Movie critic Roger Ebert called it “A vile bag of garbage” and described watching it on the big screen as one of the most depressing experiences of his life. Meir Zarchi’s I Spit On Your Grave defined the rape-revenge genre and introduced it to audiences whether they were ready for it or not. A rough around the edges cinematic sucker punch, it’s a movie you’ll only ever watch once but one you won’t soon forget. When Jennifer, a young writer, decides to retreat to a country cabin to draft her first novel in peace she unwittingly attracts the attention of four bored country boys and gets quite the opposite. After being brutally assaulted, raped and left for dead she recuperates, bides her time and plots her merciless revenge against her hillbilly attackers.
Billed as ‘The most controversial film to hit the world’ and censored still in this 2010 reissue DVD, on the surface the 45 minute rape sequence is perhaps a bit too much to for audiences to endure. However, it’s necessary in order to set up the films revenge fuelled climax and on closer inspection, is more than just cheap exploitation. Never once does Zarchi offer any glimpse of sexual gratification in this sequence; instead he places viewers in the position of the helpless Jennifer, looking on as this unrelenting event unfolds. The female form then switches roles, transforming from an image of vulnerability to an image of power that Jennifer uses to get her revenge. In doing so the movie transcends it’s moral message from gritty exploitation to female empowerment, perhaps its tentative first title Day of the Woman would have been more appropriate.
By today’s standards however, its impact is questionable. We live in a world where just last year, cinema saw a deranged scientist surgically graft three helpless youths together ass to mouth. Where audiences flock in their hoards to see the latest nauseating death scene administered by the Jigsaw killer and are secretly a little bit gutted when the blood stained hostel goer escapes a drawn out death and gets her gut-slicing revenge. So where then does that leave the infamous video nasty genre? Have we become so desensitised to extreme on screen violence and in doing so defanged arguably one of the most daring movie genres ever to hit celluloid?
With the 2010 remake set to hit screens later this year, perhaps we have, but watching the 1978 original there’s a feeling of intimidation that has since been lost somewhere in the Hollywood reboot machine. Like many other exploitation films of the sixties and seventies, I Spit on Your Grave comes with a lingering feeling of unease, perhaps exaggerated by its long drawn out silences, which will outlive any Hollywood tampering.
Despite some questionable audio and seventies movie shimmer, the spit polish given to this ultimate DVD edition is probably the best quality print you’re likely to find short of Blu-Ray. The reissue is packed with extras including an all-new interview with Zarchi and an interesting collection of outraged news articles concerning the film from around the world. A booklet critically reflecting on this seminal piece and fold out movie poster are also included to please all the video nasty collectors out there.
I Spit on Your Grave Ultimate Edition DVD is available now.