Maybe it speaks to a sick part of our psyche, but some of the best horror movies are born when a seemingly mild, innocent character takes a vicious turn after being done wrong one too many times. These thrilling revenge horror films feature terrifying transgressions from both antagonists and protagonists. If you’re looking for a movie that will give you a glimpse at schadenfreude for all of the bullies, egomaniacs, killers, and rapists in the world, look no further. Here are the best revenge movies from the 1960s to today.
Poor Carrie White. She’s the victim of her mother’s fanatical religious beliefs and at school she’s bullied incessantly. Even the teachers and the principal seem to think she is invisible. They’ve all got another thing coming. Carrie has a secret–her telekinesis. The farther they push Carrie, the stronger her powers grow.
Chris, the leaders of the bullies, has no idea what she’s getting herself into. As she begins to understand her powers, Carrie takes charge. She frees herself from her abusive mother’s grip and releases her fury at her high school prom. This chilling adaptation of Stephen King’s first novel ends with violent revenge and horrific carnage, but there’s no debate that every character got their comeuppance.
I Spit on Your Grave
Jennifer Mills is a young writer vacationing in a small cottage on the Housatonic River. The beautiful and independent woman quickly attracts the attention of four local men. In an extremely upsetting scene, the four men gang rape Jennifer and leave her for dead. The scene is so disturbing and violent that the film was banned in many countries.
Nevertheless, it is a dramatic tale of revenge. Jennifer survives and slowly recovers while planning how she will seek retribution for each man’s wrongdoing. The graphic violence, nudity, obscene language, and depictions of gang rape may certainly detract from the film’s entertainment value, but there’s no question that in the end, it is a satisfying story of vengeance.
They Call Her One Eye
Also known as Thriller: A Cruel Picture, They Call Her One Eye is a Swedish exploitation film that tells the story of Madeleine, who has been mute since she was sexually assaulted as a child. As if she hasn’t suffered enough trauma, later in life she is raped, forced into prostitution, and made a heroin addict by the man who kidnaps her and becomes her pimp.
After refusing a client, she’s stabbed in the eye–hence the iconic eye patch.
Soon after, Madeleine begins to save money to buy a getaway car to escape and take driving lessons, shooting lessons, and martial arts. Armed with a shotgun and her new knowledge of martial arts, she plots to seek revenge on the men responsible for her harrowing ordeal. This borderline pornographic movie was met with censorship upon its release. It also inspired an urban legend that an actual corpse was used in the eye-gouging scene.
Yuki (Snow) is born in a women’s prison as her mother, Sayo, is dying. She is quite literally brought into the world with the sole purpose of avenging her mother. Sayo is serving a life sentence for stabbing one of the men who murdered her husband and son, and raped her. Before her mother dies, she shares her story with the other prisoners and asks the other prisoners to raise the child for vengeance. Boy, do they ever.
Suddenly, Yuki is 20 and an assassin called Shurayuki-hime. She has not strayed from her mission and continues to seek vengeance. Yuki’s quest for blood includes epic scenes of stylistic Japanese sword fighting that call to mind the iconic fight scene between the Bride and O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill: Volume 1.
Irréversible is a French film that follows two men as they try to avenge the violent rape of a girlfriend. Their story is told in reverse chronological order, beginning with the present-day and going backwards until it is possible to understand their motives. Violently powerful, the film is certainly an account of a viciously longing for revenge.
Irréversible contains some of the most punishing visuals in cinema history. It is a movie “so violent and cruel,” according to film critic Roger Ebert, “that most people will find it unwatchable”. Irréversible’s violence is so horrific, in fact, that viewers insisted its brutal rape scene must have been real. It was later revealed that several scenes included computer-generated imagery. The brilliant reverse-chronology of the film raises many questions about how we tolerate violence–both at the movies and in our daily lives.
At first, Audition, a Japanese horror film, seems to be a romance. A widower is encouraged by his teenage son to remarry, so they embark on a series of wife “auditions”. They get more than they bargained for when they meet the enchanting Asami. Asami’s resume is full of dead ends. The music producer she claimed to work for is missing. The bar where she claimed to work has been abandoned since its owner was murdered. Asami has a desperate need to be the most loved person in the life of her new lover.
