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I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE

The most notorious rape-revenge movie of the seventies, if not of all time, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE is probably destined to be better known for the controversy it inspired than the quality of the film.  How is it?  Not nearly as terrible as many reviewers make it out to be, but then I’m not entirely sure it’s an exploitation masterpiece, either.  

The Package 
     I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE is probably the best-known rape-themed exploitation movie ever, despite the fact that better ones were made before (THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE) and after (MS. 45, IRREVERSIBLE).  Its immortality was assured by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, who passionately crusaded against the film on their SNEAK PREVIEWS TV show.  They succeeded in getting it yanked from several theaters, thus largely obliterating its 1980 theatrical release, but it was an enormous seller on home video--mainly due to the publicity unwittingly generated by Siskel and Ebert (I know that’s why I was initially drawn to it)!  Further notoriety came from the MPAA, who sued the filmmakers because on the home video version they restored cuts made to obtain an R rating.  And I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE made headlines yet again when it made the number one slot on the UK’s “Video Nasties” list of films deemed too violent and/or sexual for public consumption.  It was also censored in Germany, New Zealand and Australia, where it remains banned to this day.
     I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE was initially released in 1978, under the title DAY OF THE WOMAN, by the film’s writer-director Meir Zarchi.  The 1980 re-release was shepherded by sleazemeister Jerry Gross, who exploitively retitled it and commissioned a misleading one-sheet promising five men would be killed (when only four actually die onscreen), and that one would be burned (which never occurs). 
     Zarchi cast 28-year-old Camille Keaton in the lead role of a woman brutally raped four times in a single day who then methodically kills her attackers.  The grand niece of Buster Keaton, Camille had previously starred in several Italian exploitation movies, including the popular WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO SOLANGE?  She and Zarchi married shortly after completing production on the present film...and then divorced a few years later. 

The Story 
     Jennifer is an attractive feminist writer staying in an isolated lake house.  She’s appraised at a nearby gas station by three redneck attendants and their retarded buddy.  They take to harassing her and the following day waylay her on the lake by her house, where she happens to be boating. 
     In a misguided attempt at getting the retarded guy laid, the scumbags haul Jennifer back to shore, where one of them has his way with her.  After this they let her go, but she doesn’t get far before another of the group sodomizes her in a forest clearing.  Stark naked, Jennifer stumbles through miles of swampland back to her house, where her attackers are waiting.  This time she’s raped by the retarded guy, who whines that he can’t come (waaaah!), and then she’s violated yet again, this time by a wine bottle.  At this point the scumbags leave for good but send the retard back to finish her off; he can’t bring himself to go through with the deed, but tells his friends he did.
     Jennifer, permanently scarred by her experience, becomes determined to get revenge.  After entering a church and asking God for forgiveness for what she’s about to do(!), she lures the retarded guy into the woods.  There she seduces and hangs him--and this time he at least manages to come.  Next Jennifer tracks down the ringleader of the rapists and castrates him in her bathtub.  The last two rapists she dispatches on the lake, goring one with an axe and disemboweling the other with a motorboat propeller.  The end.

The Direction 
     Contrary to what many critics have claimed about I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, there is a fair amount of craftsmanship in the early scenes, which have a spare, poetic élan in their depiction of the heroine’s quiet lakeside retreat.  There’s even an interesting stretch during the agonizing 25-minute rape sequence in which one of the rapists nonchalantly plays a harmonica while his fellow attackers slowly converge on the heroine.  These scenes, and the entire movie, are enhanced by the fact that there’s no music track, which lends a certain tension to even the most mundane sequences. 
     I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE isn’t at all like the seventies-sploiters it’s often lumped in with, and not just because Meir Zarchi doesn’t feel the need to goose up the action with a fight or explosion every few minutes.  The pacing is often intolerably slow, with endless scenes of people walking lengthy distances.  It often feels like a European art movie but for the cheap photography and bad acting.
     Correction: the acting is mostly bad--but not by the film’s star Camille Keaton.  Quite simply, her work is among the ballsiest female performances in film history.  Not only does she get raped repeatedly (simulated of course), but she’s also brutally manhandled in every conceivable manner, and forced to stumble stark naked through what seems like miles of forest and swampland, all without benefit of a stunt double.  (Jodie Foster won an Oscar for doing far less in THE ACCUSED, a much tamer rape-revenge saga.)  I don’t believe this makes I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE a masterpiece, but it is quite an eye-opener.


Vital Statistics

I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (a.k.a. DAY OF THE WOMAN)
Cinemagic Pictures 

Director/Screenplay/Editing: Meir Zarchi
Producers: Joseph Zbeda, Meir Zarchi
Cinematography: Yuri Haviv
Cast: Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Pace, Anthony Nichols, Gunter Kleemann, Traci Ferrante, Alexis Magnotti
 


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