RAPE-REVENGE FILMS: A CRITICAL STUDY

RAPE-REVENGE FILMS: A CRITICAL STUDY
Author: Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
Publisher: McFarland, 2011
Review by Kier-La Janisse

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It goes without saying if you have been following Spectacular Optical free sample pack of cialis (and the Fantasia blog as it was known before 2011) that the Rape-Revenge Film is a subgenre I find endlessly fascinating and challenging. The festival itself has hosted numerous films from the cycle (including the World Premieres of both Sweet Karma in 2009 and the remake of I Spit on Your Grave in 2010) often followed by lengthy, thought-provoking Q&A sessions with their visiting filmmakers. It is often through these screenings that issues surrounding feminism and the representation of women in genre films really gets hammered out most generic viagra soft tabs fulfillingly.

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’ starkly-titled The Rape-Revenge Film: A Critical Study is the newest addition to a rather limited catalogue of books exploring this daunting subject with any degree of objectivity. The most instantly striking thing about the book is her extensive filmography; I confess I did not expect her to be as thorough as she is. Many academic books on genre film limit themselves to well-known titles (with the odd obscurity they may have discovered accidentally), which conveys that, while their authors may present important critical or theoretical arguments, they don’t really enjoy the subject matter they are writing about[i]. Heller-Nicholas on the other hand, propecia uk no precription gets knee-deep into the genre, analysing both obscure international titles and mainstream crossovers that the average fan might not have considered part of the rape-revenge canon. For the latter – Tarantino’s Death Proof or Von Trier’s Dogville, for example – she makes her case effectively. She covers everything from William Wellman’s Safe in Hell (1931) to Ryan Nicholson’s Gutterballs (2008), and everything in between. It’s impressive.

Sweet Karma

The book is divided into four chapters: The Rape-Revenge Film Canon (which focuses on those films that are unanimously considered the most essential, including The Virgin Spring, Ms. 45, I Spit on Your Grave, Lipstick, The Accused and Extremities – the latter was a surprise[ii]), The Rape-Revenge Film Across Genres (beginning with the western viagra cialis online and moving through horror and MOW-type drama), The Rape-Revenge Film Around the World (exploring the cultural and historical context of rape-revenge in the films of Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Spain and Turkey) and The Contemporary Rape-Revenge Film.

This last chapter on contemporary rape-revenge films (and there are many, as she points out, belying the notion that the subgenre was predominantly a 70s phenomena) points out the notable recent trend of employing rape as revenge, including Descent (starring Rosario Dawson), I Spit on Your Grave (Stephen R. Monroe’s 2010 remake, which had its world premiere at Fantasia), Straightheads (starring X-Files’ Gillian Anderson as the avenger), One Way and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (specifically the original 2009 version). This chapter also contains the book’s most astutely funny commentary on a contemporary R-R film, in this case Jim Hemphill’s Bad Reputation (2005). In discussing Hemphill’s enchantment with Carol Clover’s seminal Men, Women & Chainsaws, Heller-Nicholas says: “That Hemphill’s way of paying his respects to Men, Women & Chainsaws is to have Michelle literally bludgeon a rapist to death with a copy of the book after she has raped him with a handful of pencils does not at first suggest a particularly rigorous intellectual engagement with Clover’s central arguments about cross-gender identification and the horror film.” This not only made me laugh out loud, but made me hanker to cheap generic cialis see this pencil-poking revenge, surely a first.

Gender is obviously a huge issue that these films have historically attempted to tackle, some less successfully than others, and Heller-Nicholson deliberately sets apart those films with male avengers. While rape-revenge is alternately called “the woman’s revenge picture”, films like Straw Dogs and Death Wish are about masculinity. The woman and her violation, while central to the propulsion of the plot, are not the major concerns here. Even Sudden Impact, which stars Sondra Locke as the avenger, is reliant on the dominance of Dirty Harry Callahan as a male counterpart to her female vigilante. And then there’s Deliverance, which is in a class of its own. As Heller-Nicholas points out, with the absence of a female character, male characters are feminized – in this case Ned Beatty’s chubby character Bobby, who is coded as the ‘other’ of the group by his physical dissimilarity to the others.

Straightheads

My only qualm with the book is that its academic format sometimes requires so many citations that it interrupts the flow of sentences. Frequent quotes from previous studies reveal the level of her research and assist in making her case, but those passages where she just speaks her own mind – as in her eloquent reading of the controversial Baise-Moi and her energetic investigation of the many post-Last House knock-offs – are where the book shines most. Of course her interplay with previous texts like Laura Mulvey’s foundational essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1972), Clover’s Men, Women & Chainsaws (1992), Barbara Creed’s Monstrous Feminine (1993), Jacinda Read’s The New Avengers: Feminism, Femininity and the Rape-Revenge Cycle (2000), Sarah Projansky’s Watching Rape: Film and Television in Post-Feminist Culture (2001), Susan Brownmiller’s inflammatory  Against Our Will: Men Women and Rape (1975) and countless magazine articles is imperative in asserting the authority of her own book, but sometimes paraphrasing in order to keep the narrative flowing might have been preferable to multiple mid-sentence quotes. I understand the need to give credit where credit is due, but there’s no doubt that it hampers the art of storytelling.

That said, the book is immensely readable despite this; I powered through it probably faster than any other academic book in recent memory. It comes with a hefty price tag -$45 for a softcover with few illustrations – but Heller-Nicholson’s book will stand the test of time as an integral reference for anyone interested in the genre, while emanating a contagious enthusiasm for her source material.

Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study can be ordered from McFarland at www.mcfarlandpub.com or 1-800-253-2187.

Sudden Impact


[i] I think this is changing as genre studies are becoming more legitimized in academic circles. Genre fans who are also academics no longer have to feel like they are ‘slumming it’ by focusing their work on genre films, so we are seeing a shift to fandom being more accurately represented in the academic ranks.

[ii] I am a big champion of Extremities but it has been largely overlooked by fans of the genre, which led to my (pleasant) surprise when deemed a canonical rape-revenge film here.

About the author:

Kier-La Janisse

Kier-La Janisse is a film writer and programmer, founder of Spectacular Optical Publications and The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies. She has been a programmer for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, co-founded Montreal microcinema Blue Sunshine, founded the CineMuerte Horror Film Festival (1999-2005) in Vancouver, was the Festival Director of Monster Fest in Melbourne, Australia and was the subject of the documentary Celluloid Horror (2005). She is the author of A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi (FAB Press, 2007) and House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films (FAB Press, 2012) and contributed to Destroy All Movies!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film (Fantagraphics, 2011), Recovering 1940s Horror: Traces of a Lost Decade (Lexington, 2014) The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul (University of Toronto Press, 2015) and We Are the Martians: The Legacy of Nigel Kneale (PS Press, 2017). She co-edited (with Paul Corupe) and published the anthology books KID POWER! (2014), Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s (2015), Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin (2017) and Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Television (2017). She edited the book Warped & Faded: Weird Wednesday and the Birth of the American Genre Film Archive (forthcoming), and is currently co-authoring (with Amy Searles) the book ‘Unhealthy and Aberrant’: Depictions of Horror Fandom in Film and Television and co-curating (with Clint Enns) an anthology book on the films of Robert Downey, Sr., as well as writing a monograph about Monte Hellman’s Cockfighter. She was a producer on Mike Malloy’s Eurocrime: the Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the ’70s and Sean Hogan’s We Always Find Ourselves in the Sea and her first film as director/producer, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror is due out from Severin Films in 2020.

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