“A vile bag of garbage named I Spit On Your Grave is playing in Chicago theaters this week. It is a movie so sick, reprehensible and contemptible that I can hardly believe it’s playing in respectable theaters…”
Seldom has a film been so proud of a bad review like the one Roger Ebert delivered when he saw the film in 1980 during its limited Chicago area run that year. The rest of the review continues its rant against the violence and despicable nature of the film. But Ebert doesn’t stop there. He extends his contempt for the audience who shared the film with him. He describes them as a “profoundly disturbing” crowd. He continued to describe the audience: “they were vicarious sex criminals.” The man’s certainly entitled to his opinion. Give those associated with I Spit On Your Grave some credit for refusing to engage in the insult. Instead they wore it like badge of honor and used it in several of the film’s later release campaigns. Good for them.
Jenny Hill (Keaton) is a young writer trying to write her first novel. From the little bit that we hear, we can only hope she hasn’t quit her day job. In fact, she has decided to dedicate a summer for the task. She rents a riverfront cabin in an isolated town to work on the project. There she also spends a lot of time sunbathing. She catches the eye of grocery delivery boy Matthew (Pace) who is mentally challenged. He falls in love with her in that puppy-love sort of fashion. He can’t stop thinking about her, and he talks about her to his for friends. These guys have too much time on their hands, and they begin to taunt and harass Jenny. Eventually they find her sunbathing in a canoe, and the taunts go too far. They gang-rape her. Matthew is selected to kill her when they are done but he can’t bring himself to do it. So he smears blood on his knife and lies to the gang. Over the next few weeks they grow antsy that there hasn’t been any news of finding her body. But Jenny has been recovering. They won’t have to worry about finding her, however. She’s going to be finding them, and it won’t be pretty. They say payback’s a bitch. Well, meet the bitch.
I Spit On Your Grave was originally filmed as The Day Of The Woman. It was written and directed by Meir Zarchi on his own dime over a two-year period. From the very beginning he was in trouble. It took four trips to the MPAA to get him his R rating so that theaters would be willing to run the film. Unfortunately, so much had to be removed that the gutted movie tanked badly at its limited-run box office in 1978. Two years later, Zarchi reassembled his original film and released it in Chicago to several theaters where Ebert saw the film and wrote his famous rant. The backlash frightened the theaters, and the movie was pulled from the market. Various video releases have popped up over the years, and the movie went on to achieve the cult status it has today.
One of the major complaints against the film is that it is exploitive of women. The film’s infamous 40-minute rape scene certainly broke many of the industry’s taboos, but women have been subjected to horrors of the slasher genre for decades. The film’s been banned in many countries. There are places it is still banned. There is a growing number of fans who have begun to actually see this as a feminist film and not anti-women at all. Perhaps had Zarchi been allowed to retain his original title, which was changed by the film’s distributors, some of the uproar might have been abated. Certainly the film depicts one of the rawest depictions of brutality in film history. There is an argument to be made that the rape scene doesn’t need to take up over half the movie and be so graphic. Of course, as far as graphic goes, the torture-porn films of today have gone much farther. Unlike the typical violence-for-violence-sake movie, this one becomes about payback. The victim becomes the aggressor. It’s been copied many times since. In Sudden Impact, Dirty Harry goes after a woman dishing out some vengeance on a gang who raped her and her sister. It’s the only killer Harry ever let walk away. I should check to see what Rog had to say about that one.
Of course 1978 was a different time. The film demonstrates that gas was just 63 cents a gallon, and it contained enough lead to shield Superman from a huge chunk of kryptonite. Audiences had not yet been exposed to the depravities of the Hostel or Saw franchises. The mainstream slasher genre was just about to get started with pioneer films like Halloween and Friday The 13. Zarchi was more likely ahead of his time. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t continue to be intensely disturbing. You might not wish to expose yourself to that sort of thing. I can respect that. Still, it’s an experience you’ll be wondering about for the rest of your life if you don’t take a peek now. It’s the best chance you’re going to get. So take a look. You know you want to.
I Spit On Your Grave is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 25-30 mbps. This was a low-budget film and was quite famous for its gritty look. It’s still not what you would call a slick-looking film, but I was quite impressed with the high-definition image presentation here. The picture looks clean. The print is in spectacular condition when you consider the age and relatively limited release of the movie. The colors truly represent the 1970’s film stock. I suspect some DNR work here, but it’s not as bad as many recent examples. The detail level is surprisingly high. I think you will be very impressed with the image. It blows away the many cheap distribution releases of the past. If you like this film, you’ve never seen it anything like this. It’s a solid presentation. If I have to pick on anything, it would be the dull black levels. Shadow definition is extremely poor. Fortunately, most of this film occurs in bright summer daylight.
The Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 is faithful to the original mono. The film was not spread out to satisfy the needs of the surround mix. The only thing that finds itself in the rear channels are subtle ambient effects. Everything else remains straightforward and upfront. The film is noted for not having a score. The silent moments are quite effective and are perfectly quiet here. There is no hiss or other age distractions to deal with. Dialog is muddy and often a little hard to hear. That’s all part of the low-budget sound design. This thing could not have been recreated any better.
This disc features not one, but two of the most interesting Audio Commentaries going. Writer/director Meir Zarchi, who has remained almost completely silent about the film since its initial release as Day of the Woman in 1978, reads from a prepared script. Soft-spoken and articulate, he has a lot to say about how and why the film was made. His description of the incident that inspired the movie is pretty disturbing in its own right. Commentary 2 is by Joe Bob Briggs. After a slightly digressive start, he digs into the big questions surrounding the film. He’s not blind to its flaws, but he is firmly in the camp that sees I Spit On Your Grave as sympathetic to its protagonist, rather than a misogynistic mess.
The Value Of Vengeance – Meir Zarchi Remembers: (29:00) SD Zarchi talks about the film from inspiration by a true event to the 2-year production. He spends a lot of time recounting the film’s rather troubled distribution life. He appears very pleased with the remake.
Alternative Main Title: (0:16) This is basically the title frame with the original title.
Trailers, Television Spots and a Still Gallery complete the bonus materials.
I’m not going to try to tell you that this is a slick high-end production. Just two minutes into the film and you’ll know I’m lying. The edits are often a bit rough. The acting isn’t as bad as a lot of budget films I’ve seen, but no one here went on to ever win any Oscars for their skills either. Camille Keaton was hired for her look. She’s not a glamour model, but the look had to be good enough to entice these sexual predators without looking like she stepped off a cover of Vogue. She’s actually the granddaughter of silent era star Buster Keaton. Zarchi ended up married to the girl for a little while. The only other actor worth a mention here is Richard Pace who played the hapless Matthew with some sympathy. Still, he didn’t go on to anything else of importance in the industry. For the guys in the cast this was pretty much their only feature. The sound design is horrible. There must not have really been a budget for ADR work. Much of the sound is compromised by the filming conditions. But the film manages to be effective, and that’s really what Zarchi was going for. It’s hard not to be affected by the movie. I wouldn’t call it compelling, but these images will stay with you for a long time. The movie is not pleasant to watch. It is not for anyone with a low tolerance for sadism or brutality. Is it entertaining? Parts are. You know what? Maybe Ebert had a point. Maybe he’s a closet fan. “That’s so sweet it’s painful.”