With Machete hitting theaters this week, I got to thinking about some previous cinematic tales of revenge. To set the tone, here is the original Machete trailer that was attached to the beginning of Grindhouse (2007).
The operative words are along these lines: “Set-up, double-crossed, and left for dead … they just fucked with the wrong Mexican.” Got it? Okay, let’s roll.
I Spit on Your Grave (1978). “Suck it, bitch!” The most notorious of them all is a movie that film critic Roger Ebert deemed “a vile bag of garbage” in the opening words of his review — so it’s got to be worth checking out, right? A woman (Camille Keaton, grand-niece of silent film star Buster Keaton) is brutality raped at length by five scumbags, survives, and then for the rest of the movie hunts them down and kills them one by one. Originally titled Day of the Woman, it was reissued in 1980 under its more infamous title, and a new remake is actually due later this year.
Badassitude Level: Castrates one of her rapists in a bathtub after pretending to seduce the idiot.
Gladiator (2000). “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor Marcus Aurelius, father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.” In a story loosely based on historical fact and also the 1964 film The Fall of the Roman Empire, General Maximus (Russell Crowe) finds himself caught in the middle of a political struggle, betrayed by the Emperor’s son (Joaquin Phoenix), his wife and son murdered. But they fucked with the wrong Mexican, er I mean Roman gladiator General dude.
Badassitude Level: Takes on tigers as well as gladiators.
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999). “I’m sorry. I mean you no disrespect. You’re my retainer. I don’t want to put too many holes in you.” This gem from director Jim Jarmusch tells the story of Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker), a man who strictly follows the code of the samurai warrior and ends up working for the mafia because of a loyalty to Louie, a local mobster who once saved his life. When Ghost Dog (who communicates by carrier pigeon) takes an assignment to kill someone sleeping with the daughter of head mafia boss Vargo (played by quintessential ’70s bad guy Henry Silva), he kills the man in the presence of the daughter, resulting in a hit being ordered on him. After the gangsters find and kill all of his carrier pigeons, Ghost Dog knows he must retaliate, or be killed himself.
Badassitude Level: Takes out an entire roomful of mafiosos with a sword.
Road to Perdition (2002). “Just one last thing and then it’s done.” Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks), a hit man for Irish gangster Rooney (Paul Newman), accompanies Rooney’s son Connor (Daniel Craig) to confront a disgruntled employee. Connor recklessly kills the guy and Sullivan’s 12-year-old son Michael Jr. witnesses the hit. Unfortunately Connor takes it upon himself to silence young Michael Jr. and winds up mistakenly killing Sullivan’s youngest son instead, along with his wife. Michael Sullivan flees (with Michael Jr. in tow) and begins plotting his mission of revenge, while at the same time avoiding pursuit from another hit man (Jude Law) hired to kill him.
Badassitude Level: Tells a guy “Give Mr. Rooney a message for me,” and then shoots him in the head.
Commando (1985). “You’re a funny guy, Sully … that’s why I’m going to kill you last.” Spoiler alert: after they kidnap Schwarzenegger’s daughter he finds the guy who did it, impales him with a pipe and says “Let off some steam,” see because there’s steam coming out of the pipe. And in the events leading up to this, he also pretty much kills everyone who gets in the way, including taking out a bunch of dudes with a rocket launcher.
Badassitude Level: Doesn’t even keep his word about killing Sully last.
Taken (2008). “If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills — skills I have acquired over a very long career, skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you. I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you and I will kill you.” I figured it out: the running time is 93 minutes, but if you roll it back slightly to re-watch every time Liam Neeson does something totally badass, it’s about 2 hours and some change.
Badassitude Level: The only way to escape his wrath involves getting run over by a truck.
Unforgiven (1992). “Any man don’t want to get killed better clear on out the back.” Clint Eastwood stars as William Munny, an old outlaw who swore off drinking and killing in his later years as a husband and father. After his beloved wife dies of smallpox he takes on one last job to kill some guys who attacked and disfigured a prostitute. But when local sheriff “Little” Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) has Munny’s friend murdered and his body symbolically put on display, out comes the bottle … and watch out!
Badassitude Level: Takes out five dudes without a scratch.
Carrie (1976). “It has nothing to do with Satan, Mama. It’s me. Me. If I concentrate hard enough, I can move things.” Playing a mean prom night prank on a high school girl with untapped psionic powers turns out to be not such a good idea in this early Brian De Palma film adapted from the Stephen King novel. Once Carrie’s telekinetic rampage begins, there’s no controlling it — not even those few who were nice to her are spared. The resulting carnage requires split-screen to see it all.
Badassitude Level: Only one student gets out alive and is mentally scarred for life. Top that.
Mad Max (1979). “The chain in those handcuffs is high-tensile steel. It’d take you ten minutes to hack through it with this. Now, if you’re lucky, you could hack through your ankle in five minutes.” In a post apocalyptic world, the wife and son of police officer Max (Mel Gibson) are violently run down by a vicious motorcycle gang and he spends the rest of the movie relentlessly tracking down and killing the gang members. It’s all directed with a particular kinetic intensity by George Miller, who went on to direct both of the Mad Max sequels (with another one currently in the works) and who ended up winning an Oscar for Happy Feet (2006) of all things.
Badassitude Level: Doesn’t even look back to see what happened to handcuffed guy.
Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 (2003/2004). “Those of you lucky enough to have your lives, take them with you. However, leave the limbs you’ve lost. They belong to me now.” Currently, my all-time favorite revenge film is this collective 4-hour-plus opus from Quentin Tarantino, with heavy influences from the Shaw Brothers kung fu movies along with Japanese samurai and/or yakuza films. And when The Bride (Uma Thurman) takes on the Crazy 88 sword-wielding gang at the conclusion of Vol. 1 — sweet Jesus, the body count is glorious!
Badassitude Level: Sonny Chiba is in it. Enough said.