contributing to my struggle with the rape revenge sub-genre.

The Virgin, The Whore, and The Crone

If you’re less aware of the tropes and the terms assigned to horror in academic study then this is the best place to start. There are three molds that women in horror tend to be put into:

The Virgin: I think this goes without explanation. In movies like Halloween, The Nightmare on Elm Street, or Prom Night the young girl who becomes the target of the masked killer is the girl that would be considered the “good-two-shoes”. Usually an actual virgin with friends who spend a decent amount of time in the movie having sex with no discretion. This girl tends to be the “final girl” which is another concept that could get it’s own post.
Basically, these movies equate virginity to value.

The Whore: Again, probably goes without saying. This is the best friend in The Nightmare on Elm Street who just wants to have sex with her high school boyfriend but instead ends up on the ceiling, bleeding out from her belly. You can take everything I said about the virgin and just flip it on it’s head, and that applies to the idea of the whore. Now, can you be a whore and survive?
Well…maybe in 2019? In classic horror there’s really no chance. The film The Cabin in the Woods even plays off of this trope. The character who was set assigned as “the virgin” wasn’t exactly a virgin, but as Sigourney Weaver says they had to “take what we can get”. Whore or slut or whatever term you want to use here is equated to wrongness. The virgin deserves to live…but the whore?

The Crone: This is a little bit of a wider birth of women. This is a woman who is no longer in her “prime” who is probably single, haggard, and usually in line with the old school ideas of Disney stepmothers or ugly witches in the woods. Usually she is bitter, waiting for some sort of revenge for something that happened long ago. Sometimes the crone is pitted against the virgin.

So, what am I saying by laying all this theory out?

Traditional rape revenge films usually position the woman as more innocent (*the virgin*), and we see her transform into a revenge seeking machine (*the crone*). To me, this all just demonizes sex and women’s sexuality. I mean it’s great to see a woman get revenge for what has happened to her, but typically there’s an hour of horrific torture the woman endures and then there’s 20-30 (or maybe less) of her getting her actual revenge. These movies tend to be written and directed by men…but you see a major shift when you look at a movie like Revenge or American Mary.

Revenge, which was directed by Coralie Fargeat, was the first rape revenge film I watched that didn’t leave me feeling sick and abysmal. Where movies like I Spit on Your Grave spend the majority of the movie torturing the woman, Revenge’s first 20-30 minutes is the set up, and the rape is only a short scene. Jenn’s, the woman who is raped, big conflict starts after the rape when her lover wants to pay her off so she won’t go to the police and turn in the man (a friend of his) who did the actual raping. There’s a chase through the gorgeous dessert where the film was shot where they try and take Jenn down, but that’s just the beginning.

The rest of the film is the saga of Jenn turning into, essentially, a superhero who survives being impaled on a rotting tree, the harsh dessert conditions, and various other physical traumas. Jenn’s fight isn’t just for revenge, but for survival.

American Mary is another rape revenge film that breaks the mold of the traditional framework. The film follows Mary, a medical student who is invited to a part by a surgeon she is doing her residency under where she is raped and the men film the horrible act. Before the entire party and rape even happens Mary tries to get a job stripped in order to help pay for her schooling, but when she is at the club the owner offers her $5,000 to sew up a man with a wound that clearly came from some sort of illegal activity. After that Mary is found by a stripper from the club and asked to perform an extreme body modification on a friend of hers.

After Mary is raped, she drops out of her surgical residency and starts doing illegal and extreme body modification surgeries. She kidnaps the man surgeon who raped her and keeps him alive in a storage unit where she practices her surgeries. The revenge part of this movie is less important to the story than Mary’s descent into crime and the brutal surgeries she performs. Mary doesn’t start doing the body modification surgeries because of the rape – she has that inside of her the whole time. The film is written and directed by sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska, showing that female led rape revenge tends to be less brutal towards the woman, and deeper than just brutalizing a poor defenseless woman.

The final film I want to talk about as an example of rape revenge done right is The Perfection. Now I just put up a whole post about this film, so I don’t want to spend too much time on it, but it does break the thread of female directed rape revenge. It was directed by Richard Shepherd, but one of the three writers that worked on the script was a woman (Nicole Snyder). There is no actual on-screen rape in The Perfection and the only actual on screen sex scene is between Allison Williams and Logan Browning who play Charlotte and Lizzie, respectively. It surrounds a school for young and promising cellists where the headmaster and teachers have, essentially, a sex cult. The elite students at the school are allowed to play in the acoustically perfect “chapel”…but if they make mistakes, they are raped or sexually abused as penance by the men of the school.

Charlotte wants to save Lizzie, and by the end of the film you realize the entire plot has been leading up to the torture of the headmaster. This film focuses so little on the actual rape, and yet is a rape revenge film. It’s a wild ride, but will leave you feeling much more empowered than sympathetic.

So what is my point in all of this?

Basically – be more critical of the rape revenge that is being put out. Look at it carefully and determine whether or not the purpose is to empower the female characters and show the women as warriors…or is it just a way for men to hide their objectification and their brutalization of women? Personally I think rape is the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to scaring people. Of course every woman is automatically scared when rape is involved because it is something we all have to worry about it our day-to-day life.

Of course, it is up to each individual person to determine their feelings towards any given movie. Just because I think movies like I Spit on Your Grave or The Last House on the Left are exploitative and too brutal to be feminist doesn’t mean that everyone will or has to have that same opinion. It is just something I have taken the time to sit and think about. This is totally my thoughts and opinions coupled with the basic research I have done thus far. My goal is to do some farther academic research and see what is out there, but for now I’ll leave you with these thoughts and feelings.

What do you think about rape revenge as a sub genre?


