I Spit On Your Grave (1978), or Deliverance Redux

21 10 2009

Okay, before you just click off the website for my even briefest mention of this searingly controversial film, hear me out for a second. Ever since I Spit On Your Grave (aka Day of the Woman) came out in 1978, people have been enraged over the content of this film. Its explicit depictions of rape have been the suject of a lot of heated debate over whether or not it is exploitative of women or the sexually-graphic rape scenes. Now, I think anyone will admit that rape is not a fun thing to think about, talk about, and especially watch because of its absolutely reprehensible nature, and so on a certain level I can see how any filmed depiction of a woman being forced to do ANYTHING should be heavily scrutinized for fear of lifting the severity of the act in any way, shape, or form. After seeing I Spit On Your Grave with my own eyes, and in my own expert opinion as an unlicensed and totally irresponsible movie reviewer, I have to say that I didn’t find it to be either exploitative or inappropriate in the slightest. Most people would want to avoid this little shocker horror film and watch something a tad more light-hearted this Halloween season, but if you’re up for something a bit more serious in terms of tone (like murder isn’t serious!) then maybe this low-budget slasher will be up your alley.

Directed by Israeli shock-meister Meir Zarchi, I Spit On Your Grave is about the unfortunate happenstance of a young woman from NYC who rents a summer house in the country to start writing her first novel. Her name is Jennifer, and she’s just getting settled in to the slow pace of country life, relaxing in a hammock, lounging about in pajamas, and row-boating, when she is attacked by a group of four young country bumpkins. They want to get their mentally feeble friend Matthew laid, so they decide to attack this isolated young woman and give him his first time. He’s a little nervous, though, so one of the other friends assaults her sexually. Once he’s finished, they let her go. She runs, beaten and bloodied, through the woods, lost and confused as to where to go. She happens upon a clearing, at which time the young brutes catch up with her and rape her AGAIN. The hillbillies let her walk away again, and this time she makes it all the way to her house, where she almost makes it to the phone to call the police. Before that happens, though, the hillbillies are back at the house for more. They take her again, until they’ve completely had their fill. They make their escape, telling idiot Matthew that he has to kill her. Being a total coward, though, he fakes it by smearing some of her blood on a knife and telling them that he stabbed her in the heart. That was their first and final mistake, because the traumatized but plucky survivor Jennifer picks herself up, washes herself off, and begins to plan her revenge. She refuses to take such a violent affront lying down, and will go to any lengths to exact bloody, bloody retribution on the sick, twisted bastards who assaulted her.

I Spit On Your Grave is not a great, crusading giant of a film that seeks to stamp out rape everywhere. But it’s also not a sickening example of torture-porn taken to its horrifying, logical conclusion. It’s just your average slasher movie from the 70s with a strong message attached. Enemies of the film, like long-time hero of mine Roger Ebert, will say that it seeks to degrade women in a misogynistic spree of violence and sexual battery. But to say that completely misses the point of the slasher genre, which is to reward woman, in the form of the Final Girl, and her triumph against the big, ugly monster. Horror directors as artists, for the most part, wholly respect women, possibly more than they respect men. We’re asked as an audience member (or even just as a human being) not to root for the bumpkins and their horrible agenda; unless the film was about how cool it was to abuse a woman, or how rape is somehow admissible in the director’s eyes, there is no shred of misogyny to be found in I Spit On Your Grave.

As I said, though, it’s still, other than the harrowing scenes in the beginning, a typical slasher from the Jimmy Carter years. There are a lot of dull scenes involving the idiot country boys just hanging around in the wilderness talking about boobs and vaginae, Jennifer (played by a beautiful and exceedingly strong Camille Keaton) looking vengefully out into the ether, and WAY too many of idiot extraordinaire Matthew, who is so unappealing that I think he pops in and out of this dimension like a flickering bulb to toy with us from his fortress on Planet Bland. I understand that every slasher flick has to have some filler, but this is more painful to sit through than usual somehow.

Still, Zarchi, in key moments, captivates us and leaves us locked in, unable to look away, though we want to with all of our might. The vicious rape is an obvious example, and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who turned away midway through; people will either stop it as soon as it starts, or go all the way to the end. But the revenge scenes are just as compelling. Jennifer’s revenge on Matthew is not only brutal, but rather surprising. I didn’t think she would go the route she did, but I’m glad she did. And the death of the leader, Johnny, is fucking awesome! As he bleeds out in the bathroom, Jennifer listens to a song from Manon Lescaut and rocks back in a rocking chair, to the world’s delight.

Pretty good, all things considered. It’s not a towering monument in the horror industry, but it’s a film that should most definitely, and will definitely, be remembered for years to come. Whether you think Zarchi is a masochistic pig for creating this low-key slasher or not, the man has to be respected for creating a tension and a realism that isn’t present in many of the era’s horror. With absolutely no soundtrack, a penchant for not looking away, and an M.O. that can be read loud and clear from the back of the video video box, I Spit On Your Grave is something to tackle if you don’t mind things getting a little heavy on these chilly October nights. I give it 7 Planet Blands out of 10. You go, girl!

Tomorrow we have another horror film to meditate on, but I need to see what I have in my collection! I’ll fill you in later on what I decide!

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