Sunday, November 16, 2008

Film Review - "I Spit on Your Grave" (1978)

I Spit on Your Grave
Meir Zarchi

This is one of the big boys – one of the most notorious exploitation films in the world, infamously brutal, and famously beaten down hard by Roger Ebert. Yessir, that must be it – the film that has gone under about a dozen different names, but is most famously referred to as I Spit on Your Grave (or, as Joe Bob Briggs says that you’re supposed to pronounce it based on the trailer, “I Spit… on Your Grave”).
The plot is pretty much standard rape-revenge fare: Jennifer Hill, a New York feminist writer, moves out to the country so she can write the great American romance novel. Once there, she is eyed by a gang of chauvinistic rednecks, and soon enough, they’ve chased her down and are raping her in what holds the record as the longest continuous rape scene in motion picture history. Left for dead but still barely alive, she plots a violent revenge, and sets out to distribute some serious poetic justice.
Though many have accused this film of being dangerously misogynistic and glorifying rape, when viewed closely, it is actually a very feministic movie. The film quite obviously ‘sides’ with Jennifer, and the disturbing length and intensity of the rape scene served (at least in my eyes) as a way of making us despise the antagonists (who happen to be the only male characters in the movie) even more so that we’re excited to see them get their ironic comeuppance.
One of the things that sets this film apart and ups the levels of creepiness is that it’s filmed like a documentary. There’s no music anywhere in the film, the colors look very dull and depressing, and so on.
The actors are mostly good here. Camille Keaton, who plays Jennifer, seriously deserves some kind of award for her performance. She doesn’t speak much, but her facial expressions and body language tell us exactly what the character’s thinking. The rapists are made very easy to despise, thanks in no small part to the actors being particularly nasty with their roles, although the actor playing the retarded guy tends to overact and go all Jerry Lewis, which kind of takes away from the film overall (but I admit that it does make for a few laughs now and again).
The special effects deserve a special mention here. Oh, wait… What special effects? That’s right; the minimalist form that defines most of the film is about as low-budget as it gets, but it works for the most part far better than any special effects ever could have in some scenes (like the especially well-known castration scene, which is undoubtedly the cheapest ‘effect’ in the film, but is also the most powerful). Sure, this is kind of wrecked when we get some hideous attempts at make-up effects at the end of the film, but they still aren’t crappy enough to take back all the awesomeness from the rest of the movie.
This type of movie can be hard to defend in an artistic sense; most of the time, they are just as their detractors call them: sleaze. It’s all just a matter of taste. However, I must say that this one definitely stands out as being somewhat deeper and thus deserving more serious credit than most movies like this. Just go see what Joe Bob Briggs had to say about it – he gets it across a lot better than I ever could. But anyway, this is one of my favorite revenge-exploitation movies, and it helped me to develop my love for said subgenre.
RATING: 7.5/10

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I actually liked this one a lot more than I thought I would.

    I thought the build-up to the abduction and first rape worked very well. You get the sense that these men are stalking her and that they're gradually working up their... well, not courage, but their willingness to rape her over the period of a few days.

    If there's one thing that I didn't like about the revenge part, it's that she basically has to seduce two of the guys to get what she wants. I like the idea of her castrating the first rapist in the bathtub, and it's a GREAT scene, but I just can't bring myself to believe that this guy who had brutally raped her and then tried to kill her would then allow her to bathe him and sweet-talk him and not believe her when she says with a straight face that she killed his buddy. It's still an awesome scene but it feels like it belongs in a non-realistic allegorical Greek tragedy or really f'ed up version of "Titus Andronicus", not a realistic movie, which "I Spit..." felt like before the revenge part started going down.

    I actually kind of wish that in the remake they dispense with the seductress role and she just goes all female-Rambo on their asses. I don't know how much that'd feel like the original film, but I do love the scene from the original where she's charging the two remaining guys with the boat (and I just realized why they were the last ones to die--they were the ones who abducted her little paddle-boat with the motorboat, so it's like she's killing them in the reverse of their offenses against her). I hope they keep a similar scene in the remake, which I'm really looking forward to.

    (Now, seriously, buddy, how many female friends can you say you have who are looking forward to the remake of "I Spit On Your Grave"? :) )

    I also like the fact that the film acknowledges that the rapist who owns the gas station has a wife and kids... I actually felt sorry for those poor kids. I think it would be really interesting if the remake built that up a little.

    I generally like Roger Ebert's reviews (the man is a darn good writer and very witty, so I can see why he's such a respected movie critic), but I really do think he gave this movie short shrift, along with "Wolf Creek" and the "Hellraiser" movies (back when they were good). And yet he liked "Scream", which had just as much graphic violence against women. But the film also had in-jokes about horror movies, so I guess that makes the sadistic violence O.K. :P