Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Naked Vengeance (1985)

I rented Naked Vengeance (1985) on VHS sometime in the late ’80s. My video store had two different tapes to choose from: one R-rated, and one unrated. I knew enough to know that unrated meant better, or perhaps more: more nudity, more violence, more of everything that made my friends and I rent a movie. You could usually see that the running time was longer on the back of the unrated box than on the R-rated one. There were a few noted exceptions, but in this case the unrated tape was clearly the way to go.

Aside from horror films, I was also a big fan of of any kind of vigilante or revenge movie. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that my school was lousy with gangs of thugs who liked to terrorize anyone who got marks higher than a ‘C’. I had previously enjoyed such titles as Death Wish (1974), Death Wish II (1982) and Savage Streets (1984).

I don’t think I had ever heard the term “rape-revenge” or “rape-revenge movie” at that time. But a lot of these movies (including the three I just mentioned) involved a rape, which would then lead to some form of revenge (or at least random vigilanteism). I had seen the most notorious movie of this type, which was of course  I Spit On Your Grave (1978). Its reputation had preceded it. I knew Roger Ebert had called it a “vile bag of garbage” and one of the worst films ever made. But he also gave Death Wish II no stars and said: “I award “no stars” only to movies that are artistically inept and morally repugnant. So Death Wish II joins such unsavory company as Penitentiary II and I Spit on Your Grave.”

I happened to love Death Wish II. It was certainly the most violent movie I had ever seen when I was 12, but it was also tense and exciting. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat and sweating as I watched the climactic sequence. Incidentally, I screened it for a friend years later, when we were well into our twenties, and I watched him having the same physical reaction during that sequence. It made me smile.

So, Roger Ebert’s condemnation of I Spit On Your Grave was not a deterrent to me. And the cover of the VHS box was irresistible. “This woman has just cut, chopped, broken and burned five men beyond recognition… but no jury in America would ever convict her!”


Truth be told, I was disappointed in I Spit On Your Grave the first time I saw it – and not just because she only kills four men – not five like the box claimed. I think I had expected something closer to Death Wish II or Savage Streets, but I Spit On Your Grave was way more rape than revenge. Way more. That’s not to say there weren’t some good moments once the revenge part got going, but I guess it was too little, too late for me at the time. I have since re-evaluated it (with the help of a director’s commentary and Joe Bob Briggs) and I appreciate it more now than I did back then. But that’s another story.

When I first saw Naked Vengeance (1985) I was shocked to discover that it was almost the exact same movie as I Spit On Your Grave – woman from the big city goes to a small town / rural area to be alone. She gets gang raped by a group of assholes and then kills them all in creatively violent ways. But Naked Vengeance, it seemed to me at the time, was better than I Spit On Your Grave. It was the movie that I Spit On Your Grave should have been. Naked Vengeance spends way more time on the revenge than on the rape. And it does it well, with energy and forward movement. I Spit On Your Grave seemed to move at a snail’s pace to my younger self. And it wasn’t fun. Naked Vengeance manages to be fun, as well as shocking, violent, suspenseful and all that good stuff.

Now, I know there are people out there who love I Spit On Your Grave. And as I said, I appreciate it way more now than I did back then. I have a nice edition of it in my home drive-in library. But for years I remembered Naked Vengeance even more fondly and wanted to add it to my library. Unfortunately, I never found a copy of the unrated edition on VHS after it disappeared from my video store. And I never found it on DVD. It seemed to literally vanish, perhaps eclipsed by better known movies like the ones I’ve mentioned. Thankfully that has all changed thanks to the new Shout Factory / Scream Factory double feature Blu-ray (which also includes Vendetta (1986), another personal favourite of mine.

Naked Vengeance was directed by Cirio H. Santiago, who made about a hundred movies, including Savage! (1973), Vampire Hookers (1978), and She Devils in Chains AKA Ebony, Ivory & Jade (1976). I used to see his name frequently in the credits of movies I would rent or purchase. They weren’t all great. Some of them were slow and tedious. So his hame was not a guarantee of excellence to my younger, movie watching self. But this one I thought was one of his best. I’m also a huge fan of TNT Jackson (1974), but that’s another story. 

Naked Vengeance (1985) lived up to my fond memories, and I believe it is more than just nostalgia. I will be watching it again on some future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. It is a a #Certified #NotQuiteClassicCinema favourite!