The original I Spit on Your Grave was made under the title Day of the Woman and played in some theatre chains and horror festivals under that title in 1978. It didn’t attract much attention until it was picked up for distribution by The Joseph Gross Organization in 1980 and given the lurid, exploitative new name. There, it developed a reputation as one of the most notorious films ever made. It was promptly banned in countries such as Germany, Australia, and New Zealand, and labeled a “Video Nasty” in the UK. In the US, it achieved new levels of notoriety with critics like Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel who had called it the worst film they had ever seen and launched a successful campaign to have the film pulled from the United Artist Theater in Chicago. Ebert later referred to it as “a vile bag of garbage…without a shred of artistic distinction,” adding that “Attending it was one of the most depressing experiences of my life.”
The idea for the 1978 version came one night after director Meir Zarchi helped a rape victim to a police station, where the police were of no help, and he was driven to tell a story of a woman getting her own justice. The original film is neither as bad as many classic reviews would have you believe, nor anywhere near as important as some may think it to be. Regardless if you consider it a misunderstood feminist film or simply condemn it for its nihilism and cruelty, the film suffered from its low budget, poor direction, and some terrible acting. In this remake, a young woman (Sarah Butler) suffers multiple rapes by four countrymen, then hunts them down and kills them all. There’s not much difference in terms of whatever little plot the first film had, but unlike many horror remakes, Spit not only captures the spirit of its predecessor but is clearly the better of the two. The 2010 remake wisely takes liberties in changing everything that was wrong with the first film and succeeds in doing so.
One major misconception people may have about I Spit on Your Grave is that it is a straight-up horror film, but it isn’t; at least, not in the sense of a slasher film. Instead, it is a horrific story about the human condition, and how far people can actually go if they do not have any respect for human life. The film’s lack of any nuanced structure or emotional subtext makes it seem cold and calculating, when in fact it is a female empowerment fantasy. This is a movie that shows a bruised and battered woman rising above her status as a victim and taking matters into her own hands. For that reason Day Of The Woman would have served for a better title, a title which writer-director Meir Zarchi has always preferred, correctly noting that “it is a lot less sensationalistic.”
I Spit On Your Grave is a well-made film, impeccably shot, well-acted, and will palpably impact those who dare to watch.
The original was a movie made by a man for a male audience, with too many trademarks of the typical exploitative revenge thriller for it to begin to qualify as “feminist” by any meaningful definition. Jennifer plans to kill her attackers, and in two cases, does so by having sex with them first. For any woman, much less a rape victim, this seems like psychological nonsense, and serves one purpose: to show the actress nude as often as possible. This is not feminism, and anyone who screams female empowerment is just as ridiculous as those declaiming it as the lowest kind of trash. Luckily in Monroe’s version, her retaliation is served in a much more believable manner. Director Monroe wisely opts to dismiss the notion that Jennifer must seduce the men in order to succeed in her mission. Her sexual appeal is not used as a weapon here. She preys on the men physically, but more importantly mentally, using superior intelligence to lure them into her trap and exact brutal revenge – thus giving a strong argument for the message of female empowerment, something which the first film fails at.
Another smart move on writer and director is that he does not paint the men as outright monsters. They are family men, all of whom grew up in the same small town and have all formed friendships throughout the years dating back many generations. Chad Lindberg does an outstanding job reprising the role of Mathew, the mentally handicapped boy. His performance is touching and we sympathize with him throughout the film. Andrew Howard, who plays Sheriff Storch, is undoubtedly one of the most menacing on-screen villains to date. Yes, the men in this pic are vile, cruel, and unforgivable, but they are never in any way one-dimensional. The men aren’t as stereotypically portrayed as in the 1978 version, nor are they as silly. Any controversy surrounding the film’s depiction of rape and torture is almost immediately squashed by the film itself and the male characters who populate the screen. In fact, this is perhaps the flattest out anti-masculine films ever made by a male filmmaker.
A precise and damning indictment of male sexuality, and a look at men who can’t conceive of a world in which a dominant male’s sexual prowess might possibly be unwelcome.
Sarah Butler puts on a harrowing performance as the lead. It’s a brave performance and one that takes a lot from her both physically and emotionally. Unfortunately, like the original, we do not really get to know the heroine very much. After being raped, beaten, and left for dead, she returns to take her revenge, but the character never comes across as someone who has gone through the terrible ordeal, nor is she given any reason to have enough knowledge and resources to set up elaborate traps to catch her prey.
The remake of I Spit On Your Grave is much harsher in its depiction of violence. The original felt a bit neutered (no pun intended) in its presentation, whereas the remake is truly disconcerting and more believable. It is one of the most graphically violent films ever made, starting with its opening act, a 20-minute long rape scene filmed in one long, dreadful sequence. But its third-act reversal of male-female power dynamics countered with a noose, castration, gouged eyeballs, flesh-eating crows, acid and a barrel of a shotgun shoved up a man’s anus might be too much for even hardened horror enthusiasts. The stomach-turning set-pieces rival those in both the Hostel and Saw series. After all, the film’s purpose is to spend more time inflicting pain on the rapists than watching them inflict pain on their victims.
I Spit On Your Grave is hardly the only “rape/revenge” film, yet other films like Baise-Moi, Straw Dogs, and Irreversible have escaped such harsh criticism from the likes of the world’s top film critics. Roger Ebert was in a frenzy over what takes place during the 100-minute running time of the original, yet he gave 1972′s The Last House on the Left, (which has more or less the same plot) a rave review. In contrast, Last House which, aside from being loosely based on Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, is just as exploitative and includes a fairly ridiculous plot gimmick. Siskel and Ebert had themselves to blame for the movie’s instant cult status: In denouncing the film as sick and degrading, they practically guaranteed a cult following, so in that perhaps fans of the genre owe it to them.
This is a well-made film, impeccably shot, well-acted, and will palpably impact those who dare to watch. It is what it is – a rape/revenge thriller with an unusually intense emphasis on the suffering of both the men and the woman. It doesn’t eroticize the rape, doesn’t soften the rape, doesn’t glorify the violence. In an age of gutless remakes and reboots Monroe stayed shockingly true to Zarchi’s vision and for better or for worse, it was worth the effort.
– Ricky D