I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 1977
Directed by Meir Zarchi
1977 – 100 minutes/Widescreen
DVD Provided By Anchor Bay Entertainment
Review written by Craig Hamann

Jennifer Hill (played very well by the attractive Camille Keaton, Buster’s granddaughter) leaves New York and travels to a house in the country to finish her novel. One day, while relaxing in a boat on a lake, she is forced to shore and then assaulted, raped repeatedly, and finally left for dead by four local men. To their surprise, Jennifer survives and recovers physically, though not emotionally. From that point on, Jennifer attempts to execute each of her attackers.

Okay, that said, let’s get right to it. I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE is one of the most universally hated movies that’s ever been produced and distributed. When it was released, most mainstream critics despised it, claiming the film glorified rape. Remember Roger Ebert’s seething declaration that it made men want to rape women? Or how about the way Meir Zarchi’s film was among a handful of titles held at the forefront of the pitiful, self-righteous “Video Nasties” campaign in the UK? Let’s not forget the filmgoers who marched in front of theatres proclaiming the film’s lurid content advocated violence towards women, or the theatres that responded to the negative hype by refusing to show the movie.

Oh, yes. This film has received a deluge of scathing attacks by critics and filmgoers over the years. So then, why should I even bother to review the new DVD release? It has no audience, right? Wrong! I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE has a cult following, a devoted group that insists this is really a misunderstood revenge movie that in no way extols the atrocity of rape.

Rape is a sick, depraved act of violence and power that quite sadly is often portrayed in even the biggest budgeted movies as being somehow erotic. What the hell is that about? How many times have we seen Hollywood display a rape scene in a stylized, almost flashy way? You won’t see that in this movie. There are actually three consecutive rape scenes in I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, and each one is brutal and gruesome. No camera, editing, or lighting tricks. This is straight-ahead filmmaking, using natural sound instead of music, which makes the horrific acts feel more real and terrifying. We witness the rapes in almost real time, often looking through Jennifer’s eyes, as the four scumbags gleefully brutalize her.

It’s agonizing enough witnessing the first rape, and then watching as a battered Jennifer tries to crawl away and escape. However, by the end of the second rape, when Jennifer is stiffly limping back to the country house, bruised and bloody, with a blank stare in her eyes from being in shock, only to be attacked once more, watching the film becomes an exhausting, nerve-wrecking task. Not just because the sequence of rapes lasts for over a third of the movie, but because of the grueling way the rapes and beatings are depicted. This is “glamorizing” rape? I’m not so sure. What’s more, in an odd way, there is a fourth rape. After the four goons are finally done savagely abusing Jennifer physically, they find her unfinished novel and read parts of it out loud, ridiculing her every written word. Then they tear up the pages, violating her one last time by destroying the work that came from Jennifer’s heart and soul.

The four attackers are basically amoral, white trash caricatures. Two of them, Stanley and Andy (played by Anthony Nichols and Gunter Kleemann, respectively), are such garden-variety rednecks they almost never wear shirts. If you think that’s atypical for rednecks, watch the TV show “Cops” a few times. At least once in every episode, the police must endure dealing with a shirtless redneck. During the 70’s, almost every revenge film had to have one character that is the village idiot. Richard Pace plays the slow thinking Mathew here, a dolt who at first seems to have a calorie of decency in him, but ultimately he’s as demented as the rest of his disgusting buddies. Eron Tabor is eerily effective as Johnny, the perversely manipulative leader of the lowlifes.

Jennifer’s attempted recovery from the rapes is painful, as she sits alone, isolated from the world, her life unmercifully and permanently changed forever. Again, the absence of music works here, because the natural sounds add to the enveloping silence that cloaks this broken woman. Finally, when Jennifer decides to seek retribution against the four rapists, it feels almost liberating to the viewer, as if it’s okay to breathe again. I realize that’s the reaction any revenge flick desires from its audience, but director Meir Zarchi unfolds the vengeance dynamic in a more cogent manner than one would expect from this kind of low-budget film.

Probably the most uncomfortable moment during the revenge part of the film is when Jennifer deals with Johnny. Not only does she slice him open in an unthinkable way, but she locks him inside the bathroom, leaving him wailing in agony as blood pours profusely from his wound. Then, in the one scene with music, Jennifer plays the opera “Sola Perduta Abadonnato” and sits quietly in a chair, as Johnny’s shrieking continues to be heard from the bathroom.

So, the question remains, doesn’t showing all this rape, brutality, and revenge simply exploit the very thing the movie claims its persecuting? To be honest, I don’t know. In my view, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE doesn’t make rape or being a rapist look attractive in any possible way. I’m not certain how tidying up the hideous acts of rape in this movie would have made the story more powerful or effective. It’s a tough call. If nothing else, I do believe there is more to this movie than just exploitation.

The DVD itself, distributed by Anchor Bay, has quite a few extras. The DVD comes with two commentaries, one from the director and the other from Joe Bob Briggs. There's also a featurette called The Values of Vengeance along with trailers, TV and radio spots. Rounding out the extras are a poster and still gallery and the alternate main title sequence. The movie is letterboxed and has been digitally re-mastered, making it look and sound better than it ever did from its previous VHS days. The dialogue, for example, is actually understandable throughout the movie now, though it’s still obviously looped. The picture quality has greatly improved. No more of that annoying bleached, washed out look in some scenes that was so often the case in the VHS versions.

Camille Keaton deserves praise for her work as Jennifer. She is quite convincing revealing both the nightmarish anguish of being raped and the disturbing moments of silence following the hellish experience. Meir Zarchi – the writer, director, producer, and editor – shot the movie in a straight forward style, as I mentioned before, using an almost documentary feel in the story-telling, not unusual for this kind of 70s low-budget film. The final shot of Jennifer’s face is haunting and just one in a number of truly unsettling moments in the film