October Horrorshow: I Spit on Your Grave

Beware cheap horror films with awesome titles. Growing up a horror fan, I had seen the VHS box of I Spit on Your Grave many times at the local video store in the sci-fi/horror section. It screamed cheapness, and did nothing to make it stand out among such fare as My Bloody Valentine or I Dismember Mama. So I always passed it up. I’ve seen it now, and while it didn’t make me wish I could claw out my eyes, or that I could build a time machine and go back to warn myself away from watching it (The Human Centipede), I do believe my life is not one whit better for having seen it.

Sometimes the 1970s feel like a much freer time than today. There was a lot more homophobia and racism back then, yes. The cities were a mess and someone, somewhere, was nailing down the recipe for crack cocaine, but the mores governing expression were more lax. A look at film and television in the ’70s reveals a catalogue of subject matter that wouldn’t make it past standards and practices today. The ’70s birthed Archie Bunker, Ziggy Stardust, and the bathtub scene in The Toolbox Murders. That is a wide spectrum.

So it was this era of unfettered creativity that led Meir Zarchi to write and direct a movie that has a 25-minute long rape scene.

I Spit on Your Grave tells the story of Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton), a young Manhattanite hailing from the posh precinct of Sutton Place. She’s an aspiring writer who has decided to buckle down and write that first novel away from the distractions of the city. She’s rented a house on the Housatonic River in Connecticut for the summer, and hopes that there she will find the peace and inspiration she needs to complete her work.

On her way to the house, she makes a fateful stop at a local gas station operated by the slimy Johnny (Eron Taber), and frequented by a couple of local roustabouts. A dimwitted local deliveryman (Richard Pace) meets Jennifer at her house, and the final piece is in place.

Jennifer is abducted and raped by the four men. And it’s not a swift experience. It’s violent, bloody, and drawn out. Not once, but twice, the audience is tricked into thinking this act (yes, it plays out like an entire act of the movie) is over, only to see the four rapists make another appearance. This is hard to watch, and that must have been the intention of Zarchi, but the question then becomes why? Why is it necessary to subject the audience to this? Are they better off having been part of an exploration of rape? Is it really something the audience needs to see on screen because there are misconceptions about how horrible it is? I don’t think that we, as a society, need to be reminded through graphic representation that rape is bad. War, yes. But not rape.

All this is, of course, setup. After the attack has ended and Jennifer has pulled herself together, she hatches a plan of revenge. She spends the remainder of the movie hunting down and killing her attackers. They get what they deserve. That’s the only satisfying thing about this flick.

One thing I keep going back to in my mind is how difficult a film this must have been for the main cast. The four men were asked to be the worst of human beings on screen, and Keaton spent an awful amount of time as a ravaged victim, covered in filth and blood. I have a hard time praising their performances, but it could not have been pleasant making this dog.

The movie was originally released in 1978 with the title Day of the Woman, and found little success. It also had I Hate Your Guts and The Rape and Revenge of Jennifer Hill attached to it at various points. It was picked up by a new distributor in 1980 and re-released with the current title.

A final note. Not only is this movie disgusting, it’s also poorly made. It resides firmly in the low end of b-movie quality. Stay away from this one. Alien: Resurrection is a much more pleasant experience than I Spit on Your Grave.