I Spit on Your Grave (1978)

Author: Brett H.
Submitted by: Brett H.   Date : 2008-03-13 11:02

Written and directed by: Meir Zarchi
Produced by: Meir Zarchi and Joseph Zbeda

Reviewed by: Brett H.

“You know, sometimes I look at these glorious lookin’ chicks. I mean, the ones that look like real knockouts; sexy and all. And, I wonder… I wonder if they gotta take a shit too?”

I Spit on Your Grave. Quite possibly the most notorious title in exploitation horror history, the movie has been bashed by most and yet is enjoyed by a select few. The rape/revenge movies have always been the subjects of much debate and none were as debated as Meir Zarchi’s effort, which carries one of the greatest titles in horror film history. When effective, rape/revenge films leave the viewer battered and bruised, disoriented from the crash and feeling as abused as the victim. Night Train Murders was a perfect example of this, a well made film with likable characters, great direction and good pacing. I’d seen my fair share of notorious “bad taste” films and I enjoy a lot of them for what they are, an exercise in the mind of a madman, realistic portrayals of sickening events that rip your heart out. For the most part, though, they really aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Cannibal Holocaust is the only film I’ve encountered that truly lived up to the hype and it became one of my favorite horror films of all time. Will I Spit on Your Grave be as effective or will it be just another film that lives on because of exaggerated word of mouth?

Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) is a writer from New York who decides to get away from it all and take a trip to the country. After writing many short stories, she has decided to pursue writing her first novel and thinks the lack of distraction alone in the woods will be a great way to focus on her material. She is a strong, independent woman and most of the stories she’s had published were in women’s magazines. When she arrives at her lakeshore cabin, she decides to take a little skinny dip in the lake (because that would be the obvious thing to do, right?). After her little swim, she gets dressed before getting a visitor at her door. Matthew Lucas (Richard Pace) arrives, delivering her groceries. He’s mildly retarded and rather silly looking, and seems to be a very kind guy. Jennifer is nice to him and he takes a liking to her lack of a bra and cut-off jeans, not to mention the tip.

Matthew takes off on his bike and goes to the local gas station where Jennifer had filled up as she came into town and chats with the town hicks, a real bunch of philosophers. He tells them he saw her tits and they rib him because he’s taken quite a liking to her (and because they figure he’ll die a virgin). A while later, Jennifer is relaxing in her canoe on the lake when a motorboat approaches her and begins circling her like a shark before tying the end of the canoe to their boat and driving off with her in tow. It turns out to be the town hicks with their “friend” Matthew coming along for the ride and they aren’t taking her to land for a picnic. She is brutally raped on four different occasions by the men before being left for dead. The hicks decide Matthew should be the one to kill her and he chickens out, but assures everyone he’s done the deed. After recovering and getting her senses back (although not too many of them), Jennifer makes a trip to the town church. She kneels before the cross and merely says two words. ”Forgive me.”

My head shook when I finished viewing I Spit on Your Grave, but not in a bad way. I had been greatly misinformed by nearly everyone whom I had conversed about the film with. I cannot believe so many people take this cheese-fest so damned seriously. I guess it’s due to the taboo subject of rape in film. People seem to think they’re divine because they find rape in a film offensive, yet have no problems watching innocent people be slaughtered, possessed and chopped up in countless horror films. No matter what the film is about, the real quality that determines the effect is the tone, and the tone of I Spit on Your Grave is not that serious. Obviously I am not advocating rape any more than a horror fan would advocate murder, but the madness needs to stop. Just because we’ve been desensitized to death in films doesn’t mean it’s a less horrendous deed. If you still believe rape in any form in a film is off limits, then this review will not apply to you.

It’s not to say there aren’t many disturbing moments in I Spit on Your Grave, as there certainly are. Seeing Jennifer raped over a large rock before emerging from the forest bloody and bruised is very scary and her writhing and crawling in pain after laying motionless over the rock seems very real. The fact that the film takes a cue from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and features no music other than some hicks playing a harmonica here and there further ups the sickening feeling. The mildly retarded man being forced to rape Jennifer is really disturbing; as is the way the other men treat him in general. He is just a guy trying to get a few friends and as you know little of the town (for all we know, these are the only guys loitering around for him to interact with), so it’s really hard to feel anything but sorrow for him. The final rape scene is akin in disgust to the rock scene. Jennifer’s dirty and broken body lies on the floor and she pleads to use her hand on the man instead of him going inside her because she hurts so much. These scenes are not pleasant and are really effective, and if the entire movie was like this I would be more likely to be in the slightly offended boat. The long rape scene people often reference really isn’t that long, and the actual raping takes up under ten minutes of the film or so. If Meir Zarchi really wanted to make a disgusting film, he’d have focused more on Camille naked, made the rape scenes longer and more vicious and he sure as hell wouldn’t have had Jennifer get her revenge.

Everyone familiar with the film knows Siskel & Ebert went nuts over I Spit on Your Grave, blasting it every chance they could. They hammered it as the worst movie ever made; so vile, disgusting and misogynistic that it was unfit for anyone to view. In my opinion, I believe they weren’t fans of our genre of cinema and saw this as the perfect film to pick on and get everyone on their side to lobby against exploitation horror and slashers from being made. Like always, the opposite occurred from their attempts to banish it and it became one of the most infamous cult classics of all time, inspiring people to see the film more so than if they’d have just left it alone (the amazing title also helped). How can you cry misogyny when the guys doing the raping have the combined IQ of Peewee Herman’s right shoe? Those accusing the film of being anti-women are demeaning men because these hicks are some real winners; they are downright imbeciles and have no right being lumped in with the average male (as dumb as the average male is). The character of Matthew could really have been a much more serious point in the movie, but they chose to make him very kid-like and he acts as though he’s in some 50s sitcom, with a silly hat to boot. If you’ve seen Leaving Las Vegas, you know that it has a similar scene which is much more effective and it’s not even a horror film. It’s all about the tone, my friends. The film predates Friday the 13th, but the rednecks are similar to Jason Voorhees, they pop up wherever Jennifer happens to be at the time.

On the best of days, I struggle not to laugh at rednecks and the hilarity is on display here in droves, with such classic lines as the one above as well as, “one day I’m gonna go to New York and fuck all the broads there”, which is said dead seriously. You can’t wait to see Jennifer hack these moronic hicks up and she does it in fine form, she is genuinely creepy and devoid of emotion (despite a few what the fuck moments) as she does it, she’s actually pretty bad ass. The movie is very bloody in these parts and you are cheering her on every step of the way. It’s fun to see the assholes squirm and one even tries to blame her for the raping because she showed her legs off in front of him at the beginning of the movie. Then there’s the scene in a local diner where they openly talk about the rape/murder and one man yells at another, calling him a murderer. As I said, a real bunch of Einsteins, it is way too hard for me to take this cheesy treasure as a serious piece of cinema. Meir Zarchi does manage some nice cinematography and a jump scare that really made me hop out of my seat and comes out with a perfect combination of cheese and sleaze. The Image DVD is loaded with pictures, trailers, reviews (including the ones done by Siskel & Ebert) and a couple commentaries, the best of which done by Joe Bob Briggs. It’s downright hilarious and he basically points out how everything in the film supposedly stood for was overreacted to. A redneck himself, Joe Bob Briggs is the voice of reason. Very fitting. Buy it!

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