I Spit On Your Graverecommended viewing

Unquestionably brutal, unquestionably artistic
★★★★
☆☆
Released: 
1978
Director: 
Meir Zarchi
Starring: 
Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Pace, Anthony Nichols, Gunter Kleemann
The Setup: 
Woman is raped by four guys in one day, recovers, then goes around killing them all.
Discussion: 

This one [along with Ms .45, which I believe was in part inspired by this film] was heavily discussed in the rape-revenge section of Carol Clover’s Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, to such a degree that it made its way to the front of my list. I had heard about it for years, but had trouble finding it. I DID keep finding I Will Dance On Your Grave, which seems like a cheap attempt to make money off of people who think it’s this one. Their covers are also quite similar.

The DVD opens with about 75 interminable trailers about how very excellent the sound on this disc is and that you cannot skip past and cannot fast-forward through. Then we see Jennifer Hill, our main character, leave New York and take a drive out into the country. She stops for gas, where we first see our rapists, and informs the station attendant that she is going to this country house she has bought that she has never seen. She gets to the house and walks around back, then decides to strip her clothes off and take a dip in the lake, without having unpacked or gone into the house at all. She gets a delivery of groceries from Matt, this semi-retarded guy who works at the local store, and he says he heard that “New York is an evil place.” Jennifer says “well, here’s a tip from an evil new Yorker.” Matt then asks if they can be friends, Jennifer says they can. So, they’re friends, and Matt seems a little pleasantly flummoxed to be friends with this woman. We have also found out that Jennifer has come out here for the summer to work on her novel, and that most of her published work so far has been in women’s magazines. As a copywriter, I was thinking “Oh God, I hope we get to take a peek at her novel,” and we DO!

So the guys are sitting around bored. One of them thinks about Jennifer and wonders “do beautiful women ever take a shit?” which cleverly sets up at least that character as seeing beautiful women as somehow not human. Then another of them chimes in that all the women in New York are whores, and that he’s “going to go to New York and fuck all the whores.” Another claims he’s going to do the same in L.A. They then go out to Jennifer’s house to harass her. She is writing outside while wearing a bikini, and the guys cruise by on a boat, then keep revving and cruising by in the lake, apparently oogling her body as she lays there. Then they come by her house and night and make whooping sounds outside. It’s creepy, especially when you see that she hasn’t locked the doors. What? Some New Yorker ISN’T going to keep all doors locked at all times?

The next day while Jennifer is in a canoe, the guys come by and start dragging her canoe behind them in their speedboat. They drag her across the lake, then grab her and throw her to the ground. Matt, the semi-retarded one, has confessed to the guys that he thinks she’s kind of a nice, so the supposed ‘reason’ for the attack is to ‘get’ her for Matt. When he won’t do anything, another of the guys jumps on for a rape that is quite detailed and brutal. You will notice that there is no music during the rape [apparently there’s no music in the entire film], which I thought was a good decision. You will also note that the guy pretty explicitly comes inside her.

They let her go and she runs off into the woods. The horror and shock are quite apparent on her face and in her body language as she stumbles naked through the woods. This is one of the clues that Ms .45 is a riff on this movie, because both of them seal the anti-rape point-of-view of the movie in showing in detail the horrible physical and psychic consequences. There is a chilling little surprise next for those who end up watching this movie, but as it would happen the guys haven’t really let her escape and another of them brutally rapes her, also coming in her. We then have another completely harrowing scene as she makes it back to her cabin after a long, horrible walk through the woods.

Turns out the guys are already waiting for her in the cabin. They persuade her “friend” Matt [who has not so much as raised is voice to defend her, by the way] to go ahead and rape her, and he attempts to, but “can’t cum with you guys watching.” His attempt is filmed in a creepily close way that really evokes how unpleasant it would be for Jennifer. She, by the way, is laying exhausted, bloody and naked on the floor. At last the last of them, Stanley, gets on, but it seems that all he wants to do is beat her. Matt says to him “You wanted total submission, you got it!” And finally they all leave. The entire rape sequence has lasted 20 minutes.

The guys force Matt to go back in and kill Jennifer. He can’t stand to do it, so he just wipes the knife in the blood, and comes back to tell the guys it was accomplished. They speed off in the boat. Jennifer eventually cleans herself off [a totally brutal shot of her bloody body in the shower], and two weeks pass wherein she thinks about what happens and apparently gets stronger. She pieces her novel [which they ripped up] back together and starts writing again. And she plots her revenge.

SPOILERS > > >
The guys haven’t heard anything about her body being found, and they want to send Matthew up to check on her. Please take note of the ice cream sundae right in Matthew’s face that really rather resembles a breast in this scene. It’s a little funny [yet realistic] that they keep sending Matthew on these missions, yet they all know he is completely unreliable. Anyway, Matthew is working at the grocery store when he gets an order to take up to Jennifer’s house. Also note that just behind the grocery bag, Matthew sees the butcher cutting a pig in half, with these two legs in the air and him cutting a bloody hole right in its crotch. I think this and the sundae are here to show how the rape is on Matthew’s mind and its images and their meaning are stuck in his brain. He delivers the groceries, and Jennifer comes on to him, letting him have sex with her, when she slips a noose over his neck and hangs him over the river.

