The Rape/Revenge genre of horror is one that tends to court the most controversy. As a sub genre of the Exploitation film concept that had it’s hey day in the 70’s and 80’s with films like Ms. 45 and Day of the Woman, it’s currently enjoying a comeback courtesy of watered down big budget remakes such as Last House on the Left.
Some would say that the graphic nature of the actual rape scenes that feature in these sort of movies is revelled in a little too much and is offensive to women, while others fly the flag for the ‘Feminist Slasher’ movement, arguing that these films are tales of redemption and retribution, promoting the female as an admirable heroine, as the victim claws back her power from the attackers.
The fact is rape is a nasty subject – it’s not pretty, or glossy or something that anyone particularly enjoys watching (unless they are y‘know, a pervert), but it is also a harsh reality of humanity that has been portrayed in books, plays, and on screen since the birth of the creative arts, and why?
Because it happens, that’s why.
That’s not to say that I would ever say the situations that occur in the Rape/Revenge horror are particularly realistic – mostly the women are portrayed as sexy but stupid, and the men, redneck, two dimensional inbreds, with not so much a family tree as a stick, but I think that adds a little bit of comfort to the viewer, because I know when I’m watching one of these movies I’m thinking ‘Yeah I’d be pretty dumb to go camping on my own in the backwoods of America, and swan around in a bikini to lure in the yokels.’ One, because I don’t look good in a bikini (they are a privilege not a right), and two, because my mama didn’t raise no fool.
Based on a Swedish legend of the same name and set in 14th century, Karin, the daughter of a rich farmer, is raped and murdered by goat herding brothers (yep, not a phrase you hear often) on her way to church one Friday. The men later turn up at the same family’s farm begging for food and shelter from the girls father, and after brazenly sitting down with their victims parents for supper they offer the dead girl’s blood stained silk, as a thank you (and the worlds stupidest idea award goes to ..)., so Mom and Dad decide to show the boys exactly what they can do with their gift by showing them the unfriendly end of a sword .
Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring was the inspiration for the 1972 film Last House On the Left, but aside from the similar plot (give or take a few centuries), Craven’s version doesn’t compare in anyway to the beautiful and genuinely heartbreaking portrayal of a parents worst nightmare.
Someone that watches this film and judges it on the rape scene has missed the point entirely, and probably only owns two Dvds, both of them featuring Jim Carey (if my eyes and ears could go to the cop shop and report that guy for visual and audio rape then believe me he would be wearing a lovely orange jumpsuit right about now). It is the epitome of horror, without graphic violence or nudity. This is the slow creeping horror, of knowing that something terrible and life altering has occurred, and being powerless to change anything.
Yes its about the loss of innocence and being made to pay for your sins, but its also about religion, morality and humanity in general, it’s not glamorous or sexy, and Bergman’s legendary style, coupled with the slow burning suspense, make this film powerful enough to be as entertaining as it is emotionally exhausting.
Now for the easily offended, ranty people out there – a little message.
This particular sub genre may deal with an abhorrent subject matter, but film, no matter how badly made, offensive or downright ridiculous is an art form, and isn’t the point of art as a concept to stir dialogue, thought and emotion?
So who says that dialogue has to be happy, those thoughts have to stir up pleasant connotations or that the emotions have to be nice ones?
As long as it’s made you feel something then I’m pretty sure it’s carrying out the purpose of it’s conception just fine.
Doesn’t mean you have to like it!