by Amy Davis, October, 2016
This is Amy’s fifth post on the female archetype found in horror/slasher films. Here she takes a look at what happens when the tables are turned.
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Themes of seduction and excessive violence are staples in exploitation horror films that present the female “revenge killer.” She’s on a mission not of her own doing and settles the score with people directly related to the incident she is avenging.
Mom and Dad
Last House on the Left (1972), directed by Wes Craven, starts off as a tale of teenaged girls kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. The twist comes when the killers unknowingly seek lodging with the parents of one of their victims. After piecing together what happened, mom and dad exact revenge.
With Dad’s assistance, the mother uses her feminine wiles to do in the killers. Under the guise of performing oral sex, she bites off the penis of one, robbing him of the power he had used to subjugate her daughter.
Mom played to his preconceived notions that women are weak, just mounds of flesh built for his pleasure and therefore easily seduced. Thus the rapist is “bitten” by his own hubris.
Rape and Mayhem
I Spit on Your Grave (1978) also uses fake seduction to avenge a particularly graphic gang rape. The victim, Jennifer, returns cruelty tit-for-tat. Confronted with the “you were asking for it” spiel from her four attackers, she convinces them that she was turned on by the rape, plays on their vulnerabilities and kills them off one-by-one.
Jennifer is an excellent example of the pure revenge killer and in doing so elevates the raped woman to an empowered avenger.
Hard Candy (2005) also explores the idea that young non-threatening females are vulnerable to rape and mayhem. Hayley, a girl in her early teens, meets up with Jeff, an older man she encountered online who turns out to be the predatory “big bad wolf.” Dressed in her red hoodie, Haley acts awkward and innocent.
When they go back to his place it’s assumed she will be attacked but Hayley drugs his drink. Turns out Jeff killed her best friend.
Hakey plays innocent to regain control and save other girls from befalling the same fate.
In all of these films women are assaulted as a means for them to shift their personality and exact revenge. Rape is seen as a deplorable act across gender lines ensuring that both male and female audience members root for the heroine to kill those who harmed her.
Using her sexual agencies to seduce her attackers is a way to regain control and exhibit her own power. The heroine will not let this rape define her nor will she allow any other woman to suffer from sexual violence.
Just Us Girls
In the second half of Death Proof (2007) heroines Zoë, Abernathy, and Kim are test-driving a white 1970 Dodge Challenger when Stuntman Mike, who uses his car to murder young women, tries to run them off-road.
The girls emerge mostly unharmed but they are not “survivor girls” who simply walk away. Instead, they chase him down with their car and mercilessly crush him with brute force.
In breaking with the theme of using rape as a cause for revenge, the women of Death Proof show strength because that is just who they are. In other words, they are more than girls being girls. For example, there are several discussions about typically “male” topics such as cars and weapons demonstrating that women can play a mans’ game, so to speak.
This is not an attempt to make women seem more masculine but instead shows that females can enjoy traditionally male activities while still retaining their femininity.
In summarizing the female revenge killer, she is about taking back her sex from the presumptive male as Death Proof demonstrates.
The young trio gains control by repaying the violence they experienced and doing away with their attacker. While “eye for an eye” justice may upset some viewers, these heroines show that inner strength can come from even the darkest of places