Her next victim is the first rapist, whose name I didn’t get. She pulls up to his mechanic shop and seduces him, then pulls a gun on him. He says that Stanley [the one who just wanted to hit her] made him do it, that he has a wife and kids, and that “a man is just a man” and she “MADE him see her sexy legs.” She seems to consider this; ‘well, I DID make him look at my sexy legs,’ and lowers the gun. She then comes on to him again [and these morons fall for it] and tells him that he deserves a hot bath. She asks him about his wife and kids, then steps into the bath and cuts off his cock and balls. She then locks him in the bathroom to bleed to death, and listens to a Puccini opera while he screams and yells upstairs.

The other two are dispatched with less vigor, but you will notice that in this case the phallic weapon she assumes IS the boat. She also has a great facial expression of knowing triumph after handily removing the axe from the hands of one of her former attackers. Stanley [the violent one] gets it last, and I believe that she says “Suck it, bitch,” to him, which is what he said to her when he climbed on. Then she drives off and that’s it, the movie ends.
< < < SPOILERS END

This movie was much more intelligently and artfully done than I had imagined. This is not stupid, exploitative shit. I was really surprised at the amount of excellent, electrifying images there were here. I was also quite impressed with the way the movie treats the psychology of the rapists. I’m sort of used to men being treated as these animals who can barely restrain themselves to exist in society anyway, and then suddenly explode into sexualized violence, usually with a pack mentality [compare this film with the rape in The Accused]. What this movie got across in a way that was even more chilling than the idea that all men are rapists within is that the guys were just BORED. The movie spends a fair amount of time with them beforehand, so we know them as real people, and we can see what little excitement there is in their lives—and how exciting this “beautiful woman” from the city is. We understand that they objectify beautiful women and see them different from ‘normal’ women in their discussion of whether beautiful women defecate and how all women from New York are “whores.” It seems that the whole, long rape sequence was not planned, but happened spontaneously when Matthew refused, and continued rolling from there. Then we see the fear and suspicion on the minds of the four rapists later. I’m not saying the film made apologies for them, they NEVER see Jennifer as a separate living being with her own intelligence and feelings, but what it does do is lay out their psychologies in much more detail then we usually get in movies.

The question with films that depict a rape is always: does the movie glorify the rape? Or generate excitement in the audience with the rape? One could argue that anything depicted on film in a way glorifies it, but I think that the filmmakers take steps to minimize that effect here. As I said, there is no music, especially during the rape, and music in a film is usually used to encourage the audience to feel something, usually some form of excitement. Also, the aforementioned focus on the psychology of the men draws away from our being able to simply enjoy the rape in an unambiguous way, as does the extreme focus on Jennifer’s pain, humiliation, and torment. The film shows long takes of her stumbling through the woods, covered in dirt and blood, and there’s nothing exciting about it. The film also used the image of her naked and prostrate on the floor of her cabin not for excitement, but just to show her vulnerability and how brutal all this is. And I do have to say, this is without doubt THE most brutal movie I have ever seen.

This movie is famous for being attacked by both Siskel and Ebert [separately] as the worst movie ever made and a total abomination. Their reviews got it pulled from the mainstream theater in which it was showing and, of course, inadvertently helped seal its notoriety. I wonder what Ebert would think of it if he were to view it again. To me it is a movie of unquestionable quality that just happens to take a very brutal and unflinching look at the psychological realities of rape, and the fantasies of revenge [the second half is markedly less realistic] one might have after having experienced it. The “reviews and articles” section on the disc nicely charts the film’s reception from revulsion to some acceptance.

This film was originally titled Day of the Woman, which one of the supportive writers in the accompanying articles thinks is a much better title, but I like I Spit On Your Grave. It sums up all of the enduring hatred and anger that the film taps into, and doesn’t try to cast this film as a cultural piece about all women and how they all want revenge [a direction Ms .45 takes much more explicitly]. What IS a little disturbing is the way that the film was originally marketed. The trailers show very little of the rapes [and do not explicitly state in any way that the female character was raped], but instead concentrates on the woman stalking men. We are told that the Day of the Woman is “the ultimate day of terror.” Even the art on the current box shows a woman from behind, head out of frame, with tiny cut-off shorts that show ample portions of her ass. It seems that some of the people marketing this movie are some who most are in need of seeing it.

Should you watch it: 

Regardless, a fascinating, totally brutal movie with a lot to say about rape and gender. Definitely worth watching, and definitely not for the faint of heart.

RELATED MOVIES:
MS .45 is a movie in which an urban woman is raped twice in one day, then goes on a revenge spree against all men. I would bet that it was conceived as a more ideological version of this film.