Friday, 7 March 2008

I Spit on Your Grave (1978)

The hammock of the damned

Meir Zarchi's I Spit On Your Grave (otherwise known under the more tasteful title Day of the Woman) was crucified upon it's release. Roger Ebert named it the worst movie ever made, but then he liked Garfield: The Movie, so what does he know? It was finally released uncut in Australia in 2004, so I picked up a copy. Does it live up to it's reputation? Let's find out...

Successful New York writer Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton, Buster Keaton's granddaughter!) decides to take a trip up to a remote cabin so she can finish her book in peace and tranquility. Upon her arrival, she is continually harassed by four inbred locals... Johnny (Eron Tabor), Stanley (Anthony Nichols), Andy (Gunter Kleemann) and the mildly-retarded Matthew (Richard Pace). Offended by her fancy-pants New-York-independent-feminist ways, they concoct a plan to punish her and help Matthew lose his virginity. The next day as she is relaxing on her boat, the four men tow her boat to shore and chase her through the woods. She is captured and brutally raped and beaten... twice! Bruised and bloody, she crawls back to her house, but the men are already there. They rape and beat her again and ridicule and burn her manuscript for good measure. The three men order Matthew to stab her to death, but he can't bring himself to do it and leaves her alive, concealing it from the other men.

Over the following few days, Jennifer is in a daze. Gradually she gains back her senses, and with them, a thirst for vengeance. She pieces together her manuscript and vows revenge on her attackers.

First of all, she lures Matthew to a tree near her cabin and has sex with him. When he is distracted, she slips a noose around his neck and hangs him from the tree.

Secondly, she takes Johnny back to her house and makes him strip at gunpoint. He manages to get the gun from her, but she lures him back to her cabin and into a hot bath. She starts to beat him off before pulling out a hidden knife and cutting off his wang. She locks him in the bathroom and calmly waits until he bleeds out.

The two remaining men take their motor boat to her cabin and attempt to kill her with an axe. She escapes in their boat, and as one of the men swims after her she buries the axe in his back. The last man attempts to climb onto the boat but, ignoring his pleas for mercy, she guts him with the outboard motor. The film promptly ends.

It's easy to see why this film caused a few blue-hairs to faint back in the day. The rape scene in this film is almost thirty minutes long, stark and brutal, with no muscial score or editing tricks. Not exactly pleasant viewing, and that's exactly the point. The scene isn't made to titillate. A lot of people misinterpreted this film as a glorification of rape, which makes about as much sense as saying that Catch 22 is a glorification of war. It's a harrowing experience, but it's not as morally despicable as some would have you believe.

Does it hold up after 30 years? Well, with shock-fests like Irreversible making the art-film circuit, it seems that audiences are a bit more tolerant of shocking content when it is put in an appropriate context. That's not to say it's not shocking anymore, because it is, but I doubt it would be the subject of as much controversy these days. Truth be told, a lot about this film is fairly mediocre. The men in this film are unbearably stupid. Matthew seems to be smartest out of all of them, and he's retarded. Production values are very low and the acting is spotty, although Camille Keaton is very good. This is probably one of the best films in the admittedly small rape/revenge genre, it's certainly the most well-known.

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