Machete is coming, and I don’t think you’re ready. This week Danny Trejo hacks and slashes his way to bloody satisfaction. For those of you unfamiliar with this project, it began life as a faux trailer that played between the two segments of the 2007 Rodriguez/Tarantino co-production Grindhouse. Much in the same way that Machete is a celebration of the revenge films from the 42nd Street era, I intend to celebrate some of my favorite classic, score-settling revenge cinema. I want to make sure I am adequately prepared for people who may or may not mess with the wrong Mexican.
First up is a nasty little treat from the sleaziest country on the planet: Sweden? Christina Lindberg plays a girl kidnapped, drugged, and forced into prostitution. I typically am not a fan of the female rape/revenge films (I Spit on Your Grave is reprehensible in all ways), and I won’t lie, the first half is incredibly explicit and very hard to watch. But by the time you get to the slow-motion, beautifully photographed shotgun rampage, you’ll understand why this film makes almost every list of the best revenge films of the ’70s. The scene in which she loses her eye features one of the most grisly, and unflinching, practical effects I’ve ever seen.
Major Charles Rane lost his wife and child during a robbery — and his right arm. But when he replaces that arm with a razor-sharp hook, he becomes a savage wraith with nothing to lose. As much as William Devane owns in this film, and he truly does, the real reason to watch is his costar: a baby-faced little upstart named Tommy Lee Jones. Jones plays an army buddy of Devane’s who spends most of the movie silent — that is, until Rane informs him he has found the men who murdered his family. At which point Jones stoically stands and nonchalantly states, “I’ll just get my gear.” You can guess what happens next.
One of my all-time favorite subgenres of exploitation has to be blaxploitation. If you are a fan of revenge films, blaxploitation should be your bread and butter. The spirit of the movement — black heroes/heroines fighting back against the white establishment — manifests itself in an entire catalogue of wronged protagonists bathing the streets in blood. My pick of the litter has to be Pam Grier in Coffy. The scene in which she shotguns the dope pushers who caused her sister’s overdose is a hallmark of Grier’s legendary badass status.
Another of my favorite exploitation subgenres is Ozploiation. Australia put out some of the most unabashedly awesome films from 1970 to 1989, and one of them was a low-budget preapocalyptic revenge thriller called Mad Max. Yes, I know Mel has since actually gone mad, but watching him systematically hunt down the marauders who murdered his family is sinfully entertaining. This film is so good that the writers of Saw constructed an entire franchise out of the final kill in Mad Max — Max chaining a thug to a burning car and giving him a hacksaw to cut through his foot before the car explodes.
Charles Bronson made his mark on American cinema playing a regular Joe whose family is assaulted and who spends the rest of the film on a one-man crusade against crime. And of course by “crusade” I mean he blasts fools into next week with a gun the size of a trumpet. What is so great about Death Wish, apart from Jeff Goldblum making his film debut as one of the attackers, is that Bronson’s character is so tortured by his bloodlust that it keeps him sympathetic despite the fact he’s killing more than just those who wrong his family. Also, did I mention the gun the size of a trumpet?
When you take two cult heroes of mine, Robert Forster and Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson, and put them in the same film, you already have my attention. When you let the director of Maniac Cop helm a film about factory workers who moonlight as outlaws cleaning up what the court system lets slip through the cracks, you win my heart. It’s not enough that these guys fear no gangster, drug dealer or vicious criminal in the city and beat them all to a bloody pulp; they do their work in a tricked-out van a la the A-Team!