So it’s one night and what I have from Netflix is Ma Vie En Rose, but I’m too tired to watch a serious movie. In these cases I open up my 50 Chilling Classics boxed set, because almost everything on there is dated trash [and I mean that in the most loving way] that doesn’t really require serious attention. I made little descriptive notes about all the movies on there to guide my viewing, and this one’s was “Woman raped – many songs,” and you know, SONGS are ALWAYS an incentive. Plus it’s from 1975, so it shot to the top of the pile.
We open with this cheesy video graphic title over what was surely the original title. I’d love to know what the original title was, and what the history of this little… thing is. Anyway, during the credits we notice that this film features Robert Englund, Freddy Kreuger himself! It also features Peter Brown as “the professor,” and you’re like, THAT Peter Brown? The one who sang the disco hit “Dance With Me?” I don’t think it is, but it does look vaguely like him.
So we open with this VERY 1974 college class in which “the professor” is talking to the class about how they’re “leaving the piscean age and entering an aquarian one.” This film was created at the dawning of the age of aquarius! The age of aquarius! Aquarioooooooooooouuuuuuuuuus! Aquaaaaaaaaaaarioooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuus! [sorry.] Then the professor talks about man having to search for his roots, and this girl offers “I think our roots are in the Earth.” Another thinks they’re in space, or the stars, or something. There is mention of Michael, who “dropped out” and went to live in the woods, because he couldn’t take modern society any more. They continue with their RATHER INTENSE classroom discussion, in which many people’s character’s are called into question, especially this blond guy Marshall who is macking hard on Jenny, who he used to date, although now she’s interested in Robert.
Now, we’ve already had a song over the credits, a warbling woman’s voice over a guitar, very Joni Mitchell except for the songwriting ability, and now we have another one. The songs are all interchangeable, and will either fill you with the naïve delight of the 70s [as they did me] or drive you out of your mind. So next we’re at this school dance or something, where a guy says to this woman “You wanna dance, honey?” and she responds “Oooooh, down and DIRTY!” Then they courteously don’t cut away for a while as the couple dance, so we can all evaluate the dirty dancing of the 70s. Then a guy in drag strips for everyone in front of the pool. We find out later that he was a pledge to some fraternity. Then Marshall is getting all furious that Jenny is dancing with Robert [and apparently enjoying it], so he wigs out, and they say they’re going to go camping and look for Michael [the guy who dropped out], and then they have a fight, and for a second there I thought that, out of spite, EVERYONE decided to go camping. Like, the whole dance. But no, just Robert and Jenny, although Marshall does hang around to harass them a little more.
So they wander into this house where they meet this washed-up lounge singer practicing his routine. This guy is played by real-life washed-up lounge singer Rudy Vallee. He warns them that they are going to a very mysterious parts of the woods where a lot of people don’t come back from, and urges them to buy a knife, because they’ll need it for self-defense. They refuse, and take off.
So they go off through the woods, laughing and joking, seemingly seeing nothing amiss with the fact that Michael went into these woods a while ago and supposedly his letters get stranger and stranger and then just stopped, and no one has heard from him since. Now, knowing only what I told you about this film, I thought that either something terrible had happened to Michael, or that he had become a psychotic killer, but either way, bad news. And I thought that for sure Marshall would show up again to torment these two… but no, we never see Marshall again.
There is a long and strange sequence in which we hear a song that goes “animals are coming too” [or something] while our duo slowly slide down a hill they are trying to climb… this goes on for minutes. Then the finally make it over the hill, and there’s a beautiful lake! So they skinny-dip.
There are there making romance in the water when they are spied upon by two goons, the hot one named Danker. They goons yell at them, but finally take off. Robert and Jenny [who looks a bit like Kate Jackson at times] find a cabin made of relatively small sticks with personal effects and photos inside, and they decide to stay there.
But it turns out to be Michael’s cabin. They lament that there is no way to lock the doors or windows, and soon after the goons show up again. They restrain Robert and he watches as first one, then the other rapes Jenny. We don’t see much, and the second one slaps her around a lot more than the first. They leave, then Robert gets up and spends the night outside. Okay fine, maybe she doesn’t want company right then but—shouldn’t you ask her WHAT she wants?
Anyway, the next morning—Michael shows up! And he is played by Robert Englund! And, despite being so mentally anguished that he dropped out of society and has lived in a remote cabin in the woods for the past month, he’s perfectly cheerful and adjusted, clean-shaven, and clean as a whistle! He goes in and hangs out with Jenny for a while [I think he’s supposed to be her brother]. Englund at the time is very sweet and amiable-looking—like Brent Spiner. It’s quite surprising he ended up playing this nasty mega-killer.
So the two rapists are sitting around thinking of their exploits of the prior evening and Danker says “I’m goin’ up there and I’m gonna hook that broad!” when the other one responds “I suggest you go over in those bushes and whizzle your lizard!” Personally, I had never heard “whizzle your lizard,” but I’m glad to know it now.
So we then hear a song that advises “you’re a fool to be a puppet, even on your own strings.” SO true. Then Jenny reaches for the nearest book, which turns out to be [I’m not sure we know this in the film] Kahil Gibran’s The Prophet, and reads that “your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.” Oh, so now we know! Jenny’s gang rape was just a crucial step on her path to full self-actualization! And you know, she probably wouldn’t have been able to become such a rounded and centered individual had she not been gang raped. I hope she remembers to thank those guys, and maybe send them a card around holiday time.
The guys attack the goons with an axe, and eventually they escape. I don’t think the goons are killed. The movie ends with Jenny and Robert walking toward a serene sunset.
As a movie, it’s a mess. What does the whole first half hour have to do with anything? I mean, I guess it sets up the whole sense of us all searching for meaning in life, although only a few of us will have the good fortune to be gang raped and realize our full human potential. And the whole thing with the jealous Marshall? Is that setting us up for the ways in which men freak out at women with other men? Or, maybe none of it has to do with anything. I see from the IMDb that this was originally released as Sunburst, which would tie into the final image of them walking into the sunset, and imply that the whole thing is tied together through this whole “search for personal meaning” thing, which would cast the rape as just, you know, REALLY poor taste.
The obvious comparison for this movie is I Spit On Your Grave, in which a woman goes off into the woods alone, is raped by four guys, recovers, then kills all four guys. That movie got a lot of condemnation at the time for being exploitative of the rape, although I think it is quite clearly anti-rape. I would love to convene a little forum of people who hate I Spit to see what they think of this movie. I Spit quite clearly cast the rape as a horrible event that will haunt the woman forever, whereas the message of this one is, apparently, “Get over it, toots! Besides, in the long run, getting raped is good for you. You know, builds character.”
The only reason for watching this is the wonderfully potent early 70s character of the first half, including all of the not wonderful but VERY 70s songs. I would advise turning it off as soon as they go off to search for Michael [if you watch it at all], but even if you make it to the end, it won’t kill you. Ironically, the OBVIOUS offensiveness of the message of rape as personal growth exercise makes it easier to dismiss, as opposed to something like I Spit, which, through it may ideologically be more palatable, is more intense and brutal, and thus seems more invasive. This reminds me of Fear of Movies, an essay by Pauline Kael on how people would prefer lesser but “safe” movies to better movies that actually make them feel something. Well, if you want to be reassured that double rape isn’t all that bad, have I got a movie for you.
I wouldn’t, unless you want to soak in some serious early 70s atmosphere, and even then I would turn it off after 30 minutes.
I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE makes a good contrast to this movie, especially in how each present the rapes and their aftermath.