Blood-n-Guts Female Horror Netflix Original Psychological Scares

The Perfection – Revenge Done Right (SPOILERS)

*Trigger warning for sexual assault and rape*

On May 24, 2019 Netflix added it’s newest horror thriller, The Perfection, starring Allison Williams and Logan Browning as prodigy cellists who are now adults and dealing with trauma. I know more and more of my reviews are requiring some spoilers, but honestly I think that says a lot about the sophistication of horror right now. The more intricate the storytelling is, the more difficult it is to discuss without some spoilers; and this is a movie that requires some spoilers to discuss.

So, if you want to go watch the film before reading my review I will say this: it is not what you are expecting, and that’s all I can say without giving things away.

And spoilers in…




So if you’re still here I’m assuming you’ve already watched it, or you don’t mind spoilers, so here we go:

Charlotte was a student at the Bachoff school for promising young cellists who had to leave school when her mother became terminally ill. Now a grown woman, Charlotte reaches back out to the head of the school to re-join them after her mother dies. When she meets Anton and his wife Paloma in Shanghai where they are recruiting new students, Charlotte meets the newest pride of Bachoff, Lizzie. The two instantly have sexual chemistry as well as immense professional respect for each other, and their night ends in a sexual encounter….and that’s when things get really insane.

When they wake up after their night together, Lizzie is visibly ill and tells Charlotte how bad she feels. Charlotte and Lizzie both chalk it up to a bad hangover, but as their day progresses and they begin the trip Lizzie planned things get progressively worse. Lizzie throws up what appears to be bugs, and they are kicked off the bus, and once off the bus Lizzie hallucinates bugs underneath her skin. Charlotte gives her a cleaver, and Lizzie chops off her own hand in order to save herself from what’s inside of her.


I would absolutely categorize this movie as a psychological rape revenge horror film. I know that sounds like a lot of descriptors, but it all works together so well. I’ve said before that I don’t tend to do well with rape in films (check out my post about the film Revenge), but this is no typical rape revenge film. It slowly is revealed that the men who work and run Bachoff have been using their students to fulfill their twisted sexual desires…and yes, when they are children.

Quickly (or maybe not actually so quickly, but it FEELS like break neck speed) we’re thrown into what we think is going to be revenge against Charlotte, but what really ends up being a plot to take down the monster that runs the school. Charlotte is brought back to the school and put in the “sanctuary” where the men make their “star students” play extremely complex pieces for them, and then rape them if they make mistakes. There is a “religious” implication to what the headmaster says in Charlotte’s flashbacks – that playing perfectly honors the gods, and in lieu of perfect playing sex fills that role.

Fucked up right?

Well, the film then does a total 180 again and we find out that Lizzie is working with Charlotte who had drugged Lizzie with a hallucinogen so she would cut off her hand and no longer be able to play the cello…effectively breaking her ties to the school. Lizzie and Charlotte appear to be in love, and by the end of the film they have totally destroyed the man who tried to destroy them.

So let’s chat about the actual mechanics of the movie:

First of all, it’s NUTS. It is absolutely buck wild and there’s no ifs, ands, or buts about that. Objectively, I don’t think it’s a very good movie when it comes to the actual technical side of the movie, and even the pacing is a little weird…but by golly if it’s not absolutely enamoring, then I am a field mouse. The appeal of the film is the utter absurdity and mayhem caused by two (queer) women, one of whom is a WOC and they’re taking down the patriarchy in their life. It is really beautifully shot, and both Logan Browning (Lizzie) and Allison Williams (Charlotte) give incredible performances. It is the type of psychological horror that you think about for weeks afterwards.

Be careful, it isn’t for the faint of heart.

In general I don’t tend to watch rape revenge films. Recently, my sister watched I Spit on Your Grave and was convinced I’d been the one who recommended it to her…but I’ve never seen the film, nor do I intend on watching it. A friend had Last House on the Left on a list of horror movies to watch this October and I told her that, while it was totally fine if she and other friends in our group wanted to watch it, but I didn’t think I could watch it with them. Rape and sexual assault is one of the few things I can’t stomach in horror, not to mention I think it’s truly the lowest hanging fruit to scare women…but both The Perfection and Revenge focus on the women turning into superheroes and taking down the men who hurt them quickly and brutally within the first 30 minutes or so. Movies like I Spit on Your Grave or Last House on the Left focus primarily on the brutality against the women for the majority of the movie and their revenger for the LAST 30 minutes or less, and that is why I choose to not watch them.

If I’m going to watch a movie in which women are brutalized, then I want the majority of the film to focus on them becoming badasses that cut off dicks and murder the men that did it.

This film doesn’t have actual on-screen rape scenes, but that doesn’t make it any less disturbing…especially when you consider the fact that both Charlotte and Lizzie have been at Bachoff since they were small girls, and they both were seen as “special” when they were between 10 and 13 years old. Charlotte’s character is unbelievably resilient, and the fact that she was able to break free of the hold the school had on her and then help Lizzie break free of them as well shows that the writers were concerned with building strong female characters. Unlike a lot of movies where a man saves a woman…not only is a woman the one doing the saving, but a queer woman saving the woman she has fallen in love with.

Is it a little damsel in distress-y? Yes.

Do I care? No.

I love a good lesbian relationship that’s not just there for the benefit of the straight men in the film or audience. Lizzie and Charlotte fall in love (granted, over shared trauma), and help save each other.

This movie just helps further prove the lack of queer representation in horror, and honestly the lack of feminism in the genre as well. We need more characters like Charlotte and Lizzie, and preferably not only in rape revenge.

Have you seen The Perfection? What were your thoughts? Were you as obsessed with it as I was?

The Perfection IMDB

The Perfection Wiki

The Perfection Trailer 

Logan Browning IMDB

Allison Williams IMDB