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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?


Creative Work



*Note: This story was published with The NoSleep podcast in season 12 ep. 12. Please go give them support and love! They are a wonderful outlet for horror writers and voice actors, and has created a community and space for those of us who enjoy writing the dark things. This story happened to be read by Addison Peacock who is one of the co-hosts from The Cryptid Keeper Podcast which I wrote my first mini-post about!


I hit my steering wheel and let out a groan of frustration as my GPS once again desperately searched for the proper path to lead me down.

“Come on!”  I yelled at it, refraining from smacking the small machine mounted on my dash.  “What the hell?”

I was driving back to school after a spring break spent at home, and for some reason I had the bright idea to choose the “faster route available” my GPS had told me about.  Now, I was driving down a country road with cornfields on both sides of me and not another car in sight.

“Recalculating, recalculating.”  My GPS’s fake British voice said again.  

I took a deep breath, gripping my steering wheel harder and trying to calm myself down.  In moments like this it was easy for me to get too worked up, and I knew that wouldn’t get me less lost.  The small arrow that represented me on the GPS screen was spinning around, and I groaned again in frustration. I took a deep breath and grabbed my phone, using speed dial to call my roommate.  The phone rang, and rang. Julia never answered her phone the first time; she sucked at having a phone all together, really. I let the first call go through to her voicemail before dialing again and waiting patiently.

The phone picked up, and Julia sounded out of breath and hurried.

“Yes, hello, hi, what’s up?”

“Hey…so…I’m lost.”  I said, fearing the onslaught of teasing I knew what coming.

“You’re lost?  What the fuck dude, how are you lost!?  You make this drive all the time!” I heard the humor in her voice and she laughed.  

“I don’t know…my GPS said there was a way to “save ten minutes” but then it started freaking out and it keeps recalculating and I’ll drive two blocks one way and then it recalculates again, and then again and I’m gonna throw it out the window!”  

“Wow, Jackie, calm down sweetie.”  Julia laughed lightly. “Can you like…pull over somewhere and try sending me your location?  I can google map you and maybe we can figure out where you are.”

I took a deep breath and looked around me, trying to determine the best place to pull over.

“Okay, okay, yeah I’ll try that…”
There was a small gravel area up the road a ways, and to the right side of the pavement where I imagined police would lie in wait for unsuspecting teens racing down the dark country roads at night.  I pulled over and I heard the sound of gravel underneath my tires. I threw my car in to park and sighed.

“Okay, hang on.”  I put the phone on speaker and went in to Julia’s contact.  

“Okay, yeah just try and dr-…pe–..get–..ho-“

Static started to overtake Julia’s voice and I felt my forehead crease.

“Jules?  Jules, hello?”  I took the phone off speaker and pressed it against my ear.  

“J– ck-“  

The line went dead and a message popped up, accompanied by a beep, alerting me to the loss of my cell service.  I let out a groan of frustration, throwing my phone down on the passenger seat and hitting my steering wheel again.  The small arrow on my GPS that represented me spun around one last time and stopped dead, the line that stretched out in front of it on the screen lit up blue and I gasped in anticipation.

“Proceed to the route.”  

“Alright, listen up.”  I glared at the screen inlaid in the dash of my car.  “You gotta stop being such an ass and get me home already, alright?  I’ll stop cussing at you if you start doing your job.”

I closed my eyes, trying to let all the negative energy out of my body and calm myself before getting back on to the road.  I followed the blue line on the map, and let out a sigh of relief when it didn’t start to once again recalculate.
“In one mile, turn left.”  

A stop sign was approaching, and I rolled to a stop.  There were no other cars around, so I sat there for a moment and took in my unfamiliar surroundings to try and shake the feeling of uneasiness I had in my stomach.  

“Turn left.”

I flicked on my turn signal and turned my car on to what was now a dirt road.  My GPS seemed happy with the way we were going.

“Continue for three point five miles.”

I took a deep breath, settling against the back of my seat and relaxing a little bit.  This was the first time it hadn’t recalculated after thirty seconds of driving. My shoulder muscles relaxed, and I actually let myself flip on the CD player in my car.  Show tunes filled my car and I sang along softly, glancing down at my GPS screen every now and then to ensure that it was still working. When I reached the end of the 3.5 miles it instructed me to turn right, and I drove between two cornfields for another two miles.  Then I came to a small tunnel. It was one of those industrial tunnels made of solid concrete where people definitely came to shoot up at night, and where you wouldn’t want to be caught dead as a woman when the sun went down.

The flat, dingy concrete that stretched out on either side of the tunnel opening was covered in spray paint, and as I approached I involuntarily slowed my car till I was sitting completely still about 10 yards back from the tunnel.  There was something that made me uneasy about the path that my GPS was leading me down. The tunnel must have taken a turn somewhere, because I couldn’t quite see what was on the other side.