Many critics viewed the film as a rebuke of Japan’s strict patriarchal values. Whatever your interpretation, the intense conclusion to this punishing movie is not for the weak of heart.
Inspired by films like They Call Her One Eye, Death Wish, and Taxi Driver, this cult favorite stars a mute woman named Thana who enacts her bloody revenge after being raped twice in one day in New York City. After she is raped at gunpoint on her way home from work, Thana narrowly escapes. Upon arriving home, she discovers a burglar who proceeds to rape her as well. After killing her second attacker, Thana takes the dead man’s .45 caliber pistol.
As her desire for revenge grows, she becomes Ms. 45, fatally shooting any menacing man who crosses her path. Thana begins to lose herself and is consumed by a need to protect herself and seek revenge on men for the trauma that she has suffered.
Drag Me to Hell
Christine Brown has a good life. She has a good job at the local bank and a cute boyfriend. Everything falls apart when she denies an elderly lady’s request for an extension on her home loan in hopes of getting an extension.
Before she dies, the old woman curses Christine, imposing the threat of eternal damnation. What ensues is a wild ride down to the depths of Hell. Christine asks a physic for help, but when she’s told there’s a dark spirit in her, she begins to worry it’s already too late. Packed with possession, exhumation, and gross-out horror, Drag Me to Hell is a revenge flick where the protagonist is the target–leaving viewers to debate over whether she deserves what she gets.
The Bride Wore Black
François Truffaut’s stylistic homage to Alfred Hitchcock tells the story of Julie, a widow who attempts to commit suicide after her husband’s murder. When her plan is thwarted, she hatches a new plan–she will go after each man who had a hand in her husband’s murder. Simply attacking each man would be too simple.
Instead, Julie assumes different identities as she finds a way to grow close to the men. Her extensive revenge plot is threatened when she discovers that one of the men has already been captured by the police, but she is not willing to let such a minor setback prevent her from completing her mission.
As viewers learn via a series of flashbacks, Julie’s husband was shot to death on the steps outside the church on the day of their wedding. Though some have pointed out the similarities between this movie and Kill Bill, Quentin Tarantino claims to have never seen The Bride Who Wore Black.
The Grudge series takes inspiration from the superstition that if someone dies while filled with rage, they will curse their place of death and seek revenge for the wrongs committed against them in life. Ju-on, the original Japanese title, follows a young social worker who is called into a home only to discover that two brutal murders have taken place there. She is soon sucked into a curse that changes her life forever.
The Grudge was so popular that it's had a total of 13 films made–nine Japanese features and four American. Recently, a reboot, due out in 2019, was also announced. We're ready to relive the scares all over again.
The Last House on the Left
Based on the Swedish film The Virgin Spring, Wes Craven’s first film opens with a truly brutal scene of sexual violence when a group of thugs descend upon two teenage girls. Mari and her family are vacationing at a lake house, and Mari drives into town to visit a friend. The two girls are then kidnapped, brutally assaulted, and murdered. Afterward, the gang cross paths with Mari's parents, who initially welcome in the thugs without realizing who they are.
They soon uncover the truth. Unlike most murder-and-revenge stories, it’s the parents who take revenge. After identifying one of the killers, mom and dad take matters into their own hands–hands that happen to be holding a chainsaw.
All of Korean director Park Chan-wook’s movies are worth a watch, but his Vengeance Trilogy, three films that feature extreme violence motivated by revenge, are beloved among horror fans.
Of the three, our personal favorite is 2003’s Oldboy. Dae-Su is an obnoxious drunk. Thrown in prison yet again, he has to be bailed out by a friend. After making bail, he is kidnapped and wakes up to find himself in a cell. He remains in this prison for 15 years, drugged consistently, and never allowed human contact.
When he is finally freed 15 years later, he makes it his mission to seek revenge on his captor. Instead, he is manipulated beyond belief in a shocking twist ending that makes any kind of suffering he experienced in prison pale in comparison. Chan-wook said he made the Vengeance Trilogy to show the futility of revenge–it may be futile but it sure is a thrill to watch.
Featured still from "Carrie" via Red Bank Films