It's almost the end of October and I'm only 10 movies into my reviews! I've been having so much fun watching the films I haven't been blogging about them. I have noticed, however, that this year's viewing has had many flicks featuring revenge as the plot driver. Revenge has long been a staple theme of horror movies, so it takes some finesse to pull off a revenge plot and not simply slip into the same old predictable patterns. Here's a loooong post about five freaky films dealing with the wretched rewards of revenge ...
"To seek revenge may lead to hell,
but everyone does it and seldom as well
as Sweeney Todd.
The Demon barber of Fleet Street."
SPOILERS! As always, WATCH before reading if you want your revenge with max surprises!
11. Sweeney Todd - 2007
The best parts of this version are the costumes and sets. The scenes are so gritty you want to wash your hands - you can feel the dirt, smell the sooty air, and quickly start longing for any oasis of color to let you breathe. When the blood starts pouring it's almost a relief.
Bonham-Carter looks perfectly at home in the fantastical setting as if born there, which is nearly true given how often she was type-cast in period films requiring corsets and lace. Unfortunately her voice distracts too much. This is a movie, not theatre, so Bonham-Carter's voice could have been dubbed, augmented, or mixed differently. The choice to leave it as is means it is overwhelmed by the music and sometimes barely audible.
Todd is a devious planner who spends all his time scheming his revenge. He's also intelligent enough to be able to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. He has not a shred of regret or remorse, only showing human emotion when he mistakenly kills his own wife. Todd knows revenge is damning, but obviously gave up on any ideas of god or heaven long ago - there is only hell for Todd in life, so he hardly has a reason to think death will be different. He doesn't really care. His revenge is all that matters to him. And as the words above say, Todd gets his revenge on everyone in the end, even on himself after a fashion.
12. Theater of Blood - 1973
This movie doesn't really have any tension; for a short while you wonder exactly who is doing the dastardly deeds, but not for long. You can predict that Lionheart will get his revenge pretty thoroughly, and the only question is if his very last victim will survive. You don't actually care - you are kind of rooting for Price both because it's Price, and because the movie paints theatre critics as pompous, ignorant, and selfishly cruel - more prima-donna than the actors they review.
The joy here is the nature of Lionheart's revenge. He is playing out the murder scenes from his last season of Shakespeare plays, and each is more inventive that the last. Some have required clever set-ups lasting many weeks, and are timed to fall perfectly into place."Had I your tongues and eyes, I’d use them so
That heaven’s vault should crack. She’s gone forever.
I know when one is dead and when one lives.
She’s dead as earth."
Even at this last moment, the remaining critic is so detached from this tragedy of Price's last words, he smiles and says, "Of course, he was madly overacting, as usual." You wonder what the horror really is - perhaps it's that a person can live through all of this and have gained not an ounce of sympathy or perspective.
13. Death Becomes Her - 1992
Madeline and Helen are high school rivals who can hardly remember who slighted who first, but who have spent years performing ever-escalating acts of revenge. The final straw is glamorous Madeline seducing Ernest away from Helen. Madeline actually hates Ernest and verbally abuses him for the next 14 years.
Before Helen can enact her plan of murderous revenge through Ernest, Madeline breaks her neck falling down the stairs. Helen is shot through with a shotgun in another act of revenge by Madeline. Helen and Madeline continue beating on one another until they realize there is no point since they are immortal and can't feel physical pain. They also realize that their bodies are dead now, and have already begun to decompose.
This is a great view of the nature and price of revenge. Our characters get chance after chance to make different choices, to set aside pride and ego, to turn their backs on society's broken standards, and only Ernest finally does so. It may be intended as further commentary that it is the man, not the women who has the power and privilege to do this. Revenge hasn't damned Hawn and Streep to hell - they can't die. Their revenge instead has made them something other than human. They are undead, a kind of zombie. They have either ultimately succeeded perfectly (their rival is a hideous inhuman monster), or failed perfectly (they themselves are now a hideous inhuman monster.)
14. Carrie - 1976
As I noted in my previous post of Stephen King re-watches, for some reason I've never really resonated with most of the adaptations of his work. The 1976 Carrie is more or less faithful to the novel, and has some excellent performances as well as iconic scenes, but suffers from ultra-slow pacing and over-the-top acts of cruelty. Carrie's mother is a religious fanatic who abuses Carrie at every turn. Even the 'nice' gym teacher physically assaults the mean girls when they show disrespect. The alpha mean girl is so warped she goads her boyfriend into slapping her, and then coos back up to him. It's a mind f*ck on every level.
The ultimate squick-out is knowing that director De Palma and his bros (like Spielberg) used the filming to cruise chicks. Spielberg asked several of the young actors on dates before getting a yes from Amy Irving. Yucko.)
But as for revenge horror flicks, Carrie remains a classic. Carrie has a crappy life, and the one time she's given a chance to try to fit in with her peers at prom, she is pranked so cruelly that her sanity temporarily snaps. She imagines everyone is laughing at her, even though very few people are doing so. Most are appalled at the prank. Carrie uses her telekinetic powers to bar the doors, kills folks with a fire hose, or by electrocution, or with flying furniture, and then burns the place to the ground.
By the time she gets home, she's sane enough to wash off the blood and go cry in her mother's arms. But Mom has decided that Carrie is possessed of Satanic power and stabs her. Carrie has to kill her mother in self defense, and then it seems she burns the house down around them, although it is not entirely clear that that is intentional.
Unlike the other movies mentioned here, Carrie does not plan her revenge. It is done entirely in the heat of the moment, when Carrie has lost her grip. There is no inherent evil in Carrie at all, and given her life to this point, she's surprisingly rational most of the time. Carrie's revenge is treated more like a force of nature; it is the expected result of cruelty so extreme it must by some means burn itself away. As noted, it's hard to root for someone who kills the innocent and guilty alike, but Carrie's lashing out under extreme circumstances seems like something we can understand. Does this kind of revenge end with Carrie damned or not? The sense of the times would be yes, reinforced by Carrie's hand bursting from the ground and grabbing Sue in a dream. But just before that, Sue is leaving flowers at Carrie's grave, showing her own sympathy and remorse.
15. Pumpkinhead - 1988
The witch tells him the price is high, but he insists. At her bidding
he digs up a corpse and she infuses it with blood from both him and his
dead boy. It turns into a giant monster and stomps off. Ed almost
immediately regrets his choice, as when he's driving home he has a
vision of his dead son waking and saying "What did you do, Daddy?"
The demon starts taking out the young people. Ed sees and feels each kill as it happens, and his regret intensifies. He goes back to the witch who tells him she can't stop it, and if he tries to stop it himself, he'll just "pay the final price that much sooner."Ed resolves to destroy the demon. He eventually heads home with the last teens to get better equipment to fight, and there Ed gets a good look at the demon's face. It is starting to look like him, and he is beginning to change to look more like it. When he accidentally steps into a pitchfork, he sees the monster react with the same pain. He realizes that the only way to kill it is to kill himself. With help from the last standing teen, Ed is dispatched and the demon goes up in flames. The fantastic last scene is the witch putting Ed's withered and curled corpse into the same grave he dug up earlier.
This movie shows the person taking revenge as human and relatable. Ed's grief overwhelms him, and his desire for some kind of justice is understandable. But Ed realizes that what he's getting isn't justice, instead he sees he's committing a far greater crime than the one that took his son from him in the first place. Our take-away here is that once revenge is set loose, it has a life and a will of its own, and mere regret can't stop it.
Image Credits: First pics are shots of dvd covers for each movie. Following are promo pix or movie still ads for each film.