I Spit On Your Grave (1978)

Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
Posted 05/01/04 22:34:30

"DVD technology offers fresh perspective to a universally detested movie."
3 stars (Average)

Long hailed as one of the most vile films ever made, Meir Zarchi's "I Spit On Your Grave" is most assuredly an intermittently amateurish and entirely ugly piece of cinema, but there's no way this movie deserves the loud and hateful reputation its earned. In a medium where the limp and safe Jodie Foster flick "The Accused" is considered an 'unflinching' look at the horrors of rape I suppose something like "I Spit On Your Grave" would be considered unwelcome. It's that ugly.

But pulsing underneath the 'grimy horror' exterior is a film that actually has something to say, and I'd contend that the movie gets its point across astonishingly well. If you're the sort who wants to see a 'rape flick' for the deviant titillation of it all, then I suppose that I Spit On Your Grave could fit the bill capably, but that's a pretty nasty reason to rent a film, isn't it?

Sort of a female (and absolutely more effective) version of Charles Bronson's Death Wish flicks, I Spit On Your Grave offers the simple tale of one city girl, four backwoods rapists, and a collection of grisly death scenes. But it also delivers a visceral experience generally untapped in the safer studio flicks and is a film that will stick with you for quite a while.

The infamous rape sequences provoke all sorts of reaction in different viewers. World-famous film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert spearheaded a 1978 campaign to have the film removed from theaters, the doddering pundits complaining about childish audience reaction to the film's brutal scenes of violence. Misogyny was the word of the day, and I Spit On Your Grave (also known as Day of the Woman) was the new whipping boy of those who like to decide what movies people should be ALLOWED to see.

Lost in all the outraged uproar was the rather blatant fact that the film was as 'pro-woman' as one could expect from a film about violence upon women. Whenever a studio flick attempts the oh-so-touchy subject of sexual abuse, the result is nearly always watered down and muted for mass consumption.

But ask anyone who's seen I Spit On Your Grave if it's a film that celebrates rape - or one that presents the abuse as something akin to the world's most horrific torture. So painful are these scenes to watch that many mistake the ugliness for exploitation. I'd respectfully disagree. (Most of the flick's Exploitation Value comes in the murder-laden third act.)

Gaspar Noe's controversial new film Irreversible is currently taking a lot of media flak for its stunningly explicit sequences of gang rape - yet still the film has earned more than its share of supporters. Such was not the case back in 1978 when I Spit On Your Grave (retitled as such by the producers in an effort to bring in the horror crowd) hit theaters. Most likely because the film is low-budget and amateurish in many ways, people saw it as a despicable and leering Showcase of Rape.

So it's clear I think this is an unjustly vilified movie, but that's not to say I'd call it "brilliant" in any way. Save for the lead performance by the long-suffering Camille Keaton, the acting is atrocious across the board. Particularly annoying is the ever-doddering backwoods 'retard' character, though each of the actors portraying the rapists does manage to do what's required: you will hate each one a whole lot and therefore cheer when our heroine finally doles out some gruesome vengeance.

A tough film to recommend but one that certainly deserves to be seen with objective eyes, I Spit On Your Grave may thrill you, repulse you, or surprise you by being a bit more thoughtful than its detractors would lead you to believe - but ultimately you'll decide that for yourself. Considering how many powerful people detested this movie, it's a testament to the film that it still even exists.

And it's Elite Entertainment who got their hands on the infamous little Indie, and to say they've given the flick a Special Edition treatment would be a fair assessment indeed. Two separate audio commentaries are included, both of which are fascinating regardless of your opinion on the film. Track 1 features writer/director Meir Zarchi, who begins discussion by reading numerous bile-filled missives of critical hatred before offering his own arguments on the film's behalf. Given how secretive Zarchi has been over the years (particularly where this film is concerned), this commentary marks an editorial coup for the folks at Elite. Even more entertaining is Track 2, which is delivered by none other than B-Movie Mega-Guru Joe Bob Briggs. If you've ever thought of dismissing Briggs as just some cornpone movie freak, two minutes of this commentary will prove that theory wrong. Colorful, articulate, clearly well-informed, and very very funny, Briggs offers one of the most satisfying commentary tracks I've heard in years.

Also included are large handfuls of more traditional extras, including theatrical trailers, TV spots, photo galleries, review excerpts and poster artwork. Also noteworthy is the relatively brilliant Widescreen transfer, as anyone's who seen the old VHS version could immediately attest.

DVD-wise, every infamous cult flick should be treated this well.

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