I Spit on Your Grave (1978) The Jerry Gross Organization/Horror-Thriller RT: 101 minutes Rated R (language, extreme graphic violence and gore, full frontal nudity, strong sexual content, explicit prolonged scenes of rape) Director: Meir Zarchi Screenplay: Meir Zarchi Cinematography: Nouri Haviv Starring: Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Pace, Anthony Nichols, Gunter Kleeman. Box Office: N/A
Revenge flicks don't get much nastier than I Spit on Your Grave, the controversial 1978 thriller that fellow critic Roger Ebert referred to as "a vile bag of garbage" and ".... one of the most depressing experiences of my life." Originally titled Day of the Woman, it initially played in several brief engagements at rural drive-ins before getting picked up for distribution by The Jerry Gross Organization (Zombie, Blood Beach). They changed the title and it immediately gained notoriety for its graphic depiction of rape and scenes of graphic violence. Ebert and Gene Siskel discussed I Spit on Your Grave at great length on an episode of Sneak Previews and condemned the movie for its prolonged rape scenes and sadistic violence, calling it especially reprehensible even among other violent horror movies like Friday the 13th. By condemning the movie, they actually ended up promoting it and it became one of the most popular titles from this particular subgenre of horror flicks. It's a very divisive movie in that some see it as a exercise in extremely poor taste, especially with all the brutal rape scenes and it's overall attitude towards women. Others see it as the ultimate feminist statement as the main character turns the tables on her attackers and serves a generous bloody helping of revenge and justice. I didn't get to see I Spit on Your Grave until early '86 when I rented it from the local video store (I watched it on a double bill with The Hills Have Eyes). I will concede that it's a poorly made movie, both technically and artistically. Most of the acting sucks and it reeks of amateurism all the way! I will also admit that the rape scenes are absolutely sadistic and nearly unwatchable. However, as a confirmed gorehound/grindhouse movie lover, I think that it's one of the coolest revenge flicks of all time ..... IT ROCKS!
The plot itself is simplicity at its most simple, it's a complete no-brainer really. Jennifer (Keaton), a short story writer from New York City rents an isolated cottage in the country and runs afoul of a quartet of local men with her so-called provocative behavior. She makes nice with the mentally challenged delivery boy (Pace) from the local grocery store. She smiles at the creep (Tabor) who owns the local gas station and his two unemployed buddies (Nichols and Kleeman). She openly sunbathes in the nude while the guys look on from their speedboat. One day, while she's relaxing in a canoe, the guys abduct her and drag her to an isolated area where the gas station owner rapes her. She escapes, but the creeps track her down and one of them rapes her a second time. She eventually makes it back to her cottage, but the scumbags are already there waiting for her. They encourage and cheer on the mentally challenged guy as he rapes her a third time. They beat Jennifer and leave her for dead. After a brief recovery period, during which she goes to a church and asks forgiveness for what she's about to do, she gets revenge against each one of her attackers. She lures the delivery boy into the woods with the promise of sex and hangs him from a tree. She lures the gas station owner to her cottage and castrates him in the bathtub. When the remaining rapists show up, she takes one of them out with an axe and disembowels the other with a speedboat engine. She rides off in the speedboat with a blank expression on her face. THE END. I'm sorry, but what's NOT to like here? Okay, there's the prolonged rape scenes, but it's a given that nobody except depraved sex criminals would find the act of rape even remotely entertaining. Did writer/director Meir Zarchi go too far here? Yes, but that's the point of I Spit on Your Grave. These rapists put that poor girl through a harrowing ordeal, something that no human should ever have to endure. The idea is that they've pushed her past the breaking point with their criminal acts and that's what causes her to snap. The audience witnesses the violent acts committed against Jennifer and that makes it easy for them to cheer her on as she claims deadly vengeance against the depraved rapists.
Despite what the other critics say, I think that Camille Keaton, the granddaughter of silent movie comedy star Buster Keaton (The General), turns in a decent performance as the young woman pushed beyond the brink of understanding and/or caring about the difference between right and wrong. Some have pointed out that her character never displays too much of a personality, but I don't agree with that assessment, I think there's some real depth to her character. In my opinion, Jennifer represents something much feared by the male-dominated society of the late 70s, an independent woman. The Neanderthals in this remote backwoods town feel threatened by this female who doesn't appear to need a man around the house, she's on her own and she's perfectly content that way. She's a threat to the traditional gender pecking order and the men set out to mold her into their image of the ideal female .... submissive, passive and silent. Jennifer isn't any of this, she's a modern lady all the way and she regains her sense of self and independence by killing her attackers. She also sets a new standard for gender identity, women can be just as tough and bad ass as men. It's a perfectly relevant and timely message in the time when the idea of feminism really kicked into full gear and women made a major stand to have their voices heard with their loud vocal support of the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment). It's quite possible that I'm looking at I Spit on Your Grave too deeply, did Zarchi have this in mind when putting the movie together? Maybe, maybe not, I really don't know. Okay, let's approach the movie from a different viewpoint, something a bit more general ..... is it any good? It's a fairly sloppy production, it's slow-moving and most of the characters are pretty one-dimensional. Most of the acting is pretty bad as well, but none of this really matters because I Spit on Your Grave doesn't set out to be an art film of any kind, it's not like we're talking about Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring. It's an exploitation flick, a low budget grindhouse movie, a super violent revenge movie ..... in that context, I Spit on Your Grave succeeds wildly! The murders are very bloody and very graphic, especially the now-infamous bathtub castration scene (could it be a metaphor?). It's always thrilling to watch a crime victim turn vigilante and kill their assailants, why do you think the Death Wish movies did so well? It's easy to dismiss I Spit on Your Grave as contemptible B-movie garbage, but I prefer to think of it as that good kind of B-movie trash, the kind with a high repeat watchability quotient, the kind that turns the viewer into a vicarious psychopath as he/she encourages the heroine to kill those who wronged her in the most sadistic and gruesome ways possible. It's rather cathartic when you think about it, I'm not about to hold that against a revenge flick.