On the early morning streets of New York City, a drunken Artie and Joe delinquently roam the stillness of the Bronx after hours. After joyfully mugging an old man for a measly eight dollars and his wristwatch, their night leads them heading to the subway platform for more so called fun. A riotous Artie and Joe hop inside a railcar full of passengers that consists of two army privates on leave, a young couple on a date, an elderly Jewish couple, a young family with their 4-year-old daughter, an in recovery alcoholic, a passed out homeless man, a bigoted African-American and his wife, and a nervous gay. The passengers’ delineated diversity doesn’t thwart the two thugs’ harassment that holds the riders, in fear and in obstruction, from leaving the railcar and as personal limits are pushed to the edge, moral courage is effectively choked down by the helpless riders until one of them can’t take the bombardment of the perpetual daunting intimidation.
“The Incident’s” in your face, tell it as it is, hostage style dramatic thriller from 1967 barrels down an endless track of relevance and suspense inside the idealistic perception of New York City’s culture in the mid-20th century. Director Larry Peerce (“One Potato, Two Potato”) helms a masterpiece of a film that not only defied cinematic character standards but also defied the NYC transit authority who denied Peerce, along with cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld (“Young Frankenstein”) to shoot in and on the NYC subway system. Taking a relatively guerrilla filmmaking approach to achieve railcar and platform exteriors, Peerce also managed to construct a true to size, if not larger, railcar to get the drama unfolding between the harmless transit riders and their two terrorizers. “The Incident” was the first feature film penned by teleplay screenwriter Nicholas E. Baehr whom also wrote the television movie version of the story entitled “Ride with Terror” a few years prior, but Larry Peerce clawed, scraped, and held together a cast and a crew that nearly dismantled due to funding and production issues until ultimately being saved by 20th Century Fox.
“The Incident” has such an ensemble cast that it’s difficult to even know where to begin. Two introductory feature film performances from Martin Sheen (“Apocalypse Now”) and Tony Musante (“The Bird with the Crystal Plumage”) as the errant ruffians is unequivocally good at being bad. Musante, especially, leaves a lasting impression as Joe Ferrone who oozes with slimy browbeating tactics by plucking that one sensitive nerve in each of the riders. As equally as good in comparison is in the injured Army private from Oklahoma, played humbly and genuinely by the baby-faced Beau Bridges (“Max Payne”), with a gosh-golly grin and a peacemaker wit about him that makes the private a prime target. Sheen, Musante, and Bridges are only the caboose when considering the train of highly trained styled actors that also include Thelma Ritter (“Rear Window”), Donna Mills (“Play Misty for Me”), Brock Peters (“Soylent Green”), Jack Gilford (“Cocoon”), Ruby Dee (“Jungle Fever”), Diana Van der Vlis (“X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes”), Mike Kellin (“Sleepaway Camp”), Jan Sterling (“Women’s Prison”), Gary Merrill (“The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die”), and Victor Arnold (“Wolfen”). Ed McMahon makes his feature film debut as well! As an ensemble unit, the interactions evoke immense tensions and passion inside that railcar and from our very own couches.
Everything about Larry Peerce’s “The Incident” capitalizes on being nearly flawless. From the construction of the last act railcar set to the flash of urban realism, “The Incident” is high level on the suspense thriller hierarchy, but the characters and their personal baggage egregiously forced to the surface is utterly captivating and refreshingly cathartic to simultaneously showcase adult bullying engage enragement while also bubbling and bursting through thin layered passive aggressive convictions and attitudes. Joe Ferrone is symbolically a catalyst for the majority of riders, exposing internal loathsome, sham friendships, and tough guy personas, that naturally shreds down their ghastly facades and revealing their true, if not unpleasant, selves. Equally as compelling is the one scene with racial profiling and prosecution by the law enforcement that is heavily journaled in the today’s media and Peerce clearly believes in this injustice and adds the brief, yet powerful, moment at the tail end of the film that involves Brock Peters’ character.
Eureka Entertainment proudly presents the 20th Century Fox raw and intense New York based thriller, “The Incident,” onto a dual formatted, Blu-ray and DVD, home video as part as Eureka Classic sub-label, marking the first time on Blu-ray in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, a DVD-R screener was provided for coverage so a review of the video and audio will not be covered, but from the spec information provided, the transfer is a 1080p high definition digital transfer with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. There are optional English subtitles available. What can be said about Gerald Hirschfeld cinematography is this, it’s a complete mastery of the trade with a penchant for black and white and seamless edited camera cuts. Bonus features listed are a brand new and exclusive audio commentary by film critic and writer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study, a post-screen Q&A session with director Larry Peerce from the 2017 Wisconsin Film Festival, the original trailer, and a collector’s booklet feature new writing by film writer Sam Deighan and critic Barry Forshaw. “The Incident” is searingly powerful and a societal wake up call of we’re all in this together or we’re all a part of the problem.\
A deranged serial rapist wearing a hockey mask viciously attacks Linda, a university student who operates a food truck during the day and works on a horse farm in the evening, and forces her to sing Jingle Bells while in the middle of his heinous act. When the police could do nothing about locating and incarcerating her rapist due to lack of evidence, Linda’s urge for revenge boils to an explosively volcanic overflow. She learns that four other young university women have been attacked by the same Jingle Bells rapist and so she devises a plan to form a rape squad to encourage other women to reach out to their squad to stop various types of misogynistic attackers in hopes that one case might lead to their own attacker, but little does the revenge seeking victims know that they’re rapist has formed his own plan: to rape all five at the same time!
