Revenge is a tricky thing in horror. It can take many different forms. Most common are supernatural slashers or rape/revenge features. With the new trailer for Eli Roth’s Death Wish remake having just landed, there’s no better time to take a look at some of the more unconventional revenge movies to hit the horror genre over the years.
Horror, being as wide and weird and fluid as it is, has taken many different approaches to the concept of revenge. They range from unique methods of torture to witchcraft, demons and all sorts of undead hijinx. The methods we’re looking at films that do the unexpected, sometimes to arrive at a same sense of vindication as their more mainstream counterparts, sometimes question the point and purpose of revenge altogether.
Either way, here are seven horror movies that took bold, bizarre, different approaches to revenge. And, for better or worse, we’re all grateful for them.
Witchcraft aside, revenge is a weird thing in The Craft. Because it’s never quite clear what the right approach is. Sarah takes revenge on her would-be boyfriend who turned her down by making him fall head over heels for her. Rochelle takes a very satisfying revenge against racist bullies. And Nancy just sees herself as taking revenge on just about everything in her life. They use magic in a self-serving way, which ultimately turns into using the magic she’s learned just for the sake of survival.
Andre Toulon’s revenge is completely justified. The Nazis shut down his harmless show just because it pokes fun at the political climate. They steal his life’s work. They murder his wife in cold blood. And he’s not just taking his revenge on the Nazis, he’s bringing their own victims directly to them, each now occupying a puppet body and each with their own individual method of murder.
American Mary has its own bizarre approach to everything it does, it has a great central idea in a woman taking to back alley modification to pay her way through medical school—to the point where you almost forget that this is actually a rape/revenge feature. And that’s why it’s on the list. The way that body modification factors into the revenge plot is also dark and unsettling and imaginative, which is great.
Jaws: The Revenge
“This time it’s personal.” That’s a revenge flick tagline if I’ve ever heard one. It’s right there in the title. There’s no reason for a personal Jaws sequel. It doesn’t make any sense. Why would a shark even feel the need to take revenge in the first place? Well, the best part is that we have the novelization to give us even more bizarre answers to these bizarre questions, specifically that the shark is the result of a voodoo curse placed on the Brody family.
In some ways, The Crow actually is your average revenge story. It has a supernatural angle, but it’s still a man who’s been wronged, who’s lost everything, taking down the people responsible. But the visual style is so uniquely not what you typically see from that kind of story. It’s like if Hot Topic produced the Death Wish remake. There’s some truly stunning production design with a deeply emotional story that wears its heart on its sleeve. Once you’re actually watching it, everything clicks because revenge films should be this angsty and heartbroken, that’s what sells the violence in the first place.
A bunch of old men have secret meetings where they sit around and tell each other ghost stories. Some of them are true, some of them aren’t. Now they’re being haunted and it appears to be something from their past, something terrible that they refuse to talk about. While the film is kind of a haphazard adaptation of the book—albeit with some truly dazzling makeup effects—I love the bait and switch of it. These men killed this girl when they were in college and they covered it up and got away with it. It’s fascinating for something to start out feeling like The Changeling and suddenly turn into the spectral version of I Spit on Your Grave.
Pumpkinhead might actually be my favorite revenge horror. It’s so intriguing. It’s a deep south fairy tale, a dark parable on the nature of vengeance and how it can utterly consume someone. The premise is simple: if you’ve been wronged, you can conjure a demon to exact vengeance in your name. But you have to feel everything it does to those people, you have to see through its eyes as it kills them. You can’t distance yourself from it. And the only way to stop it is to kill yourself because the monster is an extension of your own rage. It’s a great concept with a brilliant monster and Lance Henriksen gives the performance of his career.