ACT OF VENGEANCE a.k.a. RAPE SQUAD (1974)
Starring Jo Ann Harris, Peter Brown, Jennifer Lee, Lisa Moore, Connie Strickland, Patricia Estrin, Lada Edmund Jr., Tony Young, Steve Kanaly, Ross Elliot, John Pickard, Ninette Bravo, Stanley Adams, Joan McCall, Anneka DeLorrenzo, Jay Fletcher, Marie O. Henry, Ginger Mason, Holly Harris, James Kingsley, Esther Sutherland and Clint Young.
Screenplay by Betty Conklin & H.R. Christian.
Directed by Robert Kelljchian.
Distributed by American International Pictures. 90 minutes. Rated R.
I have a vague but persistent memory of seeing this movie as the last part of a triple feature in 1974, when I was only twelve years old and when it had its much more grindhouse original title Rape Squad. (Yes, I saw Rape Squad at only twelve. They did things different in the 70s. Bitch to my best friend at the time’s dad. But, in fairness, I grew up to be relatively normal.) Strangely, (or perhaps not so strangely) this film stuck with me much more than the other two at the triple bill – Brian DePalma’s Sisters (which was awfully advanced for twelve as well) and another title I can’t even recall.
Over the years I always wondered what became of the film which pretty much disappeared from view after that afternoon showing. I believe I caught a tiny bit of the end of it in the early days of cable, but I have not watched the movie full through in well over 30 years. If it ever received any kind of video release, I was not aware of it.
That’s why I was surprised when I received a press release recently for the DVD release of a bunch of relatively obscure titles. In the middle of a bunch of films that I had barely or never heard of was something called Act of Vengeance. However, it was the description of the film in the press release which really piqued my interest.
“Five raped women band together to form a ‘Rape Squad’…to avenge themselves on the sadistic man who attacked them and who gets off by forcing the women to sing ‘Jingle Bells’ as he assaults them.”
Hmmm… the term “rape squad” can’t be that common. And I did vaguely remember about the “Jingle Bells” part. This must be that film I saw so many years ago.
Therefore, despite the fact that no one has really given this movie a thought in nearly 40 years, I ordered up a review copy.
What do you know, this is the film. All these years later, I’d be able to see if it is worth the hype. After all, Quentin Tarentino and many others have forgotten b-movies that they love. For some reason this one always stayed with me, though I could barely remember any of the specifics of it. I always wanted to re-watch it as an adult, to see if it really was a good movie as I recalled, or if I just liked it because I was twelve and it had naked women in it.
Turns out to be a little bit of both.
Act of Vengeance is rather poorly made, very exploitative and often really badly acted. But, in its own cheesy kind of way, it was rather intriguing. Both in its have-its-cake-and-eat-it-too view of feminism – trying to condemn male rapists and yet luxuriating in the titillation of the situation. (To give you an idea of this slightly hypocritical style, the brilliant idea for titular squad was hatched in a hot tub by several completely naked rape survivors. What, none of them have heard of a coffee shop or a community center?)
The basic plot idea is simple enough B-movie exploitation. A group of women have been violently raped by a crazed guy wearing worker’s overalls and a hockey mask (years before Jason Voorhees used it as a disguise.) The man is a control freak and forces the women to sing “Jingle Bells” while he is attacking them. (Warning: the attacks on screen are really very graphic for the early 70s – in both violence and nudity.)
Several of his victims, who meet at a support group, decide the police are not doing enough to capture this man. Therefore they become a group who dress up provocatively, start frequenting bars, and make themselves targets for the rapist (as well as several other Neanderthals who don’t dig women’s lib and the idea that “no means no”).
All the while that they are trying to track down their attacker, he is watching them and hatching an evil plan to get them all in one night. Also, as they get closer to him, he graduates from rape to murder.
Okay, we’re obviously not talking Oscar-caliber filmmaking here. The film’s star, Jo Ann Harris, who later went on to small musical roles in the likes of American Hot Wax, Newsies and Xanadu, has a distractingly over-the-top manner in her acting. The rapist (played by Peter Brown) was also played in a corny, over-acting manner. Most of the other actors here are long forgotten – in fact the only face I recognized was future Dallas co-star Steve Kanaly as the lead character’s loving-yet-insensitive boyfriend.
Some scenes have aged really poorly – in particular an incredibly politically incorrect scene where the rape squad gives a beat down to a terribly stereotypical pimp who they catch beating on his ‘ho. Then again, you don’t go to a movie that was once called Rape Squad for sensitivity.
The amazing thing is, in its cheesy way, Act of Vengeance actually works fairly well. I could never call it a good film, but it still does what it set out to do. It’s exploitation with a capital E, but it is a rather exciting and sometimes sexy piece of slick cheesy entertainment.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 13, 2011.