7. Les Diaboliques (H.G. Clouzot, 1955)
Les Diaboliques is a hypnotising and atmospheric thriller that tells the story of two women who forge an unexpected alliance in order to kill the man who is exploiting them. Christine and Nicole are teachers in a boarding school that is run by the sadistic womaniser Michel.
The first one is his wife and the second his mistress and although they seem to have a relationship of conflicting interests their shared hate for Michel seems to unite them. They contrive the perfect plan to murder their tyrant and they eventually succeed to end his life. They throw his corpse inside the filthy swimming pool of the institution in order to make it look as a suicide but on the next day there is no body floating on the surface.
Christine is in a state of panic and meets a retired private detective who starts investigating the case of the headmaster’s disappearance. As Michel’s dead body is nowhere to be found, the tangled situation pushes tension on the edge and the chemistry between the two female conspirators gets tainted.
The film’s finale is the definition of a plot twist, as chilling and creepy as unexpected. Les Diaboliques is an unconventional revenge movie, reminiscent of an good old Hitchcock thriller, canny and virtuosic in every single of its details.
6. Lady Snowblood (Toshiya Fujita, 1973)
Lady Snowblood is the ultimate female revenge film, iconic and influential for its violent eloquence. Yuki is a girl born and raised to become an instrument of vengeance. Her father was brutally murdered and her mother was raped by a gang of criminals who remained unpunished and untouched by the law.
The surviving mother was imprisoned and decided to beguile one of the prison’s guards only to give birth to a child who could avenge her tyrants. Twenty years after that day her daughter has already become a killing machine. Seeking revenge for the family that she never got to know she trails the criminals and slaughters them one by one.
The film’s structure is not entirely linear, as the causes for the actions of the heroine are given through aggressive flashbacks that raise the tension of the viewer. Meiko Kaji, the icon of revenge films, unsheathes her deadly sword from her umbrella and distributes deadly strikes with elegance and ferocity. The red coloured blood beautifully contrasts on the white snow and the voices of her agonising targets passing into oblivion.
5. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (Park Chan-wook, 2005)
The third instalment of Park Chan-wook’s dashing Vengeance trilogy is as mesmerising, alluring and hot-tempered as its heroine.
Lee Geum-ja is imprisoned when she is accused for the murder of a little boy. Her case provokes a wave of reactions in the whole country as it is hard for everyone to believe that a young and innocent looking woman like her could perform such a hideous crime. The years pass and Geum-ja gets out of prison early on good behaviour. As soon as she is free her motives become abundantly clear: she has a dish of vengeance to serve.
The man responsible for the woman’s prosecution is a teacher who kidnaps and murders young children. Mr. Baek framed Geum-ja for one of his own killings when he forced her into helping him in exchange for letting her newborn daughter live. Lady Vengeance’s revenge plan is innovative and ferocious. Instead of exterminating the murderer by herself she enlists the parents of his victims to help her with her cause.
In one of the most dazzling sequences of the film the mothers and fathers of the long deceased children form a queue, clenching knives, scissors and all kind of weapons, waiting to beat Mr. Baek to death. Geum-ja with her unforgettable blood red eye shadow manages to execute her plan and is now ready to finally live her life.
4. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich, 1962)
Two sisters can be either best friends or arch enemies, as the relationships formed between siblings are often painted in colours of intense rivalry. Jane and Blanche decided to follow similar paths in their lives: both of them became actors and devoted themselves to a pursuit of success and fame.
Growing older Blanche manages to become a star while Jane is left in the margins of her failure. After a fatal car accident Blanche is paralysed and spends the next years bound on a wheelchair, sharing her house with her sister.
Jane is obviously mistreating her sister in need. Her jealousy drives her blind and Blanche starts realising that it is about time to call out for help. Unfortunately every single of her efforts is thwarted by her maleficent sister and after the film dedicates a long part showing the collisions between them, it pushes the two former actresses into a final confrontation.
Bette Davis personifies twisted Jane in an indelible way with a crooked smile that emphasizes the paranoia drawn on her face. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane is nothing less than a classic iconic thriller, capable of stirring up nightmares in the mind of any woman who happens to have a lovely sister by her side.
3. Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991)
Ridley Scott’s film is often praised as being one of the few films that address female friendship and compassion properly. It is a symbol of cinematic feminism and an undoubted example of the risks that two women are willing to take in order to fight for their freedom and integrity.
Thelma and Louise are two friends that decide to hit the road for a couple of days in order to escape their daily routines. Their plans are unexpectedly interrupted when a man tries to rape Louise while she is drunk and Thelma steps into the scene to save her. After an unfortunate series of events Thelma shoots and kills the man and she runs away with her friend only to be hunted down by police.
In their road trip they are going to meet numerous other men who will attempt to take advantage of them in various ways. The plot unravels rapidly until it reaches an ending sequence that is tragic but most of all majestic. The type of revenge that this film offers is exhilarating in a strangely innocent way as its two heroines are most of all fighting for their right to be truly and utterly independent. Their adventurous road trip is therefore nothing less than a quest for liberty.
2. Audition (Takashi Miike, 1999)
Asami Yamazaki is an angel faced former ballerina that joins a fake film audition that is orchestrated for the sake of the middle-aged widower Shigeharu. The man has been alone and lonesome for the past years and is now encouraged by his son to find a new girlfriend. One of his friends happens to be a film producer and proposes to ”cast” women that could fit Shigeharu’s standards. When the man encounters Asami he is irrevocably hypnotised by her looks and quickly falls for her.
The woman turns out to be more mysterious than suspected and the viewer is allowed to get a glimpse of some creepy moving sacks on the floor of her apartment. She seemingly opens up for Shigeharu, recounting her traumatic experiences of abuse and showing him the marks that they left on her body. The widower becomes even more infatuated with her but he is quickly transformed to the victim of her sadistic tendencies.
Takashi Miike offers a monumental torture scene in which Asami uses her set of acupuncture needles and a piano wire to torment the man while mumbling ”deeper, deeper” in an unimaginably spine-chilling tone. What she believes to be revenge proves to be the by-product of her paranoia and fear of abandonment and betrayal that drove her to avenge men for not satisfying her emotional requirements.
1. Kill Bill: Vol1/2 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003/2004)
Not much of an introduction is needed here. Uma Thurman equips her Hattori Hanzo katana, makes a list of five people that have to be eliminated and emerges as one of the most epochal characters that revenge films can brag about.
Everything starts when Bill and his Deadly Vipers squad destroy the life of Beatrix Kiddo in the rehearsal of her wedding. They shoot down the pregnant bride-to-be and leave a true bloodbath behind them. To their surprise the woman is not dead yet and when she wakes up from a four year long coma goes after them screaming for vengeance. Kill Bill has every ingredient that a revenge film that respects itself should have: bloody sword fights, a well executed master plan and a cathartic climax.
Add all of these elements to a dazzling soundtrack and an inventive cinematic style and rhythm and you have all you could ask for from a film tailored by Quentin Tarantino. The Bride’s success story owes a great part of its quantum leap to the hot-tempered deeds of other cinematic vengeful ladies (you will find some of them on this list) and does a pretty good job at filling their shoes.
Just another verification of the fact that Tarantino is first of all a well educated film buff and afterwards an ingenious director. At the end of the second installment, justice is finally served and Beatrix Kiddo manifests that she is much more than just a silly Caucasian girl who likes to play with Samurai swords.
Author Bio: Angeliki is currently a student in the Master’s Programme in Cinema Studies in Stockholm’s University. She spent hundreds of hours watching Asian films but at the same time she keeps herself up to date with new releases of European and American Indie movies.