Rape and revenge films (aka rape/revenge, rape-revenge) are a subgenre of explotation film that was particularly popular in the 1970s. Rape/revenge movies generally follow the same three act structure:
- Act I: A woman is raped/gang-raped, tortured and left for dead.
- Act II: The woman survives and rehabilitates herself.
- Act III: The woman takes revenge and kills her rapist or rapists.
In some cases, the woman is killed at the end of the first act, and the "revenge" is carried out by her family, as in the original The Last House on the Left.
Notable rape/revenge movies include The Virgin Spring, I Spit On Your Grave, Lipstick, Thriller - A Cruel Picture, Death Wish, Straw Dogs, Ms. 45, Sudden Impact, Baise-moi, ¡Dispara!, Irréversible, Coward of the County, Thelma & Louise, and Extremities. The Virgin Spring, sharing a common source material as The Last House on the Left, is particularly notable as being arguably the first in the genre as well as being directed by Wes Craven.
In 2006, Rogue Pictures finalized a deal to remake The Last House on the Left. Wes Craven (writer and producer of the original film) produced the remake, starring Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter. The 2009 film Run! Bitch Run! is set in the late 1970’s. In 2010, the controversial film I Spit on Your Grave was remade starring Sarah Butler and Chad Lindberg. It was released worldwide on Halloween by CineTel Films.
In Gaspar Noé's 2002 film Irréversible, the structure was reversed, with the first act depicting the revenge before tracing back the events which led to that point. Roger Ebert argues that by using this structure, as well as a false revenge, Irréversible cannot be classified as an exploitation film, as no exploitation of the subject matter takes place.
The genre has attracted critical attention. Much of this critical attention comes from feminist critics examining the complex politics involved in the genre and its impact on cinema more generally. More recently, a broad analysis of the rape-revenge genre and concept was published in Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study, by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. The book argues against a simplistic notion of the term 'rape-revenge' and suggests a film-specific approach in order to avoid generalizing films which may "diverge not over the treatment of sexual assault as much as they do in regards to the morality of the revenge act."
In addition to U.S. and French films, rape/revenge films have been made in Japan (e.g., Takashi Ishii's Freeze Me), Finland, and Russia.