Title: I Spit on Your Grave
Director: Meir Zarchi
Starring: Camille Keaton
Released: Out now
Originally titled Day of the Woman, I Spit On Your Grave has gained a reputation as an extremely graphic and violent film, as well as the most talked about film in cinema history! It tells the story of Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) a magazine writer from New York who retires to a secluded cabin in the woods to write her first novel. There she is brutally assaulted, raped and left for dead by four country boys. But Jennifer Is alive. Emotionally destroyed, she finds herself choreographing a horrific revenge scheme to inflict punishment on her four assailants, using methods that defy the imagination.
I Spit On Your Grave is critic proof. As the director Meir Zarchi says in the 34 minute interview included on this blu ray disk “it’s been reviewed badly for thirty years, and it’s been reviewed well for thirty years and still it lives on”.
Banned in the UK and famously added to the “video nasties” list, with a rape scene that reportedly clocks in at 45 minutes and a title that screams exploitation, it could be argued that the film has longevity purely because of the controversy that surrounds it. Additionally, there are those that will write it off as vile trash without having ever seen it; the legend of I Spit on Your Grave might be bigger than the film itself.
The controversy has undoubtedly helped keep it in the collective consciousness of both its admirers and detractors, but forgetting all of that for the moment, it’s an occasionally flawed but effective revenge film.
Let’s get the subject of the rape scenes out of the way, as it’s obviously the most notorious aspect of the film. In a lot of ways it is as harrowing as has been claimed over the years, although it’s not quite 45 minutes of constant rape scenes, in actuality it’s less than 20 minutes due to Jennifer’s attackers seemingly letting her go on a couple of occasions. In their own way though, the scenes between attacks, where Jennifer crawls naked and bloody through the woods to try to get to the safety of her cabin are just as harrowing. It’s heartbreaking to see the formerly happy-go-lucky Jennifer in such a broken state, so between these moments and the suffering and humiliation she’s subjected to, I Spit on Your Grave is definitely hard work.
Critics of the film often claim that it dwells on the rape and humiliation aspect too much, and that it’s merely there to titillate those who would be aroused by such strong imagery. Let’s face it, when compared to films like Deliverance or Death Wish that show disturbing scenes of rape that last a fraction of the time yet still have impact, the length of the ordeal is certainly ripe for criticism. There are three rape sequences where one would probably have sufficed. Journalist and cult cinema expert Calum Waddell, who pens an excellent critical analysis of the film in a high quality booklet included with the release, makes a pertinent point though. He says that Zarchi didn’t want the audience to be titillated, but disgusted and “we are constantly, via the director’s camera, put in the position of the victim, looking up at the slavering males as they grind away without reason”. It’s also interesting to learn in the special features that Zarchi was inspired to make the film after he and his family found a rape victim in a park and helped her. With critical and audience views so polarised, there are no easy answers, but it at least shows that there’s genuine discussion generated from the film, and it’s not easily dismissed as trash.
An unfortunate decision by Zarchi does trivialise the debate though, and that’s the inclusion of a mentally disabled character called Matthew. He’s one of the four men that attack Jennifer; very much someone who they keep around for amusement, and keeping in line with their innate cruelty, to demean and insult when they feel like it. Richard Pace plays him (perhaps unintentionally) as a comic character at times when the film really has no place for one. To give him his due, there are times when he portrays some of Matthew’s quieter moments of despair at the situation he’s found himself in quite well, but the oversized glasses, the sun hat with the brim turned up at the front and a voice that makes him sound like he’s playing a character in a comedy sketch are a definite misstep. The inclusion of a mentally disabled character isn’t the issue, merely the portrayal; a more sophisticated actor might have made some better choices.
At the opposite end of the spectrum though is Camille Keaton, who is masterful as Jennifer Hills; it’s a shame she doesn’t have more acting credits to her name. We first meet her as a young, incredibly beautiful and confident young woman looking forward to her summer of peaceful writing. During the ordeal that follows, Keaton is nothing short of amazing during what must have been an extremely difficult shoot. In the second half of the film Jennifer exacts revenge on her attackers, and here Keaton is mesmerising: cold and calculating when in action, haunted and empty during her quieter moments. She shows acting talent that would probably have received more praise had she been in a film that mainstream critics deem more worthy.
This most grindhouse of films is presented here on blu ray for the first time, and while understandably it doesn’t reach the full potential that blu ray offers, having recently seen an inferior version of the film, the blu ray does look exceptional. Every fan has their own opinion on how clean they really want a film like I Spit on Your Grave to look, but having seen that inferior version recently, watching the blu ray really brings home that this is a very well made movie, and not the vile trash that many reviews over the years would have you believe. It’s definitely going to be too much for some, and this is understandable, but alternatively those who have dismissed it sight unseen for all these years, might be surprised at its quality.
This new edition of I Spit On Your Grave is released by a company called 101 Films, and they’ve created a standout package available either as a DVD or a Blu Ray & DVD double pack. The blu ray edition reviewed here comes with a poster, sturdy slipcase cover and a high quality booklet written by Calum Waddell that not only reviews the film, but goes into detail on the upcoming remake. The special features on the disk are impressive too, with the standouts being a commentary from Meir Zarchi, and a newly filmed 34 minute interview with Zarchi, directed by Calum Waddell.
If you’re thinking that the way this package is put together seems very familiar, and you’re guessing it’s the next release from the excellent UK label Arrow Video, you’d be wrong, but it’s an understandable mistake. The care and attention paid to the overall package is very similar and the fascinating 34 minute interview with Meir Zarchi is produced by High Rising Productions, the same company that has contributed outstanding product for Arrow Video releases like Day of the Dead and City of the Living Dead. Arrow have been leading the way with cult releases over the past year or so, and it’s good to see that 101 Films have taken up the challenge and are putting out a package of equal quality. This is a win win situation for fans of cult cinema in the UK at this time, and this release of I Spit on Your Grave comes highly recommended.