By Natasha Samreny
Funny how movies sometimes offer a more real perspective of life than experience itself. Sexual politics change and sometimes improve over time, culture and geography. But watching Rape Squad made me sick in disbelief at how disgusting, clueless and misogynistically men could treat women in mainstream America at the country’s social climax of the women’s lib age of the 1970s, and get away with it.
The story’s about five women who don’t know each other at first but meet at a police station during an investigation for their mutual rapist whom they dub Jingle Bells. (At every assault, he forces the victim to sing “Jingle Bells” while he rapes her). As their police investigation team is made of men who don’t seem to understand or be as motivated as the women to find their attacker, the group gets together and forms a rape squad. Linda (Jo Ann Harris), Nancy (Jennifer Lee), Karen (Lisa Moore), Teresa (Connie Strickland), Angie (Patricia Estrin) and the martial arts teacher they connect with for for guidance, Tiny (Lada Edmund Jr.).
Primarily, they set up a hotline where other victims can call 24/7 for help or empathy from other women, or to share tips on similar attacks. But the sicko rapist Jack (Peter Brown) stalks his “five lovelies” –the disgusting, messed-up pig-of-a-man—tracks the group of victims and women who collect around them.
While not unbelievable, it’s just incredible the stupid things men say to the women in this movie, the assumptions they make and the insensitivity with which they treat them. After the main character Linda is raped, she actually goes to the police station to report it. Throughout her entire journey she is ogled, watched with raised eyebrows and lurid glances, and responded to with minimal decency at best, insensitive stares and degrading humor at most. Isn’t there a woman I could talk to? Isn’t there anyone else? Sgt. Long (Ross Elliott) repeats his questions – What was she wearing, did she say No, did she show him No? What the hell is that supposed to mean?
As Long walks her out, some idiot cracks, “I wish that’d happen to me sometime. I’d just lay back and enjoy it.” These are the types of comments that pervade the film. These insensitive comments contrasted with the evocative images of the beautiful and often well-dressed, or undressed women of the squad offers a perplexing challenge to movie-watchers for how to process the story.
Each rape scene is petrifying and sickening. You can see the dire fear in the women’s eyes and hear the desperate helplessness and pleading in their voices. I want to kick Jack in the groin, stab him in the heart, slap him to the ground, beat and humiliate him the way he does them. And they do – at least a few times. It’s amazing how the police can’t seem to find or bait the perverts and rapists these women are victimized by, but the women can and do. They scare a guy who is harassing a female journalist with sick, unsolicited serial phone calls filled with masturbatory innuendo and come-ons. They beat up a pimp and smash his car when they find him beating up his “girlfriend” in the middle of a street. The Karate instructor Tiny leads the attack, but the rest fill in.
When the squad goes after a sleezy club owner who got off after raping another woman, they bait him. As expected, he tries it again, this time with Linda—taking her up to his apartment under false pretenses. When he starts trying to rape her, she yells, giving the cue to the squad girls waiting outside his door. The girls open the door and come inside, kicking him to the ground. They give him several chances: Linda pushing him off, yelling No, the squad knocking him down in defense, but he jumps right back in, so they beat him up. Finally, tying him to his bed, they remove his clothes. What’re you doing? He asks. You’re being raped. What? You don’t like it? They pull out a bottle of blue sulfuric acid and drip some on his member. “You’re a marked man, Mr. Rapist. And if we ever hear that you attacked any other woman, this’ll identify you and we’ll be back. And if we do, we’ll redecorate your ass and not your apartment.”
Yes there are hokey parts – it’s a 1970s revenge movie with the word squad in the title. But if only justice were this accessible and real. Even now, nearly 40 years later, rape tests are still forgotten by the boxes inside police stations, rapists are getting out on a few years, and rape is often treated as a forgettable, forgivable assault instead of a heinous crime.
The police still can’t find Jack, and he’s attacked another woman, this time killing her in the process. No one even has a visual on his face (he always wears a stupidly unoriginal hockey mask). When the squad gets a chance to meet up with him, they do. This is a chance to unmask their torturer, to act on all the pain and suffering and vile anger he brought out in them. But these things never go as planned, and they don’t bring Tiny along.
He leads them on a goose chase until they end up in a deserted zoo in the woods by dark nightfall. Then they start dropping making them more vulnerable: Teresa decides they need police and guns tracking a rapist-killer at night. She turns back, then Karen breaks her shoe and the others don’t notice. By the time they turn around to look for the other girls, Jack’s raped both and killed Teresa. He’s tied Karen up in a cage and is torturing her. He makes Nancy and Angie lock themselves inside the cage and tries to get Linda to follow.
Through the torturous negotiations with Karen’s life, Linda struggles with risking her friend’s life and joining the others in the cage, leaving them all helpless victims at his mercy again or finding a way to get him out of the cage on more even ground and outwit or fight him. Jack tried to tell every victim he stole that he was the best lay they’ll ever have, but when Linda insults his manhood, he unmasks and runs out of the cage after her. She has no choice but to defend herself. The fight scene is real, and it ends with him knocked out on the ground and Linda beating him to death with a shovel found in the recesses of the abandoned zoo. Beating him again and again as her helpless cage-tied sisters cry for her and for it all to end.
All the pain, vile hatred, suffering and fear he provoked in them seems to course through Linda’s body and into that shovel down on his head and his body. The humiliation, the physical abuse, the mental and emotional abuse, the fear his very existence channeled into their lives—they finally get their revenge but their justice will never be complete as they can never get back the lives they lost.