When a hockey-masked rapist terrorizes the students of a California college, his victims form a “rape squad” and set out to “redecorate” his ass in AIP’s ACT OF VENGEANCE, out on DVD from MGM’s Limited Edition Collection MOD service.
When student/sandwich truck vendor Linda (Jo Ann Harris, THE BEGUILED) is raped in a barn one night by a verbose hockey-masked rapist who forces her to sing “Jingle Bells” – to emphasize the point that he is going to ring her bell – while he is raping her, Linda becomes the fourth victim of this singular assailant. After making a report to the police – and answering humiliating questions that try to determine her culpability in the assault – and undergoing a humiliating medical exam by Dr. Schetman (John Pickard, TRUE GRIT) – who Linda calls “Dr. Strangelove” – Linda is frustrated with the police’s ineffectual and degrading procedure. After arguing with her boyfriend Tony (Steve Kanaly, MY NAME IS NOBODY) who doesn’t understand why she’s so “uptight” about her trauma, Linda joins the other three victims Angie (Patricia Estrin, AMERICA FIRST), Nancy (Jennifer Lee, THE BELIEVERS), and Teresa (Connie Strickland, THE ROOMATES) – and fifth victim Karen (Lisa Moore, SLAUGHTER’S BIG RIP-OFF) – for a futile perp line-up in which Sergeant Long (Ross Elliot, THE TOWERING INFERNO) points out that they probably could not identify him correctly even if they did catch him since his voice could be easily disguised. Linda convinces the other victims to form a rape squad that would take reports of rape and accompany victims to the police to make sure that they are not humiliated. The five start taking self-defense classes from a black-belt named Tiny (Lada Edmund Jr., SAVAGE!). They are approached by a woman who tells them that she was raped and the police caught the guy – club owner Bud (Tony Long, CHARRO!) – but he got off because the defense attacked her credibility and she is afraid that he’ll rape someone else.
The five women stake out Bud’s club he approaches Linda and invites her up to his apartment to see some home movie of his ski trip. Of course, the film is a ruse and Bud comes onto Linda, who makes it clear that she is not interested. When he restrains her, Tiny and the other women burst in. While Tiny is kicking the crap out of Tony, the others are re-arranging his apartment with hammers and crowbars; then, they strip him and pour blue dye on his crotch as a means of identification should he attack any other woman. They also intimidate obscene caller Bernie (Stanley Adams, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S) who has been harassing columnist Gloria (Joan McCall, DEVIL TIMES FIVE), and lay out abusive pimp Percy (Jay Fletcher, FOXY BROWN). When Diane (Ginger Mason), a girl who had taken an interest in their cause, is accidentally strangled by the rapist when she fights back, Sgt. Long implores the women to let the police handle the investigation, but Linda is determined more than ever to find the rapist. Meanwhile, dry cleaner Chris (Anneka di Lorenzo, CALIGULA) has been noticing a guy with a camera following her daily and contacts the police, who can do nothing since she did not see his face. When she discovers that someone has broken into her apartment, she contacts the rape squad. When the rapist sees them escorting Chris to safety, he decides to change the game and let them hunt him, luring them to an abandoned zoo where he plans to hunt them down one by one.
Director Robert Keljchan is perhaps better known as Bob Kelljan, who already had the AIP pick-up COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (toned down from R-rated THE LOVES OF COUNT IORGA, VAMPIRE to a GP-friendly drive-in and late night TV classic) and its AIP-produced sequel THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA and SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM under his belt, and ACT OF VENGEANCE is the type of R-rated title that AIP could only have made in its later period when it was moving away from drive-in fare. The rape scenes are difficult to watch, and the film is mostly played straight – although Tiny’s black belt prowess, the Pimping Percy beat down, and the humiliation of obscene phone caller Bernie bits seem to have been added for laughs – although it’s still exploitation and the actress’ serious performances would probably have been better served by a TV movie than an R-rated flick (which was also released as RAPE SQUAD). Composer/Yorga veteran Bill Marx’s brassy (and occasionally funky) score undermines the rape scenes (particularly that of Karen, which is underscored with sleazy sax). It’s not really a spoiler to identify the rapist as Jack (Peter Brown, PIRANHA, 1972). Although the camera keeps his face out of the frame or averted from the lens throughout much of the film, and the women determine that the rapist must be someone who knows them to know so much about them, it is no startling revelation for the camera to finally reveal his face late in the film since he is never seen interacting with his victims or after the rape scenes. It is treated as a big revelation when Jack rips off his mask in frustration while arguing with Linda during the climax, but we’ve already seen his face and none of the women are shown to know him or recognize him. His tape-recorded “Diary of a Champ” is just script ammunition for us the audience to hate him even more. Although Brown plays him with conviction the “Jingle Bell Rapist” himself is hardly a memorable movie villain.
