Revenge has motivated characters in stories since humans first started telling them. From the vengeful gods of ancient mythology onwards, acts of retribution - often violent in the extreme - have been a staple ingredient of a narrative which, as we all know, is best served cold. The vengeance motive is certainly one which hands the structure to you on a plate - someone performs an act of injustice against someone else, who then takes the law into their own hands and opts for an eye for an eye rather than the courts of justice. Blue Ruin, on release in cinemas this week, is a classic example of this basic set-up - a lean, effective and sometimes very bloody revenge thriller in which vagrant Dwight (Macon Blair) returns to his childhood home town to kill the man who murdered his parents, unleashing a wave of tit for tat reciprocal violence which escalates out of control. Blue Ruin is a timely reminder that the well-worn revenge genre can still be fresh and intriguing. To mark its release, here is a selection of ten more of the greatest revenge thrillers from cinema history, from the wildly over the top to the bittersweet and tragic.
10. Straw Dogs
Sam Peckinpah was never a director known for his subtlety. He almost single-handedly revised the way in which violence was to be portrayed on screen with his epic Western The Wild Bunch, replete with slow motion blood spurts and a dementedly elegiac action style which would be felt in cinema decades later with the heroic bloodshed movies of John Woo. Straw Dogs, his classic 1971 revenge thriller starring Dustin Hoffman, was perhaps even more controversial at the time of its release, featuring a rape scene which remains as harrowing today as it was upon its release. David Sumner (Hoffman) leaves America to live with his wife Amy (Susan George) in the fictional small town of Wakely in Cornwall, England, and before long they find themselves on the wrong side of a group of backwards locals. It's a formula which has been repeated countless times since (not least in the equally controversial I Spit on Your Grave), but few of its imitators have been quite so expertly crafted. Predictably, a remake followed in 2011. Like so many other remakes of 70s genre classics, the gritty, raw-edged tone of the original ended up lost underneath a heavy coat of Hollywood gloss.