“Act of Vengeance,” also better known by as “Rape Squad,” sleazes the screen as an American rape-revenge exploitation film helmed by “Count Yorga, Vampire” director Robert Kelljchian in 1974. An exploitation film that just doesn’t only exhibit the gratuitous violence and nudity and perversion, but manages to go deeper, analyzing the difficult moments of how women were perceived and treated post rape in a time where laws against rapist and laws to protect the women victims are, at best, intangible. Kelljchian’s assembly line of degradation painfully puts Linda (Jo Ann Harris) through a series of incompetence and chauvinistic values, forcing an awkward and uncomfortable blanket of emotions over, not only Linda, but ourselves. Ross Elliott’s officer portrayal as Sgt. Long was nothing short of frustration for Long and Linda; his questioning was insensitive, yet routine while her vague description of her attacker doesn’t qualify for swift justice. Also, when Linda has her legs up on the gurney brackets, the male doctor goes through a creepy-comforting spiel to try and get Linda to relax before tasking a smear and that has Linda, in a way, relive her trauma and just layers on uneasy tone.
For the first half the film, Kelljchian seamlessly and continuously pushes the male snickering and apathetic obliviousness toward Linda’s, and the groups’, rape. At about or around the time the squad forms and a martial arts expert named Tiny, played by Lada Edmund Jr., starts to karate kick potential abusers’ asses, “Act of Vengeance” drops the dramatics and goes full blown Jackie Brown-revenge, losing some depth to the subject matter and getting back to the route of an exploitation film with bits of intentional comedy tossed in for good measure. “Acts of Vengeance” isn’t vengeful torture porn similar to a preceding film, a little known title you might recall entitled “The Last House on the Left” directed by master of horror Wes Craven, or in later films that have been more popular with audiences over the years; one particular film stands out having a striking familiarity in title and somewhat in story is 2015’s “Bound to Vengeance,” starring “Kindergarten Cop’s” Richard Tyson, where a young girl escapes the confines of a sexual predator, joins forces with a couple of other captive victims, and turns the tables on his perverted, underground organization.
What really makes “Act of Vengeance” also surprisingly good is Peter Brown’s performance as Jack the rapist. The Southern drawl with plain-spoken manner is unlike any other character I’ve ever experienced. When Jack asks of Linda, under his firm grip around her throat, to say, “Say, thank you, Mr. Rapist,” a calculated chill shivers down every inch of the spine. Now being that “Act of Vengeance” was released in 1974, Jack’s assault sporting getup and candid personality might spark a reminiscent flame for horror fans. Jack’s thin stature fits slightly loose in an orange jumpsuit and he covers his face with a white goalie mask that strap wraps around his wavy dark hair. To this reviewer, the jumpsuit resembles a pumpkin-shade version of Michael Myers jumpsuit, while the white goalie mask is without a doubt an inspiration for Friday the 13th Part III and it’s sequels. Jack even stalks the women like the two homicidal big fellas, lurking behind trees and bushes while catching up with ease to his fleeing prey without breaking a jogging sweat. Jack’s personality, that disgustingly witty rapist charm, feels too familiar to yet another staple villain, the boogeyman of children’s’ nightmares, Freddy Krueger. Essentially, Jack could have easily influenced three of the most popular and well known iconic horror villainous characters of all time.
Linda perfectly suits as Jack’s antagonist. The abuser and the abused compliment each other with a their cat-and-mouse game full of deceits and atrocities, but the crowning moment, the scene that defines the fate the characters, crumbles under the pressure of the story’s full embodied substance. Linda and the Rape Squad are baited too easily, walking into a vacant zoo that’s Jack’s trap and the group’s aware of this but still continues forward blindly. Characters ultimately start to unravel when one of the Squad’s women breaks from the pack, on purpose because she’s too frightened, and walks back to the car alone. Certain common sense would suggest to stay with the four other women to avoid being a lone target of your murdering rapist. Jack also becomes easily baited by Linda who mocks his masculinity, drawing him out from his perfectly laid snare and into a one-on-one bout with a baton bearing woman looking for retribution.
Deservingly so, MGM’s and Kelljchian’s “Act of Vengeance” receives a stellar home video release in Australia from EX Films, filled with extras including a 30 minute interview with Jennifer Lee-Pryor (as Nancy in the film), an audio commentary by author Alexandra Heller-Ncholas of “Rape-Revenge: A Case Study” and film critic Zak Hepburn, and theatrical and home video trailers. Pristinely presented in a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio that’s vividly colorful, nearly blemish free, and with all the bells and whistles of restoration perfection. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is clean, clear, and balanced, giving Jack the rapist that much clarity in his threats. EX Films provides solid packaging of a clear case with reversible cover art and a 48-page insert booklet featuring all the press material sent and received about the film – a marvel to read. The Ex Films region 4 release tops and trumps the competition, standing clearly the winner when compared to it’s DVD-R rival from MGM in the U.S. No other film is more violating than this hard to swallow, rape-revenge exploitation gem “Act of Vengeance!”