Harris made the TV guest star rounds in the late 1960s and 1970s with credits ranging from “Adam-12” and “Dragnet” to “The Love Boat”, “Barnaby Jones”, and “The Mod Squad” and was a regular on the show “Most Wanted”. She also played the lead in the TV movie version of CAT BALLOU and was among the cast of the memorable 1970s TV horror movie CRUISE INTO TERROR. Later, she appeared in the Sunn Classics faux-documentary BEYOND DEATH’S DOOR and the slasher DEADLY GAMES. She also worked as a voice artist on THE FLINTSTONES, GOOBER AND THE GHOST CHASERS and more recently on THE SIMPSONS. ACT OF VENGEANCE was an early feature credit for Lee, who followed it up with more respectable fare like the Merchant-Ivory “Old Hollywood” drama THE WILD PARTY, the film version of Neil Simon’s THE SUNSHINE BOYS, Arthur Hiller’s THE MAN IN THE GLASS BOOTH and THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER among others. Moore’s CV consists mainly of guest starring roles in TV shows like “Medical Center” and “The Bionic Woman”, but her scant feature credits include HARRAD SUMMER, the less successful follow-up to THE HARRAD EXPERIMENT. ACT OF VENGEANCE was the last feature credit for Strickland, whose scant list of credits also includes THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS in which psycho Andrew Prine stalks and slashes immoral women. Estrin also made the TV guest star rounds throughout the 1970s and 1980s with the Diane Keaton comedy BABY BOOM as her only other feature credit. McCall’s career in front of the cameras was brief but memorable, including this film, DEVIL TIMES FIVE and GRIZZLY, but she continued working behind the scenes as a staff writer on the soaps “Days Of Our Lives”, “Search For Tomorrow”, “Santa Barbara” and “Another World” (as well as penning the filmed-but-unreleased GRIZZLY II). Penthouse Pet di Lorenzo also made her debut in THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS and followed it up with MAMA’S DIRTY GIRLS, but would go on to infamy with her role in Bob Guccione’s notorious production of CALIGULA (while in Rome, she would also appear in the softcore MESSALINA, MESSALINA which was shot on Danilo Donati’s still-standing sets). Her last screen role was a small bit in Brian De Palma’s DRESSED TO KILL. While Brown was in the army, he was stationed in Alaska where he organized a theater group. When he was discharged, he studied acting at UCLA and found most of his early roles in TV westerns including “Wagon Train”, “Maverick”, “The Virginian”, and “Cheyenne” before landing a co-starring role in “Lawman” and was later a regular in “Laredo”. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s he guest starred in several TV shows and regular roles in soap operas, as well as a few features like CHROME AND HOT LEATHER, although he will probably be most familiar to exploitation fans for his role as the chief baddy in Jack Hill's FOXY BROWN.
ACT OF VENGEANCE was first released in the U.S. on tape by Thorn-EMI. Although the cover showed a reel still from the film of the hockey-masked rapist tussling with a female victim, it probably looked like a slasher movie to most video store lurkers. MGM’s made-on-demand DVD features a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that is clean and colorful (although probably not from the negative given the hole-punched reel changes, the reel change points do not feature the usual scratching so it may be an archival source). The Dolby Digital mono audio is mostly clean with the dialogue and music coming through clearly, although the crackling heard only during the dialogue scenes with Linda and Tony on the beach suggests a fault in the original unlooped live sound recording. No extras are included (it would have been interesting to see a trailer to see how AIP sold this film). (Eric Cotenas)
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