“Proceed on the route.”  My GPS said to me.

I turned down my show tunes a tad, and tried to rid myself of the feeling in my chest.

“Come on, Jackie…it’s literally a fucking tunnel.”

I looked at the graffiti that adorned the concrete, and I saw faint etchings above the mouth of the tunnel that I tried to make out, letting my car roll forward a few feet.  All I could see were the vague etchings of unfamiliar figures. The figured were hidden in places by spray paint, and I shook my head to clear it before taking a deep breath and pressing on the gas.  My car moved forward, and into the tunnel.

It was dark.

It seemed like the minute the tail end of my car entered the tunnel, I was swallowed in complete darkness.  I hesitated for a moment, car barely rolling forward, until my automatic lights flicked on. The inside of the tunnel was bizarrely devoid of graffiti, but about fifty feet in the walls had giant cracks running down them.  There were gouges as though someone had used a scythe to and scraped it down the concrete. The foreboding feeling in my chest was growing stronger, and I anxiously checked my gas gage to make sure I wasn’t in danger of running out.  I still had half a tank, which made me feel better…if only slightly.

My CD started to skip, and the display screen on the stereo blinked.  I felt my forehead scrunch, and I tapped the screen. There was no reason for my stereo to be affected by my environment…in a tunnel or not.  I turned it off and on, and when it came back on the CD played just fine again. I cleared my throat, trying to ignore the ever growing anxiety.

When I saw the small circle of light up ahead I pressed on the gas, watching my speed go from thirty five to nearly fifty to get out of the tunnel as quickly as possible. My reliable little compact emerged from the tunnel, and in to a suddenly gray day.  It looked like I was driving through a remote little town, but there seemed to be little to no evidence of human activity. To my left was an extensive, empty field of yellowed grass. Up to the right hand side there was a small gas station with a singular pump that looked like it may have never been used.  Shoebox sized houses lined each side of the road. A couple of the houses had bikes leaning against their sides. Each house, however, almost seemed to have never been lived in…or at least not lived in for several decades.

Rain drops started to splash on my windshield; big, fat, heavy drops.  

“Continue five hundred feet.”  My GPS said.

I came to a stop at a stop sign, and looked around.  There wasn’t a single car in sight: not in a driveway, not parked on the street…there wasn’t a car anywhere.  The anxiety in my chest spiked, and I turned on to the street my GPS indicated. At the end of the road there was a large, looming building that looked like it might be a school building.  

“In four hundred feet, arrive at your destination.”  

My throat tightened, and I stopped my car just before the parking lot.  There, twenty feet from my car, was a small huddled figure. When it moved, I saw a glimpse of pigtails and I realized in horror that it was a little girl.  For a brief moment, my anxiety dissipated and the deep down maternal instinct that I was pretty sure every woman had kicked in. I quickly got out of my car, leaving my door open and the engine running.  The rain was slowing down, and through the soft drops I heard soft sobbing. I pulled the cardigan I was wearing closer around me, and walked slowly toward the little girl.

“Sweetie..?  Are you okay?”  I stopped two yards back from her to make sure I didn’t startle her, a small girl our in the rain crying was clearly in a lot of trouble and I wanted to make sure that she knew I was safe.  She wore what looked like a school uniform, a white polo shirt that was wet from the rain and a pleated black skirt. “Sweetheart, where are your parents? Do you need help?”

The girl said nothing, continuing to cry softly.

I felt my stomach tighten slight, the anxiety of before returning slowly, but it fought with my instincts to help this small girl.  Slowly, I closed the gap between us and gently laid a hand on her shoulder.

“Honey, let me take you home…I can help-”

My words caught in my throat as she, no it, turned to look at me.

The thing didn’t have a face.  There were flesh covered, empty eye sockets and no nose.  Its mouth was too big, filled with needle like rows of teeth.  What should have been lips were nothing more than ragged flaps of flesh that oozed something black and tar-like.  I stumbled back several steps, nearly falling but managing to keep my feet underneath me. The things maw opened, its jaw stretching farther than should ever be possible for anything human or otherwise.  I watched in horror, frozen to the spot as its jaw unhinged and a horrifying, guttural scream filled the air. The scream was deep, but high pitched at the same time. The noise sent waves of nausea over me.  It was unlike anything, anything I had ever heard.  It was worse than sounds from my worst nightmares, a sound that should never exist in our world.  

It drew a disgusting, flem covered breath and screamed again.  

