Vengeful ghosts, entities called upon for justice, the raising of the dead to right a wrong. The name for such monsters is a revenant. I have heard the term before, but had never really filed it away as an entity of vengeance, especially considering the 2015 film Revenant starring Leonardo DiCaprio (even though revenge is a major theme).
Revenants have been used in fiction for centuries but have been called other names: vampire, ghost, zombie, banshee, etc. Even Shakespeare used the revenant concept in his tragedies Hamlet (the ghost of Hamlet’s father) and Macbeth (the ghosts of Banquo and King Duncan).
Revenants, however, have traditionally been reanimated corpses seeking vengeance by feeding on the living. Many are the “wicked” who come back to terrorize the village, yet some are innocent people who were killed by someone evil. Fans of Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane may recognize these elements in his story “Skulls in the Stars.” Howard’s character often faced some sort of undead antagonist, and many of the Kane stories can be found in the public domain.
Vampires are an interesting concept for a revenant simply because revenge is a rare setup for the vampire story/novel. Stephen King’s “Popsy” does have a vengeful vampire, but that’s not why the vampire existed. Perhaps Dracula could be considered a revenant if one were to go by the 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula starring Gary Oldman, Winona Rider, Anthony Hopkins, and Keanu Reeves. Here, Dracula claims he will avenge the suicide of his beloved wife after some priest lie to her about his death in battle. He then curses God, stabs the crucifix, and drinks the blood that issues forth. This turns him into the blood-drinking fiend we all know and love. In this instance, he would be considered a revenant. In a lot cases, the vampire is simply a case of misfortune as one can find in Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire.
I personally wouldn’t consider the pop culture Walking Dead zombie a revenant, but there are some that do fit the category. One story that come to mind is from the Creepshow movie. One of the stories, “Something to Tide You Over,” details the murder of a couple who come back from the dead for revenge and have the gruesome zombie appearance. Another episode from Creepshow 2 also has a revenant in the form of “The Hitch-hiker.” The X-Files has many episodes of the dead coming back to punish the living, and one episode is even named “Revenant.”
In the end, the most common form is the vengeful ghost. Countless folklore, myths, and stories have the vengeful ghost. Ju-on/The Grudge as well as Ringu/The Ring and many other Japanese horror film use this motif–not to mention Poltergeist, The Fog, and Thirteen Ghosts. La Llorona and Bloody Mary have their place here as well. A multitude of vengeful spirits have become a part of world culture, which make sense. Revenge, death, and the afterlife play deep roles within the psyche of humanity. A creature that exemplifies all three would be a popular creature. So, next time you look in the mirror and utter “Bloody Mary” three times, remember: vengeance is on Mary’s mind, and she doesn’t care who she takes it out on.