“You just don’t understand it,” or Why I Love Rape-Revenge
After reading Jerry’s compelling article(here) about why he loves horror, I wanted to share something that people have been asking me about for the better part of a decade. Thanks brother, for inspiring me to be honest with not only my comrades, but with myself.
There are moments in our lives when forms of media help define who we are. When something another person has created resonates so loudly within us, we must stop whatever we are doing and give ourselves over to it. For some people, a song or an album can completely alter the course of another person’s life path, but for me, it was always film.
I grew up on horror films, a medium that brought my mother and I together and unified us with a familial bond. Watching other people survive horrible situations helped teach me how to battle my own demons, and learn to appreciate the joy that I did have in my life. I may not have been the most popular girl in school, but I was never Carrie White. I may have suffered from night terrors well into my adulthood, but I was never battling something as terrifying as Nancy Thompson. Horror made me realize that my life really wasn’t that bad. A fucked up form of schadenfreude, perhaps, but horror movies taught me how to cope.
I was barely old enough wake myself up for school and do my own laundry when I met him. I never exactly looked my age so when he told me he was 19 I just held my tongue. I said I was still in high school and he assumed I was a senior. There are no words to explain how cool it was to be mistaken as a senior when I was only a freshman. I fell in love over late nights sneaking out for bad diner coffee and laying on the hood of his car listening to hellogoodbye. We had a summer filled with endless laughter and shared secrets on swing sets surrounded by laughing children. I thought it may have been the seasons, but something…changed. Late night sneaking out became a demand, bad diner coffee turned into unwanted vodka, listening to music turned into lying to my parents, counting the stars turned into hiding the bruises, laughter turned into crying, and sharing secrets turned into hiding them from everyone else but him.
That following winter, I walked into my own personal Hell. I went to a party with him and wound up waking up bruised, sore, and without any underwear. I’ll spare the gritty details, but it wasn’t pretty. He left me there and refused to speak to me. I tried texting, emailing, myspacing (this was when myspace was cool), and calling every day. No response. Nothing. I didn’t know what to do, so I didn’t do anything.
I signed up for counseling, but nothing seemed to work. Even my friends kept telling me how sorry they felt for me and treated me like a fragile family heirloom. My school guidance counselor gave me pamphlets but I could see the pity all over her face. I was damaged now. Useless. I was now something that needed to be handled with care. The perception everyone who knew had of me was now something of a weakened individual; a bruised fruit, a cracked egg, a loose tooth. I hated it. I hated feeling this way and nothing seemed to give me any sense of power.
That’s when I came across MS. 45. The local video store had been working me through the classics from childhood, and I started to dip into exploitation somewhere around my sophomore year. I’d weaseled my way through cannibal films, Blaxploitation, Giallo, and more slashers than I could count, but the cover for MS. 45 stared me in the eye like a wolf in heat. Her spread legs exposed a man holding a cane while she stood with smoking gun in hand and the tagline screaming, “It will never happen again!” I smuggled the film under my jacket, fearing judgment from the video storeowners that had become a second family to me, and brought it home for viewing. The nun thing may have lost me a little, but I couldn’t help but cry throughout a majority of the film. The content was triggering and everything about the film felt so…wrong. The situations were unnatural and the costuming was all done purely for shock value. It was an exploitation film, sure, but it felt so wrong for a film to poorly cover subject matter so real to so many people. At the same time, I was transfixed on this woman who couldn’t speak, but understood that this didn’t have to be the end for her.
I returned the film and was caught by one of the workers. I apologized and he said, “If this is what you want to watch, I’ll get you the Grand Poobah of them all.” He pressed his hands across VHS covers and stopped on a copy of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. “This woman has just cut, chopped, broken and burned four men beyond recognition… but no jury in America would ever convict her! I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE … an act of revenge.” He warned me that there was a lengthy rape sequence, but told me it’s a movie that could change my life.
He was right. I must have watched that tape 5 times that day. Her horror felt authentic. The film never gave me the opportunity to look away the same way I never had the chance to look away. I was forced to watch every last second of her trauma and I felt closer and closer to her with every moment. But then, something wonderful happened. She moved on. Her revenge is a bit much, yes, but she didn’t just roll over and die. She didn’t let this ruin her life. She didn’t let herself become a victim. She became a survivor, and she allowed herself to regain her strength. Being raped changes you, it does. Some of us grow bitter, some of us grow depressed, some of us feel vengeful, some of us become scared, and some of us can’t withstand the memories. All of these feelings and emotions are completely valid, but we as a society condition ourselves to expect survivors of rape to be depressed and almost at a child-like level of sensitivity.
Look, I’m never going to track down my rapist and murder him, but I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and rape-revenge movies like it showed me that he didn’t have to destroy me when absolutely nothing else in my life told me otherwise. It showed me that I don’t have to be a victim, and that being a survivor of sexual assault doesn’t render me this weak, fragile, or damaged creature. I’m still here, and I’m still strong, and no amount of therapy could ever show that to me…but a horror movie could. So whenever people tell me how much they hate rape-revenge movies and think I’m a freak for liking them to the point of naming my blog after the original running title of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE,I just look at them and say, “You just don’t understand it, and I hope you never will.”