I Spit On Your Grave (1978)
I Spit On Your Grave is one of the most controversial films to come out of the 70’s, banned in many places (including Australia until recently). What sets this film aside from other violent exploitation films is the raw brutality that is showcases. It actually doesn’t feel like an exploitation grindhouse type of film, there is more than meets the eye. It has a very powerful performance from Camille Keaton, which makes the film that much more difficult to sit through. If you aren’t too familiar with what this film is actually about, let me give you a short run down. Jennifer Hills (Keaton) is a writer, who decides to go away for awhile in order to finishing up her latest piece. She stays at an isolated cabin, however on her way there she runs into some locals at the petrol station. The group of men find her cabin, and torment her. They proceed to gang rape her more than one time, and leave her for dead. Jennifer manages to recover (at least physically) and seeks out revenge on the men.
It is a simple story, but as it turns out it is more complex than it seems. It raises a lot of issues, which are just as relevant now as they were back then. It really takes a look at how simple and innocent actions can lead to nasty repercussions. The thing which got the group of men interested in Jennifer really to start off with, was how she was dressed. Now it wasn’t like she was really showing anything off, but a beautiful woman in clothes which showed that off. This sparked their attentions right away, as it would with anyone. But it would seem that they really took it the wrong way entirely, and she wasn’t asking for any kind of attention. This would later lead on to the ‘simple’ man (Matthew played by Richard Pace) having an altercation with Jennifer which was perfectly innocent. But his bragging words back to his friends really set things going. To him, he never would have expected his bragging to do anything more than hopefully make him look good in front of his friends. For every action, there is a re-action. And in this case rather than leave it alone, they take this as a sign that Jennifer wants attention and when she doesn’t give it to them, they take it from her.
For a good 40 minutes Jennifer is violated in every sense of the word, not just stripping her of her clothes (and her innocence) they proceed to rape her continuously. The entire gang play their part, and they don’t only rape her once it happens again. They do it in every which way, and believe me when I say this is not something remotely enjoyable to watch. The scenes look and feel real, there is nothing here that a normal person would enjoy seeing. So why sit through it? Because the fact is this stuff does happen, it is a fact. Watch it to even be aware of this kind of violence, and understand that yes there are people out there who are animals. Beware of things around you, but don’t live your life in fear. Even watch it to be understanding of someone you might know who has been a victim of a violent crime. The film doesn’t ever shy away from showing the horror of the crime and what it can do to a person. The climax of the rape comes when they basically force the ‘simple’ one Matthew to have his way with her, and even he seems not to want to. But he really is pressured into it and I think by the end he thinks it is okay to do. The group of men seem normal, which is quite frightening in itself, but when something sets them off that is completely gone. The film of course takes a turn after Jennifer is left for dead, and she comes back to seek revenge. The way she does it is very surprising, and almost empowering. She uses her own sexuality to lure these men back in, no longer wanting to be a victim. It is shocking to see, as the tables are turned big time.
Deep down the film has a lot of issues it wants to address, it opens up a lot of things for the viewer to think about. Is Jennifer to blame for whats happened to her? Was she justified in what she did back to those were basically almost killed her? The film’s idea came to writer/director Meir Zarchi after he encountered a woman just after she was raped, and tried his best to help her by going to the police and then the hospital. This event clearly had a very strong impact on him, which he does go into detail on the commentary for the DVD which is a must listen. The films strengths lie within the script, direction and performance. Everything does feel quite real on some level, and Camille Keaton does an amazing job. The film really did take a toll on her physically and emotionally, and it does show through-out the film. Her performance really is one of the best you’ll find in an exploitation type of film. She really makes this film worth watching, she is so amazing in this film, beautiful and innocent. The men all put on solid performances, Richard Pace especially good as Matthew, he even has a kind of sympathetic character. Johnny (Eron Tabor) is a character which kind of reminded me of Henry from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (played by Michael Rooker). In the sense that he does seem normal, he could even be likable. But he turns out to be an animal, and it is frightening. He really scared me, but such a strong performance.
Meir Zarchi crafted a very brutal film, something that will never be easy to sit through. It feels real, raw and in some ways very sad. It is hard to say this is a film that I love or that I hate. I don’t love the film, I don’t hate the film, but I am a fan of it. I understand where Zarchi came from with this, and he never holds back anything. When I first saw this film it isn’t at all what I expected it to be, I found so much more beneath the surface. If you do intend to watch this, you need to hear the commentary because you will definitely get a deeper understanding of the film.
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