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Legal download: Revenge movies on demand

The world of film is changing. For one thing, there’s not much actual film anymore. The future is digital; more and more, it’s streaming on our computers, too. Every week in Legal Download, we survey the landscape of online movies to bring you a snapshot of what’s available. This week, we have a very particular set of skills: we know what revenge movies are available on demand.

We’ve all had dark moments where we imagine taking revenge on someone. Most of their crimes are small scale: “I can’t believe that guy stole my seat on the subway! Why couldn’t he have sat in an egg?” that kind of thing. But revenge movies offer us the opportunity to contemplate — and perhaps even to fantasize about — revenge on a larger, more serious scale. We’re not talking stolen seats, we’re talking stolen lovers, or children, or lives. These movies may offer thrills, suspense, or horror, but at their core they are really about moral choices; what is right and wrong and whether two wrongs can ever balance the scales of justice. While you ponder that question, here are five movies to contemplate, ones that prove revenge is a dish best served cinematically.

On SundanceNow
THE TORTURED (2012)
Directed by Robert Lieberman
$9.99 to rent or stream

Speaking of contemplating write and wrong, THE TORTURED has all the makings of a classic moral quandary. Jesse Metcalfe and Erika Christensen play a husband and wife whose young son is kidnapped and murdered. Racked with guilt, their marriage breaks apart. Later, though, fate offers them a chance for revenge. Their son’s killer is found, caught red-handed with another victim, but the justice system ultimately lets him off with a light sentence. That’s when Metcalfe and Christensen decide to kidnap and torture him themselves (apparently it’s a lot easier to do than one would imagine). What would I do in this situation? First of all, I’d probably wish I wasn’t the protagonist in a twisted movie from the producers of SAW.

On Netflix
THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972)
Directed by Wes Craven
Free for streaming plan members

Wes Craven’s directorial debut is one of the most ruthlessly effective exploitation movies ever made. Celebrating her seventeenth birthday with a night out in the big city over her kind-hearted parents’ wishes, Mari (Sandra Peabody) accidentally stumbles across a gang of psychopathic criminals. In short order, they torture and rape her and leave her for dead. By sheer chance — or maybe it’s divine intervention — the lunatics’ car breaks down just outside Mari’s family’s house, and they trick her mother (Cynthia Carr) and father (Richard Towers) into letting them spend the night. But when Mari’s parents discover what their houseguests have done, they decide to mete out their own kind of justice on their daughter’s killers. Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s 1960 film THE VIRGIN SPRING, Craven’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT inspired its own legion of imitators, including a 2009 remake. Though plenty of the films that came in its wake outdid the original LAST HOUSE in the troubling sexual violence department, no one has yet to top Craven’s audience-torturing juxtapositions (while Mari’s parents obliviously bake their birthday girl a cake, she watches a friend get brutally attackd) or his pitch blank sense of humor. I mean how can you not cheer when Mari’s mom bites off a rapist’s dick?

On iTunes
DEATH WISH 3 (2006)
Directed by Michael Winner
$9.99 to purchase

Like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, DEATH WISH is another iconic revenge movie from from the 1970s, and one that spawned an entire subgenre of knock-offs. But unlike LAST HOUSE, some of the knock-offs included actual sequels featuring DEATH WISH star Charles Bronson and director Michael Winner. It sounds kind of crazy to imagine the family in LAST HOUSE moving to another city, finding another reason for revenge, and then killing a whole bunch of criminals, but that is precisely the kind of crazy that fuels the DEATH WISH sequels. Having cleaned up the streets of New York and then Los Angeles in DEATH WISHes 1 and 2, Bronson’s Paul Kersey moves to Brooklyn to help out a friend who’s getting hassled by rampant crime and gang activity. With the police turning a blind eye to his revengery, Kersey and the largest handgun in human history wage a one man war on crime — and that’s before Kersey’s new girlfriend is murdered by the evil Fraker (Gavin O’Herlihy). Now especially annoyed, Kersey breaks out the big guns — or bigger guns I guess, including machine guns and rocket launchers. DEATH WISH III is so over-the-top in its depiction of urban crime and violence that it plays like a Zucker Brothers parody of a revenge movie, except none of the jokes were intentional.

On Amazon Instant Video
THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (1956)
Directed by Kevin Reynolds
$1.99 to rent, $9.99 to purchase

“You are wealthier than any man I have ever heard of. What do you want to buy?” “Revenge.” Dum-dum-dummmmmm! This underrated swashbuckler, based on the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas is a juicy revenge tale of the Frenchiest sort. Jim Caviezel (Jesus!) plays Edmond Dantes, a French sailor wrongfully imprisoned and screwed over by his jealous friend Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce). Locked away for years, Dantes is educated and trained in swordsmanship by a fellow inmate; during an escape attempt, the inmate reveals the location of a vast fortune, which Dantes uses to transform himself into the Count of Monte Cristo, a wealthy baron who insinuates himself into Mondego’s life in order to destroy it from within. The film is a good old fashioned adventure story with an impressive cast beyond Caviezel and Pearce: Richard Harris plays Dantes’ incarcerated educator, Luis Guzman his loyal manservant after his escape, and a young Henry Cavill (a.k.a the new Superman in Zack Snyder’s upcoming MAN OF STEEL) is Mondego’s son.

On YouTube
I SAW THE DEVIL (2010)
Directed by Kim Jee-woon
$3.99 to rent

The revenge in revenge films typically moves in one direction: someone is wronged, and the wronged party sets out to get revenge against the party that committed the heinous act. The intense revenge thriller I SAW THE DEVIL — one of many intense revenge thrillers that have come out of South Korea in the last couple years — starts in typical fashion: a serial killer (Choi Min-sik) brutally murders a young woman. But then things take a turn toward the surreal and the even-more-disturbing. The woman’s fiance (Lee Byung-hun) is a secret agent for the Korean government; after the crime is committed and his dead love’s body is found, he takes a leave of absence from his job and devotes himself to finding the identity of the killer. Whatever responsibilities he used to feel towards the law went right out the window the moment his fiance was murdered; now he uses any and every weapon at his disposal, including torture, to find and punish his target. At the time of this incredibly suspenseful movie’s release I described it as not so much a game of cat-and-mouse but a game of cat-and-equally-scary-cat. If most revenge movies make us question the nature of morality, I SAW THE DEVIL, with its almost wholly evil world, makes us wonder whether morality even exists at all.