I Spit On Your Grave (1978)

Reviewed By The Ultimate Dancing Machine
Posted 11/25/02 21:40:02

"Some girls...."
3 stars (Average)

The film poster bears one of those gasping taglines you could only get away with in the '70s: "This woman has just cut, chopped, broken and burned five men beyond recognition... but no jury in America would ever convict her!" Actually, she whacks FOUR men, and I don't remember anybody getting "burned," but who's counting?

It is, from beginning to end, a strange case: a bloody, disgusting movie that dares to turn its sex-and-violence palette into something resembling a feminist statement. The movie leaves a noxious taste in the mouth. It has just enough of a serious undertone that you can't dismiss it as only another exploitation film, but the female-empowerment angle is hard to take. I Spit on Your Grave has the air of one of those "educational" nudie films of the '60s: it pretends to carry an important message, but you know damn well why they really made it.

The skeletal plot has a young writer (Camille Keaton, who's related to a certain silent-film star) moving into a cottage in the woods to begin her novel. Instead, she's raped by four local rednecks. She survives the attack, and later kills them off one by one. The End.

The dialogue is minimal, the soundtrack almost nonexistent, and subplots are absent. The film's bare-bones simplicity gives it the feel, almost, of a primitive myth: nurturing Woman encounters brutish Man deep in the forest. That's not as pretentious as it sounds; after all, Bergman turned a simple rape-revenge story into The Virgin Spring, and it's beside the point to argue that Meir Zarchi is no Bergman. In its relentlessly straight-ahead manner, the film is at times crudely effective, with nice suspenseful touches, particularly early on.

I'm pretty sure the film's gender politics is intentional. The original title was Day of the Woman; the four rapists make a point of belittling their victim's literary aspirations; and the main sleazeball even gets a stock-misogynist speech in which he insists that some girls deserve to get raped. But it's never really convincing as a feminist statement. It's not even clear what the statement is-that men are animals, maybe? That women can become empowered by braining them with axes?

What you remember about I Spit on Your Grave is, above all, sheer unpleasantness: for one, the epic-length rape sequence, which is even longer than the one in The Accused; for another, the castration-in-the-bathtub scene. Also, Keaton gets nude on camera twice after she's raped, and we get several closeups of her ass for no particular reason. So much for feminism. By the time I Spit degenerates into serial-killer cliche, with petite Keaton effortlessly dispatching her tormentors left and right, you realize the "message" was merely an excuse to break out a couple barrels of fake blood.

Though not badly made, and in fact strangely compelling, it is a disturbing movie--though not a way anyone intended.

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