The rape-revenge genre has long been one of the more prolific in exploitation cinema, yet out of the entire cannon, you’d be hard-pressed to find one more brutal, more unforgiving than Cirio H. Santiago’s Naked Vengeance (1985). The multiple traumas inflicted on the film’s protagonist are beyond horrific, setting the stage for her explosive revenge.

The film begins idyllically, as Carla (Deborah Tranelli, of Dallas fame) and her husband flirt while making plans to celebrate their five-year wedding anniversary that night. Carla promises to wear his favorite black stockings and garter belt combo of hers, and their genuine love and attraction for another shines through in these early scenes. Naturally then, Carla’s husband is killed right in front of her later that evening, while intervening in an assault. Carla, rightly traumatized, travels back to the small California town where she grew up, to rest and heal her damaged psyche at her parents’ house.

Almost immediately, every pervert in town descends on poor Carla, including a few she grew up with that clearly feel she deserves to be put in her place for rejecting their harassment. As if working through the stages of grief since losing her husband isn’t enough, she is repeatedly taunted by the men, literally everywhere she goes (at home, out driving, at the butcher shop, in a bar, etc.), and even has to fight off a sexual assault in a parking lot. Eventually, the men plan a home invasion after finding out Carla’s parents are out of town and she’s alone. They viciously gang-rape her, and Santiago doesn’t hold back, cutting from one rapist assaulting her to another, all while the other men cheer on her debasement.

Tranelli’s portrayal of Carla during this graphic assault is utterly heartbreaking. Screaming and pleading, she then retreats inward, shutting down as a means or self-survival.  When Carla’s parents walk in on the rape, the men shoot and kill them both, then escape, thinking they’ve left Carla for dead.

Pretending to be in a catatonic state while convalescing in a mental hospital, Carla sneaks out regularly to methodically hunt down and execute the rapists. In one scene that takes the film’s title literally, she seduces one rapist by stripping naked and luring him into a lake, where she castrates him with a hunting knife. As with other similar films, watching Carla exact her revenge is both cathartic and troubling. Whether or not her revenge “fits the crime” seems irrelevant. I’m unwilling to judge Carla, and the film chooses not to, either. Which is fitting. Carla was victimized, repeatedly—including by the unhelpful local sheriff and his inept police force whose inaction allowed the attack to occur—and her reaction to it all, while illegal, seems anything but abnormal.

Carla’s vengeance builds towards an explosive ending, a harrowing climax at the butcher shop where one of the rapists works. Special commendations go to Deborah Tranelli, who does everything asked of her, and more, in an astonishing performance (she even sings the theme song, too). She’s extraordinary, and proves that great acting most certainly does occur in low-budget exploitation fare. As unsubtle and difficult to endure as it may be, Naked Vengeance is one of the most memorable films of its kind.