Tuesday, 20 December 2011

I watch movies so you don't have to #4 - Rape Squad, aka Act Of Vengeance (1974) - SPOILERS!

Christmas is just around the corner and what better way to celebrate the jolliest of season than by watching a seasonal rape-revenge thriller from the mid-70's, the golden age of such films. Rape Squad (aka Act Of Vengeance) is perhaps not one of the best in the genre, but it's definitely a weird one, mixing an aggressive all-men-are-potential-rapists sentiment with regular naked-jacuzzi-revenge-plotting and comedy fighting, often put together with the energy of a corporate video.

Personally, I think Rape Squad is a far more attention-grabbing title than what they eventually settled for. Maybe it was giving people the wrong idea.

So, what is it all about...

Our main girl Linda is attacked and brutally raped by a maniac wearing an orange jumpsuit and a hockey mask (a whole EIGHT YEARS before Jason Voorhees finally dons his iconic mask in Friday The 13th III (1982). It's an absolutely horrific scene, with the rapist forcing her to first thank him for choosing her and then to sing Jingle Bells for him during the rape.

Bruised and battered Linda goes to the police station to report the rape, but is met with no sympathy from the officers. Despite the 'Jingle Bells rapist' being known at the station, she is put in one uncomfortable situation after another, where it is repeatedly suggested that she might be partly responsible for what happened.

"Did you say no at the first point of body contact" asks the interrogating officer, to which she bluntly replies "well, the first body contact was a kick in the face". "It's just a routine questionnaire", he sheepishly and half-heartedly apologizes. That's it. Linda's had it with insensitive cops. "It's not routine to me! I've been raped and want something done about it!", she screams.

Eventually, all five victims of Jingle Bells are called in to the police station to try and identify him from a line-up. The difficulties in identifying a hockey-mask wearing maniac soon becomes obvious and the police tells them there's not much that can be done.

But the girls won't give up. They decide to form a Rape Squad, a group providing support to rape victims. They also intend to help prevent more attacks, by "taking care" of potential rapists through anonymous tip-offs .

Probably half an hour in and we still haven't met a single likeable male character. The police certainly doesn't approve of their group. Even Linda's boyfriend suggests that she probably was responsible for the attack in some way. When they put up their Rape Squad flyers, they are immediately accosted by male creeps, incapable of showing any sort of sympathy for the girls or their cause, with one stranger commenting that "a little rape once in a while should make life more enjoyable".

But, despite the hurdles, the girls soldier on. They have no intention of giving up, oh no. They start taking karate lessons (from a female teacher naturally) and are told to concentrate on what is every man's weak spot and to not be afraid of fighting dirty.

And then it's time for some topless-jacuzzi-revenge-plotting! Seriously. It comes as quite a surprise, but I can only assume that the filmmakers were doubting the commercial appeal of going all-out with the anti-male agenda...and since men would have been the main audience for the film, they felt the need to at least give them a bit of flesh.

Other women start taking notice of the Rape Squad and soon the tip-offs start coming in. A sleazy nightclub owner was apparently let off by the court, so the girls head over to his club. Linda dresses seductively, starts flirting with the owner and soon finds herself on his sofa. When he tries to come on to her and she objects, he gets violent.

BOOM! Rape Squad to the rescue! The other girls have been waiting outside and kick in the door, beat the creep up and trash his house. They tie him to the bed and pour permanent blue skin dye on his penis, so he can be easily identifiable, should he ever try his dirty tactics again.

"You like to force yourself on women, stud?"

So, we're getting quite far into the movie and it's starting to bug me on many levels. One problem is how it's all shot. It's not that it's badly made...quite often it's just handled in a frustratingly boring way. And it really is a shame. Jingle Bells is an extremely creepy character and it could have been done much more efficiently. It looks like a graduation project where some film school student has decided to make a gritty exploitation film, but been afraid of leaving the textbook behind when it comes to the techhnical aspects. So, there are loads of interesting ideas, but the execution just contradicts the grittiness of the plot.

Anyway...unfortunately, our gang are not getting any closer to catching Jingle Bells...and he's still very much out there. "I'm just your friendly neighbourhood hockey player" he says as he approaches his next victim.

After accidentally killing this victim, we get a disturbing glimpse into the mind of Jingle Bells, through some internal monologue.

"Damn, I actually killed someone. Don't think I want that to happen again, now. It's not a nice feeling. Got to find a new one. Get my mind off that"

With Jingle Bells now being both a murederer and a rapist the police are beginning to object louder to the work of the Rape Squad. But the girls won't listen and decide they are now needed more than ever.

They're alerted to an abusive pimp and practise their karate skills on him.

"See you around, pimp!"

Here's another problem. Thorughout the film, much of the fighting just looks like comedy fighting and it makes it very hard to take it seriously. It just doesn't know what kind of film it wants to be.

However, there's never anything funny about Jingle Bells and he's following the work of Rape Squad closely. He finally lures the whole gang over to an abandoned zoo. I think I'll leave it there for you to find out what happens.

I don't know if I can really "recommend" Rape Squad. It certainly has some interesting ideas going, but the execution lets it down. Jingle Bells is a truly creepy villain, one of the better ones I've seen in a long time.

So, there are definitely better rape-revenge thrillers out there, but there are probably many worse as well. Watch at your own risk.

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