I really don’t need to explain the meaning of this to any of you. From True Grit and the Punisher to Kill Bill and the Patriot, there’s a whole genre devoted to fulfilling that very primal and socially unacceptable human desire for vengeance. It comes with plenty of expected scenes and the most satisfying, of course, is the comeuppance the good guy finally deals out on the bad guy. There are countless instances of comeuppance to choose from, but here are my particular favorites…
5. “They must suffer as I have suffered” in The Count of Monte Cristo
Dumas’ story is certainly one of the most seminal in this staple, and I’d be remiss not to mention something with this great an influence (hell, that Revenge show coming to ABC is just the latest re-working.) You’ve got to respect how Edmond Dantes’ quest so perfectly embodies that old quote about how one should “Beware the fury of a patient man.” It’s simple not enough for Edmond Dante's to just come back and “Bang! Bang!” these scoundrels right away like his servant suggests. No, he’s got to invest the slow, calculating time (years on end, actually) to ruin their whole lives first.
I couldn’t find a good pic of it, but him forcing one of the accomplices to sweat uncomfortably in the sauna was my favorite of the comeuppance he dishes out. There's something perversely amusing about literally sweating a confession out of some guy. And there's something notably amusing about the Count proclaiming the dis-value of revenge right after he’s gone through all the trouble of seizing it.
4. Marsellus’ Promise To Get Medieval in Pulp Fiction
You know, I actually like this part less for the obvious appeal of Ving Rhames’ monologue about what he and his friends are going to do with some blow torches and pliers. What I like more is how it's the result of one revenge movie essentially getting hijacked by another. You can easily imagine how the first fracas between Marsellus and Butch would’ve played out--because you’ve seen it in countless crime flicks already.
Because these guys happened to make a left turn where they should’ve made a right turn in this “movie world,” however, they randomly find themselves in the lair of these perverts and their gimp. There, the whole blood feud that was brewing for however long is thrown away and the hatchet’s abruptly buried to make way for an entirely new grudge that needs to be settled. It's one of the best "meta" gags ever conceived.
3. The Ass Bomb in Man on Fire
Here’s the flick that taught everybody to never, ever get on Denzel’s shit list. “I'm going to tear your family apart, piece by piece. YOU UNDERSTAND ME!? PIECE BY PIECE!!!” Taken riffed on a lot of the same chords, but I’d say there’s really more drama in a father figure believing that his surrogate daughter’s been killed and, in his hopelessness, deciding to take on a thorough vendetta to annihilate anybody even remotely responsible. Creasy makes this criminal network know, without a sliver of doubt, that they made the worst possible kidnapping choice and his payback methods steeply escalate in levels of badass.
Of course, there's no question about which is the most memorable. Kidnap a corrupt police lieutenant, drug him, tie him to a car and then wake him up to let him know that you’ve lodged some plastic explosive up his bunghole. Nobody's ever made better use of a pager than Creasy does at that precise moment.
2. Thulsa Doom Beheaded in Conan the Barbarian
Out of all the payback scenes in Schwarzenegger’s filmography, why pick this one? I took a college class on “Revenge on Literature” that traced the genre’s roots all the way back to Greek tragedies like the Oresteia, and the experience gave me an appreciation, and a bit of preference, for revenge-taking that’s got some mythological and symbolic weight to it. There’s something so rich about this barbarian slaying a self-styled god king in a brutal act of "deicide" before all his listless worshipers; and then tossing the false prophet’s head down the stairs of his own palace like so much garbage. It’s not just about avenging his mother and father… it’s about bringing an entire cult religion down with one messy cut.
1. Door-to-Door Troll Stomping in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Revenge fiction’s all about catharsis--about satisfying even our darkest wishes--and you all know damn well that this exact fantasy scenario has played in your mind every time you’ve seen trolling on a message board. There’s often such a contemptible gulf between what people say so freely on the net and what they’d ever dare to say in person, and it pleases me so greatly to see Jay and Silent Bob closing that gulf like two hands boxing some loudmouths’ ears in. Just watch it.