October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about revenge-centric horror is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Who doesn’t love a good revenge horror movie? The concept is a cornerstone of the genre, to the point that most horror movies tend to have some element of vengeance or justice built into them. And after all, we all come to these movies because some part of us relishes bloody entertainment. We horror fans want to watch people tear others apart, either physically or emotionally, and nothing provides the potential for this like a revenge-driven plot. Though this will scratch the bloodthirsty itch we all have, these films can also take an entirely different approach. For every movie about righteous violence, there are those that take a more measured approach to justice and whether the ends justify the means.
But in sorting through and ranking the massive collection of revenge horror movies, there’s a lot to take into account. First and foremost, we’re looking for a movie that has revenge as the primary driving force. If the motivations are creative and original, and if the film finds a perspective on the topic that we don’t see every day, well, that helps, but it’s still not a guarantee it’ll make the cut. The fact is that with so many good horror movies that meet these qualifications, it can be tricky to narrow it down. So if you don’t see your favorites, don’t take it personally.
Whether you’re looking for an introspective approach to revenge or you just want a good old-fashioned, well-justified bloodbath, read on to find out the best of the best, as decided by Rob Hunter, Meg Shields, Chris Coffel, Brad Gullickson, Jacob Trussell, Valerie Ettenhofer, and yours truly.
10. Mandy (2018)
It can be difficult to untangle Mandy as a vibrant work of revenge horror from the fact that Nicolas Cage’s animalistic style of performance is central to the film’s proliferation into pop culture. At face value, because of his natural antics, many see this as yet another entry in the “Cage Rage” subgenre. But that’s not what Cage delivers in Panos Cosmatos’ film. Sure, yes, he does have a moment of spiraling battiness after the titular character is burned alive in front of his eyes — but wouldn’t we all? Instead of continuing to outwardly express that rage, he internalizes the revenge he plans to enact into a performance modeled more after Jason Voorhees than a classically heroic protagonist. However, once his plans for revenge kicks into gear and the axes start flying, this subgenre that can so often dip into bleakness flies off into the realm of high-class entertainment. (Jacob Trussell)
9. The Skin I Live In (2011)
Loosely based on Thierry Jonquet’s novel Tarantula, the sole horror effort to date by Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar is a brilliantly cruel take on the rape-revenge genre. The film centers on Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), a plastic surgeon obsessed with developing indestructible artificial skin. Out of the watchful eye of the medical community, Dr. Ledgard has been conducting human experiments in his secluded villa. His test subject is Vera, a young woman whose relationship with her captor is charged with venom. As the film unfurls, the tragic death of Dr. Ledgard’s daughter (and her striking resemblance to Vera) becomes a key piece of the puzzle. While I won’t spoil the stomach-churning specifics of Dr. Ledgard’s vendetta here, if you’ve seen the film, you’re well aware that The Skin I Live In is an uncomfortable and unforgettable viewing experience. Melding camp with Cronenberg, The Skin I Live In is a must-watch for anyone with a stomach for the strong stuff. (Meg Shields)
8. Les Diaboliques (1955)
Les Diaboliques translates to “the devils,” and the beauty of the clever French horror classic is that, for much of its runtime, it’s unclear exactly who those devils are. The revenge aspect of the film turns out to be a bit of a Trojan horse, obscuring an even meaner plot that doesn’t come to fruition until the film’s third act. But the expertly designed, gorgeously shot chiller is a memorable piece of wronged woman fiction any way you slice it.
The drama kicks off early on when a cruel man’s wife and mistress – both teachers at the boarding school where he’s headmaster – hatch a plan to get rid of the jerk once and for all. Their murder plot seems foolproof, until the man they turned on seemingly becomes determined to harass them from beyond the grave. In the end, Les Diaboliques is less about doing revenge as it is about the dark, misguided desires that sometimes motivate a person to seek it in the first place. (Valerie Ettenhofer)
7. Friday the 13th (1980)
Alright, look, was Pamela Voorhees in the right? Definitely not. But do we understand where she’s coming from? Yeaaaaaahhhh, kinda. If your kid drowned because camp counselors were ignoring him, you’d be pretty pissed too. Now that obviously doesn’t mean she was justified in taking it out on innocent people years later. But still, a mother’s love for her son is a pretty fun revenge plot. Not to mention it’s a variation on the scorned murderess that we don’t see all too often in horror. So while we can’t exactly put her in the “good for her” category, we’re still going to enjoy watching her get the revenge that she most certainly feels entitled to. (Anna Swanson)
6. Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)
Bubba (Larry Drake) is a large, gentle man with the mental capacity of a small child. Bubba’s best friend is a small girl named Marylee, and many of the small town’s insecure, toxic men do not approve of this friendship. After Marylee becomes injured and presumed dead, local mailman Otis (Charles Durning) forms a mob of the most incompetent southern men you’ll ever find. Without waiting for the details, they hunt poor Bubba down and shoot him dead. These buffoons soon get their comeuppance as Bubba’s soul inhabits a scarecrow with a thirst for vengeance. Director Frank De Felitta‘s Dark Night of the Scarecrow is one of the most well-crafted and effective tales of revenge the made-for-television market has ever seen. (Chris)
This list of the best horror movies about revenge concludes on the next page…
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