Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on February 16th, 2011
“This despicable remake of the despicable 1978 film, I Spit On Your Grave adds yet another offense: a phony moral equivalency.”
Roger Ebert is at it again. Over thirty years ago he pretty much hated the original film, but he didn’t stop there. He extended his hatred to the fellow movie-goers he encountered as well. The 2010 remake appears to retain his disgust, and couldn’t be prouder of the slight. Go figure.
While the stories for both films are quite similar, one shouldn’t be expecting to see the same film here. There are significant differences here that make this a very different kind of film. Meir Zarchi worked with an extremely low budget. He utilized an amateur cast that has done nothing since that time. The low production values actually played into the kind of story he was trying to tell. We got sucked into the lazy summer atmosphere of this one-horse town and the simpletons who resided there. It was very much a story of revenge. There was an argument to be made that it was very much a feminist story, but all of that is missing from the remake. The production values are high and on par with any number of recent films you might have seen. There’s actually less sex and nudity in the remake. The rape scene is not nearly so viscerally graphic here. It is still quite brutal, to be sure. What this film does ramp up, however, is the gore factor. When Jennifer rises from her watery “grave” to take her revenge, she no longer seduces her prey as she did the first two victims of the original film. She sets up elaborate death traps. She relishes in their agony and deaths. In the original, Jennifer left the room as one of her victims bleeds to death, drowning out his screams with a loud record player. No longer. Jennifer 2010 delights in their pain and suffering. Combined with an almost supernatural personality that is more akin to Jason or Freddy and the film loses any claim to being about a woman’s empowerment over her tormentors. Whatever happened to either character, this Jennifer is an evil creature who is out for much more than revenge.
There are other basic story differences. Now there is a sheriff who Jennifer runs to during one of her brief escapes. It’s not going to help her any, of course. But the basic material is the same: Jennifer (Butler) takes a remote cabin to write her novel. At the local gas station she accidentally causes Johnny (Branson) to be embarrassed in front of his posse. Add to the fact that mentally-challenged Matthew (Lindberg) has a puppy-love crush on the visiting city girl. They decide to attack her. After a series of brutal gang rapes, Jennifer jumps from a bridge and disappears into the river below. The gang believes she’s dead but are taking no chances. They clean up the crime scene, cut loose ends, and keep a lookout for her body. What surfaces is anything but dead. Jennifer begins to carry out calculated death traps for her tormentors.
Of course, the differences were inevitable. You couldn’t make the same film today. First of all, that little slice of Americana no longer exists. In 1978 audiences could relate to the summer scene of the original. Today’s moviegoers have never seen it. Then there’s the elephant in the room: Saw, Hostel and the plethora of other torture-porn and new-wave slasher films. In 1978 Bob Dylan was still warning us that The Times They Are A’Changin’. It’s 2010, and now his son Jakob Dylan tells us the change has already been and gone, “’cause something’s gone so terribly wrong here in Pleasantville”. We’re hooked on the slick and graphic films that have come out over the last two decades. The influence is sharply obvious in this movie. What is a bit surprising is that they did it on just a couple of million bucks. It looks like a film that cost significantly more than that. A lot of that has to do with technology. Zarchi didn’t have the relatively inexpensive option of high-definition cameras that young filmmakers have access to today. This is a more polished film, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to a better film.
A lot of things change over 30 or more years. Gas isn’t 63 cents a gallon any more. Jennifer is writing her novel on a laptop instead of a pad of paper. And the gang of thugs who rape Jennifer decide to capture it all on videotape.
The cast is also several steps up from what Zarchi had at his disposal. Sarah Butler as Jennifer is far more multi-dimensional. She’s also a relative newcomer, but she’s had enough more experience that she can make the important transition here. Of course, she’s far better as evil Jennifer, but I’d venture to say that was more fun for the actress. Camille Keaton was awkward at times and was far more understated. It’s almost as if she was in a hypnotic state as she carried out her revenge. Butler lets us know she’s fully aware of what she’s doing. Some of her facial expressions will send serious creeps up your spine, to be sure. The most notable player here happens to be the same character as in the first. Chad Lindberg plays a far more competent Matthew who is far less sympathetic. He retains the mental deficiency, to a degree, but Matthew is not a reluctant follower so much here. Give Lindberg credit for adding dimension to an iconic character from the first film.
I Spit On Your Grave is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30 mbps. This is a far slicker- looking film and certainly benefits more from the high-definition treatment. The production values are high here for what is still a low-budget film. The set design crew makes the most of every cent they spent. It’s all up on the screen, and this transfer gives you the sharpness and detail to fully appreciate the effort. Color isn’t going to pop here. This film follows the gritty and desaturated style of the torture-porn palette. The film appears almost monochrome at times. Fortunately, black levels are quite impressive. You’ll find that the shadow definition is so vital to many of the film’s intense moments, particularly as the film nears its conclusion. The first film was much brighter and sunnier. This movie isn’t quite so cheerful in hue.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 couldn’t be farther from the original. Zarchi’s limited resources show in the sound quite badly. This film has one of the smartest soundtracks I’ve heard in a horror film. The surrounds can’t be described as aggressive, but there was a lot of care placed in the use of surrounds that provide just the right clever subtle sounds that immerse you fully into the film. It’s not so much what you hear as what your brain picks up that makes it a pretty creepy sound presentation. There is also a lot of sub here. The sound is quite dynamic, in stark contrast to the original. Dialog is perfect. This film also sports a score which might be the most obvious difference to fans of the original.
There is a group Audio Commentary with director Steven R. Monroe and producer Lisa Hansen. It’s rather nice to have both the male and female perspectives here. They talk about the original a bit. They’re a bit cagey sometimes on the symbolism. There’s also a lot of talk about the small budget.
It’s all in Standard Definition.
The Revenge Of Jennifer Hills – Remaking A Cult Icon: (16:25) Cast and crew talk about their thoughts on the original. Even Meir Zarchi joins in to offer his compliments to the new film. Butler talks candidly about the emotional stress of playing this part.
Deleted Scenes: (11:43) There is no way to play them separately. All are pre-revenge.
Trailer and Radio Spot
You can’t go back. Nowhere have I seen that more reliably than in this remake. Director Steven R. Monroe took the core of this cult favorite and turned it into more of a mainstream film. Under the circumstances, it was the exact right thing to do. He couldn’t reproduce what Zarchi had done, and it would have been a huge mistake to even try. Perhaps it might have been better to just start from scratch, but the elements that do remain are quite valid places to tell this story. I usually don’t like such mucking around with what’s gone before, but in this case it was the only road possible. It’s a road of redemption, not for the Jennifer character, but for Meir Zarchi and the folks who made the original. Against all odds that film has stood the test of time. This $2 million dollar film brought in a remarkably pitiful $93,000, but it only showed in 12 theaters. It was an homage that should have been given a much wider release. The Saw crowd would have eaten it up. To Monroe’s credit, he refused to edit the film and repeat the unfortunate history of the original film. Left intact, it’s a much more powerful film. But the reality of box office politics is that unrated films don’t have a ton of outlets. Now the film has a chance at new life on a pretty nice looking Blu-ray. Certainly there are some significant differences here from the first film. I think there’s room on the shelf for both. So, I’ll opt to “keep the change”.