Friday, December 27, 2013

I Spit on Your Grave (1978)

          Among the various cinematic tropes that emerged during the ’70s, my least favorite is the presentation of rape as spectacle. A sensitive touch is required to ensure that sexual abuse reaches the screen with its innate violence undiluted, rather than being transformed into titillation. Unfortunately, the film genre in which rape most regularly appears—low-budget exploitation cinema—is not known for sensitivity. For instance, I Spit on Your Grave pairs the act of rape with the escapist element of an absurd revenge scheme. Story-wise, I Spit on Your Grave is threadbare in the extreme. New York City-based fiction writer Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) drives to a country house she’s rented for the summer. Shortly after her arrival, Jennifer is assaulted and raped by a quartet of local scumbags. Then Jennifer methodically exacts deadly revenge, one victim at a time. That’s literally the entire story. Writer-director Meir Zarchi largely eschews characterization, and his visual style is reminiscent of porn, a textural effect that’s compounded by the stilted acting of his amateurish cast. Furthermore, each sequence drags on in what feels like real time. This lugubrious pacing relates to an aspect of I Spit on Your Grave that’s both disturbing and effective. During the grisliest scenes—of which there are many, since each of Jennifer’s mulitple sexual assaults is filmed a separate event, with its own overture and aftermath—Zarchi generates a grotesque sort of “reality” simply by lingering long enough to observe each unit of action. Viewers are never granted release by tasteful editing.
          Later, once the picture shifts into revenge mode, Zarchi’s storytelling becomes unpleasant in a different sort of way. Whether he’s focusing on the gory result of Jennifer slicing a man’s erect penis or showcasing the blood that churns in water after a victim meets the business end of an outboard engine, Zarchi films violence as not only catharsis, but as something like jubilation. Therefore, I Spit on Your Grave achieves a measure of cultural significance because the politics and psychology of anyone who would participate in making such a movie—and those of anyone who would embrace the experience of watching the thing—is morbidly fascinating. While Zarchi’s clumsy film lacks the perverse poetry of other extreme ’70s shockers, such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), it is a cousin to those movies. As such, it can’t be discounted even though by many measures, it’s a cruel and vulgar enterprise; the mere existence of something as nasty as I Spit on Your Grave invites scrutiny of the culture that generates and consumes such artifacts. Proving that point is the longevity of the brand. I Spit on Your Grave was remade in 2010, and the new version did well enough to warrant a sequel, I Spit on Your Grave 2 (2013).

I Spit on Your Grave: FUNKY


Tommy Ross said...

I have a high tolerance for blood and gore etc in a movie but found this movie hard to take, especially the rape scenes, this one's not for the squeamish! It's very 70's though the way it's shot and produced.

Will Errickson said...

Truly one of the most iconic titles in exploitation film. And strangely, one I heard a lot about as a kid in the early '80s, from the boys across the street whose parents let them watch *anything* on their newly-acquired VHS player.