Underneath me the earth shuttered, and the side of the building up ahead exploded.  From within emerged a creature like something out of the darkest, most disturbing mythology I’d ever read.  It had arms that were boney and ragged strips of flesh hung from exposed bone, and they ended in huge claws.  I now knew what made those giant gouges in the cement of the tunnel. It didn’t have eyes, but somehow it knew where I was and angled it’s huge skeletal body toward me.  Its body had too many angles and joints, and its whole body oozed the same black goo that came from the girl like creature’s mouth.

It felt like things were moving in slow motion, but then everything snapped in to sharp clear focus and I turned and ran back to my car.

The big creature was as tall as the school building, and it started skittering toward me like a cross between a lizard and a spider in the way it moved.  It screeched in the same way that the girl like creature had, but louder…so much louder.  It was deafening, and before I got in to my car my body betrayed me and I heaved onto the pavement.  Bile burned my nose and my throat was raw, but I wasted no time as I threw myself in to the car.

I threw my car into reverse and shot backwards toward the main road.  My tires screeched as I whipped around and pointed my car back towards the tunnel.  I slammed the gear shift back to drive and stomped on the gas, the pedal hitting the floor.  I heard the scream of the creature again and I tried to hold back vomit as my brain rattled in my skull. My eyes flicked to my rearview mirror and the creature was too close; it flung itself down the road, destroying houses as it went.  It felt like the tunnel was farther away than it had been when I entered the horrible place. Now, as I flew down the street, it wasn’t empty anymore. From the houses that weren’t destroyed yet emerged creatures like the girl like one I had first seen.  They were various sizes, all of them with the same horrible mouths and eyeball-less sockets.

I heard the screech of metal, and a scream tore out of me as I saw the creatures clow scrape my trunk in the back window.  

“COME ON, COME ON!”  I screamed at my car, slamming my hands on the steering wheel.  “What the fuck, what the FUCK!?” With one last ditch effort I pulled my foot back and slammed on to the gas pedal.  My little car shuttered, but the speedometer needle finally reached the 120 mark.

The tunnel was in sight, and I felt myself explode in to tears as I sobbed and screamed and beat the steering wheel.  I looked back into the rearview mirror and I saw it’s bony, dripping arm reach out and make contact with my car once again.  I saw my speedometer dropping fast and I screamed.


I turned my wheel violently to one side and with the most horrible shriek from the creature I freed my car from its grasp, but I couldn’t hold down the bile anymore and I vomited down my front.  It didn’t even phase me, my car flew into the tunnel and my headlights flipped on. I couldn’t see behind me, but I could hear the thing behind me. I heard it’s claws on the concrete walls, and the sound of giant chunks being torn from the walls.  I heard its disgusting shrieking and I vomited again. The scrapes on the wall were getting less and less deep as I went, and suddenly the walls were smooth again, merely cracked with age. I heard the shrieking of the creature fading in to the distance.

My car burst out of the tunnel.

I kept driving.

I drove until my car ran out of gas and then I got out of my car and I ran until I couldn’t run anymore.


I woke up in the back of an ambulance.  My skin was cracked from sunburn, my throat was dry from dehydration.  The paramedics were poking and prodding me, and I passed out again. The next time I woke up I was in a hospital bed and Julia was asleep in the chair in the corner, and my mom and dad were coming back in to the room.

“Oh sweet Lord.”  My mom said, rushing to the side of my bed.  “Jackie, oh my God…baby…” She grabbed my hand and kissed my knuckles, and the backs of my hands, and my cheeks, and my forehead.  Her eyes were filling with tears. “Oh thank God.”

“You really had us scared, kiddo.”  My dad said, always the most stoic one in the family.  

“What…what happened?”
I knew what had happened in that town.  I remembered it all. I had been having nightmares about it the entire time I was unconscious, trapped in a never ending loop of shrieking creatures and brain rattling pain.  

“You didn’t make it back to school…Julia called the police…”  My mom sat on the edge of my bed and my dad came to the otherside, kissing the top of my head and putting a hand on my mom’s shoulder.  “Someone from a nearby town drove by you and thankfully called 911…because Julia had called, they had a record of the report and called me and your father.”

“Sweetie, what happened?”  My dad asked. “They found your car and it…”  He trailed off and I knew it was because whatever he was going to say next would sound crazy out loud…just as my story would.

I was saved from answering when the doctor came in.

I had suffered from exposure.  They told me they didn’t know how long I was outside before I was found, but I was severely sunburned and totally dehydrated.  My mom and dad finally left to get dinner, and Julia had to get back to school. I was in the hospital for three days, and when they let me out I went home with my parents.

I haven’t driven my car since, unable to stomach the idea of going anywhere that would require guidance other than my own familiarity and memory.

At night, I could still hear the shrieks of that creature and I could hear my GPS in my dreams saying over and over again: Recalculating.


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