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I Spit On Your Grave - special edition DVD


I Spit On Your Grave
cast: Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Pace, Tammy Zarchi, and Anthony Nichols

director: Meir Zarchi

96 minutes (18) 1978
Screen DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Back when the world was young the video-cassette recorder was a source of serious worry for some people. Many industry types feared that the ability to watch films at home whenever you wanted and record things off the telly would kill the cinema stone dead, and put them all in the poorhouse (an argument that is now being wheeled out against peer to peer file-sharing by the film and music industries). This lead to early pre-recorded videos going on sale for absolute fortunes which in turn fed the explosion in video rental shops. Many of those video rental shops did good business by renting out cheaply made horror films. Films like I Spit On Your Grave and Driller Killer changed hands quickly leading the nation down the road of a moral panic over 'video nasties' fed by the Mary Whitehouse brigade and the usual mean-spirited tabloids. The film was banned and only re-released in 2002 with more than seven minutes cut from the version that has been continuously available in the USA. This re-release seems to have only four minutes cut from its runtime suggesting a less censored version than the one that appeared in 2002.

The film tells the story of a young woman who takes a house in the country in order to write her first book. She's brutally beaten and raped repeatedly by a group of men, who leave her for dead. Once she has recovered she lures one of them into having sex with her and then hangs him. The next one gets his old chap cut off in the bath and is left to bleed, the third one gets it with an axe to the spine, and the last one gets chewed up by a boat's outboard motor.

Over 25 years on, this film continues to divide its audience. Many reject it as an exploitation film; others lionise it as a cuttingly subversive piece of feminist filmmaking. Director Meir Zarchi has stated that the inspiration for this film was the day he ran across a bloodied and beaten woman who had been raped by two men. He then set out to make a film called The Day Of The Woman (Zarchi's preferred title, and a title it was released under along with the witless I Hate Your Guts) where a raped woman seduces and brutally butchers her aggressors. Exactly how believable you think this interpretation of the film is will probably be entirely dependent upon your attitude to the use of irony as a cinematic device. By using the methods and vocabulary of an exploitation film, but making the 'victims' stupid evil men rather than stupid nubile girls, does I Spit On Your Grave cease to be an exploitation film? Frankly I don't know and I don't really care because hidden feminist agenda or not, this is a very silly film.

Umberto Ecco once wrote that the difference between a pornographic film and a regular film is that porn films are filled with shots of people doing really rather uninteresting things like driving or walking or making coffee in a desperate attempt to pad the runtime. I Spit On Your Grave has a very similar feeling to it. Apart from the rapes and murders nothing much actually happens. There's lots of footage of people driving around and walking and sunbathing and having lunch and reading and we even get sunsets and mist on the river. The film feels padded and filled with slightly pretentious art shots where there should be dialogue and character development. The dialogue is poorly written and poorly delivered and I think this works against the idea of this film having some kind of hidden transgressive subtext. Why would you make a film about the victimisation of women by men and then fill it with shots of people shopping? I'm no expert on feminist cinema but shouldn't a feminist film actually discuss feminist issues? There's so much empty space in this film you could have had the lead actress read from The Female Eunuch and it would have been more interesting and would probably have made whatever point Zarchi has since convinced himself he was trying to make. But all of these problems might have been irrelevant. After all, you don't rent or buy I Spit On Your Grave the infamous video nasty for character development and dialogue. You buy it for the nastiness.

The rape and murder scenes in I Spit On Your Grave are remarkable in that they lack any real impact. Firstly, the rape scenes are ludicrous rather than striking. Irreversible gave us the brutal rape and beating of Monica Bellucci in one nine-minute-long scene, shot without cuts from a fixed camera. I Spit On Your Grave is full of actors pulling ridiculous sex faces and, possibly because of BBFC cuts, is edited in a way that shows no respect for the material it is portraying or the basic rules of cinema. The narrative is jumbled and people move positions and then move back, items of clothing appear and reappear. Compared with the graphic and brutal impact of Irreversible this is frankly laughable. The murders are sub-par even if you compare the film with its video nasty contemporaries such as Cannibal Apocalypse. Most of the murders take place with the bodies partly submerged in water so all you ever see is some red dye being released in the water and the murders are set up by the rapists being utterly stupid (which admittedly does support the idea that the film is a critique of male sexuality). The only saving grace is the scene when the rape victim rides down one of her rapists in a motorboat holding an axe above her head like a knight on horseback.

This film is a historical curiosity. By listing it as a video nasty the censors have given it a kind of immortality that the film manifestly does not deserve. By the standards of the day the film is a poorly made slasher and by the standards of modern cinema it lacks any kind of impact except possibly for the adolescent provocation of it featuring a series of rapes. The only reason I'm not giving this film a rating of one is because it is a historical artefact and it does what it says on the box; it's a stupid and poorly made exploitation film with feminist pretensions.

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