Monday, March 14, 2011

Rape Squad (1974)

          Distaff vigilantism was all the rage in low-rent ’70s cinema, whether the avenger was Raquel Welch pumping hot lead into Old West varmints in Hannie Caulder (1971) or Pam Grier giving inner-city drug dealers what for in Coffy (1973). So it was probably just a matter of time before someone took the genre to a contrived extreme with a movie about a gang of women who join forces to strike back after they’ve endured too much abuse. Thus the tastefully titled Rape Squad (occasionally known by its somewhat more restrained title, Act of Vengeance), in which five ladies who were raped by the same criminal mete out justice when the actions of the local police prove unsatisfactory. Excepting its memorably sensationalistic premise, Rape Squad is a generic product off the American-International Pictures exploitation-flick assembly line, meaning that the acting, production values, and storytelling are rudimentary, and that shameless titillation is the highest priority. For instance, one long dialogue scene features an abuse victim explaining to the five members of the rape squad that she’s frustrated by the police department’s inability to catch her attacker—a conversation that would be easier to take seriously if the members of the rape squad weren’t all sitting naked in a hot tub at the time.
          On one level, the movie is crudely watchable because it’s easy to root for the women when they shame a scumbag him by destroying his apartment and dyeing his privates so he’s “marked” for identification the next time he commits a sex crime. But on every other level, Rape Squad is just plain vulgar. At one point, future Dallas costar Steve Kanaly, playing the boyfriend of the squad’s leader, Linda (Jo Ann Harris), berates her with the Neanderthal taunt, “You’re gonna get killed if you don’t stop trampin’ around like a diesel dyke!” The movie’s main criminal, Jack (Peter Brown), forces his victims to sing “Jingle Bells” while he attacks them, and he’s prone to boasts like, “I’m the honcho of the hump!” Plus, of course, the filmmakers seem to believe that lingering close-ups of breasts are somehow compatible with their theme of trauma stemming from sexual violation. Rape Squad is so brazen that the movie occasionally offers unintended amusement, but it’s impossible to find real virtue in a picture that treats this particular topic so crudely. (Available, under the title Act of Vengeance, as part of the MGM Limited Collection on

Rape Squad: LAME

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