Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study (Book)

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Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical StudyWritten by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Published by McFarland & Company (Order Line: 800-253-2187)

“This critical overview explores a variety of themes, as well as the elements that the rape-revenge films have in common. The author discusses an array of films directed by noteworthy directors from several countries, demonstrating that diverse and often contradictory treatments of sexual violence can exist simultaneously.”

This brief description of Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study from publisher McFarland & Company does not begin to do this fascinating book justice. Written by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, an Australian currently working on her Ph.D in Cinema Studies at Melbourne’s LaTrobe University, Rape-Revenge Films is an accessible yet scholarly look at films most of us would rather not have to look at.

Opening with a quote from director Jean-Luc Godard, “All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl”, Rape-Revenge Films is a fascinating study of an almost taboo subject; yet, the author does not wallow in the exploitive subject matter but instead presents the films she examines in a clear, concise and often very interesting manner. She covers not only American films like I Spit on Your Grave and The Last House on the Left (both the originals and the remakes) but others from all over the world: Australia, Japan, Spain, France, Germany and many more countries. Heller-Nicholas also looks at rape-revenge films from genres one wouldn’t necessarily think of: mainstream (Straw Dogs, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), the Western (Hannie Caulder [1971]) and “male” films such as Deliverance and Death Wish. Of course horror films are examined, both those with a supernatural element like Stir of Echoes, The Entity and The Demoniacs as well as those considered simply “horror”: Mother’s Day and the aforementioned I Spit on Your Grave and The Last House on the Left.

Rape-revenge is not a subject many film fans avidly discuss, and movies made in this sub-genre rarely get theatrical releases, usually going straight to DVD to be watched in the privacy of one’s home as though the subject matter was pornographic or a dirty little secret. But Rape-Revenge Films is a scholarly and completely readable reference book for those horror fans curious to read about this little-discussed sub-genre. And for those really curious, the book offers an extensive international filmography as well as a comprehensive bibliography and notes that add to the reader’s experience while possibly answering questions the reader didn’t even know he or she had. And it also offers some amazing films for horror fans to add to their DVD libraries.

There are some minor typos in the book, but I have seen much worse from bigger publishers so don’t let that put you off.

Overall Heller-Nicholas has fashioned an approachable book on an ugly subject, but if you take a look at it, you just might find yourself appreciating this cinematic sub-genre for what it can really mean: not just exploitation but true “female empowerment”.

3 1/2 out of 5

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