“You came to a nice place”
Halloween is approaching…so I sought out a true video nasty: the original ‘I Spit On Your Grave.’ Last night I settled down with some tomato soup and popped the DVD in the player…
The plot can easily be summed up: a New York lady (Jennifer) goes to the countryside, gets raped by several men, then in various acts of revenge kills them. And there isn’t much in between: the rape scenes take about forty-five minutes of the film up; the murders about forty minutes. So there is little room for exposition, character development, or any of those things necessary to weave a cohesive story. The lady is a novelist, retiring to the country for some inspiration. Of course, when people retire to the countryside, they get a lot closer to ‘nature’ than they intended to in horror films! The men are no-good hicks, referring to women as ‘chicks.’ According to one of them, city girls only come to the village to get laid. So that’s a perfect justification rape! One of them, Matthew, is a ‘retard’ (in their words). So, they are the main characters, and we don’t find out much more about them.
Maybe there are deeper motivations behind the characters, yet it doesn’t really matter. Meir Zarchi obviously cared little about plot, script (uniformly awful), direction, character development, etc. There’s a video interview in the DVD extras about Zarchi, where he displays an unhealthy interest in rape. Indeed, he helped a woman who had been brutally assaulted and gang-raped, so maybe this film was an immediate reaction to that terrible memory? Was ‘I Spit on Your Grave’ his imagined violent response to the rape?
“Temporary leave of absence form everything that…”
It’s clear that our sympathies are meant to lie with Jennifer during her murder-revenge phase. She even stops off at a Church to ask God to forgive her for her future actions. Camille Keaton, while not a good actor (she reads her lines like a robot), she plays a good rape victim. We are given long, still, lingering shots of her abused, naked body. Her terrified looks and screams affect us on a deep level; it’s terrible for a man or woman to witness those haunted looks. The rape scenes themselves, however, hover between horrific and absurd. The close-ups on the men involved in the rape are supposed to make the viewer connect with the victim, rather than the villain. However, the men are very poor actors, and their face clenches and thrusts look absolutely ridiculous. The most affecting scenes are those where we see the face of the victim, screaming in agony.
However, do we really need forty-five minutes of rape scenes? I suppose we are meant to feel exhausted and dehumanized, just like Jennifer. We are at an emotional low when the men finally leave, thus more susceptible to the rape-revenge portion of the film. Unfortunately, it’s this portion of the film that fails to convince. How stupid are these hicks? However, would you trust a girl after she’d pointed a gun at you, then radically changed her mind and asked you to join her in a ‘hot bath?’ One of them men falls for this. He tries to convince her that the rape is something any man would have done; and, after all, she was begging for it with her short skirt and latter bikini fashion (the famous Richard Madeley defence). Is it likely that a girl you raped wants to have sex with you at a later date? He falls to the infamous penis-chopping fate in said hot bath.
“Whether he’s married or not, a man’s a man”
Much like the revenge sequence in the original ‘Last House on the Left,’ it seems contrived and unrealistic. For example, she attacks the last two men on in a lake. She takes their speedboat, leaves them struggling in the middle of the lake, and kills one of them with an axe. However, when she slows the boat down and beckons the other guy over, he simply swims over to her! Really, after seeing his friend murdered, did he think he’d escape a similar fate? And, true enough, he gets it with the engine blades, after Jennifer tells him to “Suck it, bitch!” in a line that I burst out laughing at. Terrible, just a sample of the awful dialogue in this film.
There are some ‘brilliant’ aspects of the film: for example, before the rapes, Jennifer is continually interrupted in her state of nature by the men. She stops by their gas station, where the married man promises that she won’t want to leave. Relaxing in a hammock, writing part of her novel, she’s interrupted by two of the chaps on a speedboat. The contrast between natural silence and mechanical violence prepares the viewer for what’s to come. Jennifer becomes vengeful nature, stealing the means that these men used to terrify her; the speedboat and the penis.
Yes, it’s vile. Yes, it’s disgusting (but thankfully the BBFC have saved us British from a beer bottle sexual assault-I guess that was too much for them). But it is still a fairly awful film. There are plenty of nonsensical situations through the film. Jennifer tells Matthew she lives alone. Rule One of being alone in the woods that you never tell anyone (especially a mentally handicapped man) that you’re alone. The men leave Matthew to kill Jennifer: if he could barely rape her before, then what’s the probability of him killing her? These and the ones I‘ve mentioned before detract from the reality of the film. The prolonged rape scenes are meant to draw us in, but gaps in logic pull us away from the film. The awful script, terrible acting, and dire direction also distract us from the serious issues within the film.
VERDICT: 3/10 Curiosity will ensure that this film is always popular. However, curiosity killed the cat. Watch it if you’re interested in video nasties, but don’t expect greatness, expect poor editing, even poorer direction, and a laughable script.
What did you think of I Spit On Your Grave (1978)? Leave your thoughts/comments below!