By Gary Dowell
We’re a bit intrigued by this month’s Need for Speed starring Aaron Paul, partly because we love Breaking Bad and partly because we love a good revenge story. “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” as the old Klingon proverb goes. Truth be told, it also can be served hot, a la carte, and/or salty with a twist of lime.
If there’s anything we here at Movie Night have learned from the movies (and most of what we know we’ve learned from the movies), it’s that there are many recipes for payback. Almost as many flicks on the subject. Here’s an extensive, but by no means exhaustive list of some of our favorites:
POINT BLANK (1967)
John Boorman’s (Excalibur) adaptation of the classic pulp crime novel The Hunter by Donald Westlake, starring Lee Marvin as Walker, a hard-as-nails thief who goes on a violent tear after he’s betrayed and left for dead by his partner (John Vernon) and wife (Sharon Acker). Walker doesn’t stop there. Instead, he blasts his way through a crime syndicate to recover the money stolen from him. Moody, atmospheric, and graced with a cast that includes Angie Dickinson, Keenan Wynne, and Carroll O’Connor. Remade twice as Payback (1999) with Mel GIbson and Parker (2013) with Jason Statham.
GET CARTER (1971)
Mike Hodges (Flash Gordon) made his directorial debut with this Brit noir cult fave about a gangster (Michael Caine) who returns to his home town to investigate his brother’s death. He uncovers more than he bargained for. Ranked by Total Film magazine as the best British film ever made. It became one of Caine’s signature roles and its DNA can be found in Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey and others.
DEATH WISH (1974)
The mother of all modern revenge movies, featuring Charles Bronson in arguably his most memorable role, playing an architect who goes on a vigilante rampage after his wife and daughter are brutally attacked by a gang of thugs. Said rampage continued through four sequels and spawned countless knock-offs.
I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978)
This controversial 70’s exploitation flick centers on a young woman (Camille Keaton) who wreaks bloody vengeance after being raped and beaten by a gang of yokels. Notorious for its graphic content. It was named one of Time magazine’s Top 10 Ridiculously Violent Movies in 2010.
MAD MAX (1979)
One of the classics that put the Australian New Wave on the cinematic map in the 70s, George Miller’s enduring pseudowestern redefined road rage with its tale of a a tough young cop (Mel Gibson) patrolling the backroads of a post-crash near-future Oz, wreaking bloody vengeance after he loses his family to a biker gang. Miller’s years as an emergency room doctor and the ‘73 oil crisis influenced the movie’s vehicular mayhem.
STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)
Arguably the best Trek movie ever made. This sequel to a 1967 episode of the original series (titled “Space Seed”) finds the crew of the Enterprise targeted by a villain from their past (Ricardo Montalban, rocking some amazing pecs). It touches upon Moby Dick to develop its theme of the self-destructiveness of vengeance. Dark, fast-paced, and character-driven. It renewed interest in the franchise and kicked-off a story arc that played out through the two subsequent sequels.
FULL CONTACT (1992)
Hong Kong action director Ringo Lam turns in what could be considered the Eastern version of Point Blank with this tale of a thief (Chow Yun-Fat, hot off the success of The Killer and Hard-Boiled) who’s maimed and left for dead by his best friend (Anthony Wong) and a gang of psychos led by Simon Yam. It’s Stylish, tasteless, gleefully nutty, and worth seeing just for the bullet’s-eye point-of-view shoot-out and Chow’s closing one-liner.
THE CROW (1994)
Alex Proyas’ (Dark City) adaptation of James O’Barr’s underground comic about a murdered musician (Brandon Lee) who returns to earth to bring justice to the criminals who killed him and his girlfriend. The Crow gained an immediate cult following. In a cruel twist of fate, Lee died during the filming of what would have been his breakthrough role, killed in a freak accident involving a prop gun. Script rewrites and some use of a stunt double and CGI allowed for it to be completed.
With just his second feature film, amateur director Christopher Nolan made his Hollywood breakthrough and ignited a stellar career with this complex tale of a man (Guy Pearce) seeking to avenge the rape and murder of his wife. The twist? A beating by the perpetrator left him with a brain injury that crippled his short-term memory. Twisty and told with a fractured narrative that has part of the story play out in reverse order. A brilliant work that demands, earns, and respects repeat viewings.
KILL BILL VOLS. 1 AND 2 (2003-04)
Quentin Tarantino’s revenge epic was so ambitious it had to be split into two films. Both star Uma Thurman as The Bride. A woman betrayed and left for dead on her wedding day by her former lover/ hitman and his cronies. Her quest for vengeance results in a body count seldom seen outside a war movie. Tarantino lifts tropes from samurai films, spaghetti westerns, grind-house flicks, anime, blaxploitation, kung fu epics, and the results are breathtaking.
Editors Note: If you want to some other revenge movies then check out the Korean films by Park Chan-Wook. You’ll have to be okay with reading subtitles. There is Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), the original Oldboy (2003), and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance(2005).
I Saw the Devil (2010) is directed by Kim Ji-woon and it’s also a really creepy Korean movie about revenge. I recommend the original Oldboy and I Saw the Devil, if you like foreign films.