DISCLAIMER: If you're wondering why films like I Spit on Your Grave or Ms. 45 aren't here it's because we consider them part of the "Rape Revenge" sub-genre - where the antagonist is taking revenge for something that happened directly to them. This list is people taking revenge for things that happened to, usually, their loved ones.
THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT
Chris: While he's best known for films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, Wes Craven made his most intense, and disturbing, horror film at the beginning of his career. Cribbing from Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring, The Last House on the Left tells of parents taking revenge on some common thugs when they learn said thugs brutally killed their daughter and her friend. After sitting through some rather gruelling torture sequences (both physical and psychological), when Krug and his gang start getting theirs the violence on display feels more justified than you might be willing to admit.
Josh: Early in his career, Wes Craven gave us this unconventional take on the revenge film which borrows elements from Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring. Rather than having the victim or their friends seek revenge, this film features the victim's parents taking care of business. The circumstances that lead to the finale are coincidental and tragic which is part of what makes this a classic. It doesn't hurt that the three villains (David Hess, Fred Lincoln, and Jeramie Rain) are all portrayed as completely despicable sociopaths who get carried away in their acts of violence and humiliation towards their young prey. One brilliant scene shows when the terrible trio know they are about to pass the point of no return in their crime and how they all seem to realize what they have done, feel a tinge of remorse, but also know that there is no going back. It is at this moment that we know these characters are already doomed from within and it is only a matter of time before the karma police pay them a visit. One could not imagine what form this would take and when the tables are finally turned we are both satisfied and shocked at just how much the act of revenge can change seemingly normal individuals.
Chris: Before demanding kidnappers "Gimme back my son!" and before Lethal Weapon and Braveheart, Mel Gibson made this gritty, post-apocalyptic action/revenge flick in his homeland of Australia - in fact, for years American distributors, American-International, dubbed over his voice in all their prints. Gibson plays, Max, an Interceptor (think Highway Patrolman) that's wife and son are killed by a nasty road gang whose leader he killed during a stupendous car chase action sequence. While director George Miller highlights the multiple stunt sequences in the movie, he manages to give his characters more than enough personality so that when Max starts getting his revenge you're fully on his side.
Josh: Mel Gibson stars as Max, a highway cop in a post-apocalyptic world. After taking down a convict named the Nightrider, Max soon finds that the Nightrider's biker gang is out to avenge their friend. The great thing about this movie that sets it apart from many others in the genre is that it develops the relationships of the supporting characters enough to make you empathize with Max and gives the viewer some sense of what he is feeling. The movie also manages to not fall into the trap of simply showcasing the cars and stunts but instead using them as tools to tell the story in addition to entertaining the viewer. Although Mad Max is essentially a post-apocalyptic road movie, is it set close enough to the present so that we can somewhat relate to what is going on. The result is a biker/revenge movie that happens to be set in a post-apocalyptic world rather than a post-apocalyptic movie that happens to have shades of a biker/revenge movie.
Chris: Tod Browning was in many ways a rebel in his day. If you consider how reserved society was in the 1930's, seeing Freaks pop-up in 1932 and tell its lurid tale of a band of circus freaks, a double-crossing, and an uprising by the title "freaks" that results with an oft-quoted line of dialogue ("One of us!"). Browning used real-life, ahem, freaks in many of the roles but doesn't exploit that fact at all. And while Browning also directed the Bela Lugosi version of Dracula and the Lon Chaney, Sr. film, London After Midnight, Freaks stands, to this day, as a disturbing portrait of human nature and greed.
Josh: I have to give director Tod Browning credit. Not only did he have the biggest balls on earth to make this movie in 1932 but he pulled it off. Still shocking today, Browning brings us backstage at a circus sideshow and delivers a soap opera starring genuine circus freaks. People with real disabilities were hired to play the parts and you have midgets, missing limbs, siamese twins, a clown, a bearded lady, and a variety of other strange characters. In addition to the mere spectacle of these human anomalies, there is a great story of prejudice, greed, and love that will break your heart. A little person who is about to be married to another little person is taken advantage of by a luscious trapeze artist named Cleopatra and her strong man lover Hercules. What Cleo and Herc don't know is that the freaks have their own code that they live by which states that if a normal person wrongs one of the freaks, they wrong all of them. Things culminate in an intense wedding banquet where a clear division is made between the freaks and those who are not 'one of them'. The revenge is disturbing and unforgettable.
CLASS OF 1984
Chris: Mark L. Lester has had quite the busy career in b-movies but ask anyone with a knowledge of his work what his most memorable film is and you're likely to hear "Class of 1984". I'm willing to bet this inspired such films as Tuff Turf and 3:15: The Moment of Truth in its wake but none of them had the campy tone this one sports. Perry King plays a high school teacher who is pushed too far by Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) and his punker cronies and takes violent revenge. While the premise is pretty old hat by now, back in 1982 this was a drive-in flick that was more entertaining than it had any right to be. Lets just forget about the Class of 1999 (not quite) sequels.
Josh: When I think of revenge movies, I think of Class of 1984. This may be the first revenge movie I saw and I was just entering high school at the time. There have been a number of movies where a teacher has a run-in where the main gang in a school but none quite capture the campy mood that this one embraces. The gang is led by Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) who gives a self-assured performance and spouts cheesy lines like "life is pain - pain is everything - you will learn" while still remaining threatening. Stegman is joined by a group of cronies with names like Drugstore, Barnyard, Patsy, and Fallon who all have their own place in the gang and distinct characteristics. In fact, I think Patsy may have been my first crush. The gang eventually goes too far in tormenting the teacher who takes a stand and they get what's coming to them in the form of a table-saw dismemberment, burning by gasoline, and other manners. The lead song by Alice Cooper, live performance by Teenage Head, Roddy McDowall, and early role of Michael J. Fox only add to the fun.
Chris: Probably the least known of this list, this is the movie that landed writer-director Danny Steinmann the directing gig on the fifth (and generally considered, worst) Friday the 13th movie. If the thought of seeing Linda Blair donning a skin tight, low-cut body suit while taking revenge on the high school thugs who raped her deaf/mute sister using a crossbow, bear trap, and other "hunting" implements doesn't get your adrenaline going, then perhaps its silly-as-Hell tone and a Blair bathtub scene might. Like Class of 1984 this one goes more for over-the-top entertainment than delivering a potent message and, looking at it that way, it succeeds.
Josh: Linda Blair stars in this female vigilante flick that is notable mainly for the cheese factor and Blair's outfit in the finale. After a night out in Hollywood, Blair and her friends anger a group of hoodlums when they steal their car and fill it with garbage. This leads to a retaliation attack on Blair's deaf/mute sister (Linnea Quigley) who is left naked and raped in the back room of a school gymnasium. The violence escalates when the gang leader throws Blair's best friend off an overpass. After contemplating her options in the bathtub, Blair dons a tight black outfit, buys a crossbow, and goes a-huntin'. While not the best film on this list, this movie has enough goofy 80's music and shots of Hollywood Boulevard in that era to please most cult movie fans. It also has a few of the more obnoxious villains in a movie of this sort and what it lacks in emotion, it makes up for in silliness. This would be a good one to see at a revival screening with a packed house.