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I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE
Millennium Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Pace, Anthony Nichols, Gunter Kleemann
Director:  Meir Zarchi
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Elite Entertainment
Features:  See Review
Length:  100 Minutes
Release Date:  December 17, 2002

“You come from an evil place.”

Film ***1/2 (on the Cult Scale)

Trying to describe I Spit on Your Grave to the uninitiated is like grabbing random adjectives from two separate bags:  one positive, one negative.  One hand pulls out words like deplorable, repulsive, and exploitive, while the other comes up with others like original, harrowing, and uncompromising.  One criticism doesn’t diffuse another praise, nor vice versa.

I’ve seen the picture a number of times over the years.  It’s not the kind of film one can easily label as “entertainment”.  It’s hard to watch, yet undeniably provocative.  It violates my biggest taboo probably worse than any film I’ve ever seen, which is that I don’t like to see women getting hurt.  But seeing men who hurt women getting hurt themselves is another matter.  Even then, this movie’s final act is hard to cheer, because it doesn’t flinch.  It shows you what you think you want to see, only to make you think that maybe it really wasn’t what you wanted to see after all.

In a few brief strokes:  I Spit on Your Grave is about a New York City woman named Jennifer Hills (Keaton) who rents a summer house in the country in order to work on her first novel.  While there, she attracts the attention of four redneck losers (one actually a half wit), who horribly assault and rape her in a sequence that keeps falsely pretending to be over, only to get worse and worse.  Left for dead but still alive, her body heals but her soul does not…after visiting a church to ask forgiveness for what she’s about to do, she turns the tables on her attackers one by one…none live to regret what they did to her.

The rape scenes are truly horrifying.  They earn the right to the equally gruesome revenge scenes, but those are hardly cathartic.  Every time I see this picture, it’s a palate soiling experience for me as far as movie violence goes, which is why I give it high marks, and why every so often, I have to come back to it.

In other words, it seems to deliberately combat the violence-as-entertainment mentality so prevalent in today’s movies and TV.  Like most movie lovers, I cheer when Schwarzenegger mows down the bad guys.  It’s fun.  But when Jennifer exacts her revenge, it’s more deserving but less satisfying.  The movie seems to think that violence is horrible and distasteful, and nothing to celebrate no matter what form it appears in.  Imagine that.

The question must be asked…is Zarchi serving his own sadistic, perverted needs by making the ultimate exploitation pic?  I’ve never been one to think so.  In fact, the story goes that Zarchi was affected in the early 70s by witnessing not an actual rape, but the aftermath of one…how a young woman was traumatized physically, mentally and emotionally by her brutal ordeal.  He then decided to make a movie that fully depicted the horror of rape.  Frankly, I don’t see how anyone could see this film and think that anybody got pleasure from making it.  I especially can’t see, as some critics have argued, that the picture would actually inspire rather than deter those who would abuse women.  Do their comments actually say more about themselves than they do Zarchi?

Nor have I ever taken sides in the debate about whether this movie is sexist or feminist.  I don’t think it’s either.  There is no real statement about the way men and women behave here.  Most men aren’t rapists…and frankly, who’s to say what anyone would do in Jennifer’s situation, male or female?

What’s done to her is unspeakably ugly and there’s no safety net for the audience.  To watch is almost to participate.  We get too close for comfort…yet what did we expect to see?  No one who saw the poster or the trailer could have any doubts about what was going to be shown on screen (well, okay, the original tag line got the number of men involved wrong by one, and none of them are dispatched by burning, either). 

I think Camille Keaton gives an astoundingly powerful performance in this movie.  Some might condemn her for her career short-sightedness in making such a picture, but I prefer to praise her for her courage.  A lot is asked of her, and a lot rides on her ability to sell some really horrid sequences.  At least she fared better than her co-stars, most of whom never appeared in another film!

This Millennium Edition of I Spit on Your Grave ought to be enough fodder to start the controversies all over again.  Just stay away from it unless you’re really willing to go all the way!

BONUS TRIVIA:  Camille Keaton is actually the grand-niece of silent film comedian Buster Keaton!

Video ***1/2

Fantastic…I’ve never seen a better looking presentation of this movie!  Elite has pulled out all the stops with their anamorphic transfer in order to bring fans the cleanest, crispest, and brightest home video version of this title to date.  Scenes that once looked murky and soft on tape have a new digital life…there is integrity in the images from the natural looking colors to the level of detail that makes even the leaves on the trees stand out instead of wash out.  There are very few signs of aging…maybe a tiny spot here, a small flicker there…but well within acceptable limits for a movie over twenty years old.  A benchmark effort!

Audio ***

Who would have thought that a title like this would ever be offered with Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtracks?  You get both here (plus the original mono for the purists), and Elite has done a fine remastering job.  There is dynamic range, but mostly created from the quiet end instead of the loud end.  When things get silent, you’ll appreciate the eeriness coming from the clean and noise-free track.  Panning effects are noticeable in several key scenes (particularly with the motorboat), where the mix isn’t timid in bringing in the rear channels and the subwoofer.  Dialogue is clear throughout, but maybe a little thin in sound in comparison to the multi-channel effects.  High marks.

Features ****

This is an extraordinary features package, starting with an unexpected rarity…writer/director Meir Zarchi offers a commentary track!  Over the years, he’s remained mostly silent about his infamous picture, but he comes clean and frank with his thoughts for this Millennium Edition release.  He starts off by reading a variety of quotes from critics and moviegoers that say pretty much everything that can be said about the movie, good or bad, before introducing himself and settling in to talk about the making of the movie…yes, and his motivations behind it, as well.

It’s a great treat, but there’s an even better commentary track included, featuring cult movie collector and guru Joe Bob Briggs.  It’s about the funniest track I’ve had the pleasure of listening to all year.  He even teaches you to say the title as “I Spit…On Your Grave” in order to sound like the trailer!

Speaking of trailers, there are four of them on this disc, plus three TV spots and three radio spots.  There are filmographies for Zarchi and his cast (many of them amusingly short), a terrific gallery of posters and video cover artwork, and even a collection of excerpts from reviews and articles on the movies, including the pair of critiques from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert that got the movie pulled from exhibition in Chicago! 

As a bonus, the menus and chapter selection screen feature full motion.  This package is a cult fan’s dream come true!

Summary:

To say I Spit on Your Grave isn’t for everybody is easily the understatement of the year.  It’s a reviled film that probably has earned every bit of venom spewed its way over the years.  But it’s also a film that’s easier to hate than it is to dismiss, because it dares to revoke the notion of violence as entertainment and replace it with…surprise…violence as violence.