I Spit on Your Grave
With perhaps the most audacious title to ever grace a drive-in marquee, the original I Spit on Your Grave scandalized disco generation movie critics and audiences as one of the most brutally exploitative slabs of celluloid ever. That's something of an achievement, considering it was competing with Bloodsucking Freaks and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the coveted moral-outrage dollar.
In truth, this cheerful little ditty about rape and revenge was released to the sound of crickets in 1978 — under its original title The Day of the Woman — until two years later, when some marketing genius retitled it, made some cuts and rushed it back out. The film generated heaps of controversy and oceans of bad ink, including savage condemnation from Roger Ebert who said it was "one of the most depressing experiences of my life."
Later the flick earned defenders claiming absurdly that it was some feminist howl. It certainly made an impression, but was more talked about than seen.
So why did anyone bother remaking it? The short answer is somebody got the rights and thought the title snappy, but truthfully it's because some film producers are morally and intellectually bankrupt and will do anything for coin. There is also the sad fact these days that torture porn is a zero-sum game, and the way to separate from the pack is up the violence to absurd levels. That's the case here, with a painfully extended rape and torture sequence, followed by even more gruesome and elaborately staged set pieces in which the heroine torments her tormenters.
The plot is elemental: Jennifer (Sarah Butler), a hip, young big-city journalist, rents a cabin deep in the woods to work on her first novel. The loutish clerk at the local gas station makes a clumsy pass at her, which she laughs off. This, and the sight of her tiny jogging shorts is apparently enough provocation for this psycho and his creepy redneck pals to assault her at home, abusing, debasing and sodomizing her in a scene that eats up the film's middle third, and a good chunk of the viewer's soul. Naked, bleeding and broken, she stumbles into a muddy river and vanishes, only to return like some avenging ghost.� �
Then things get really nasty. Just describing some of the gruesome things Jennifer inflicts upon her attackers could've had me arrested in gentler times. How about about a catalog of some "weapons" used? Fishhooks, rusty pliers, a horse bit, a bear trap, a bathtub full of lye, garden shears ... you get the idea.
I Spit on Your Grave is artfully made garbage, effective and bold in its use of violence as a narrative driver, but reprehensible in all other respects. Sarah Butler's performance is brave, the camerawork is ominous and direct, the grime is palpable, and the tension is thick as molasses. But no matter how hard it tries to dress up its sadism in bogus pretensions, this ain't The Virgin Spring.