I Spit On Your Grave
starring Camille Keaton, Eron Taber, and Richard Pace
written & directed by Meir Zarchi
Cinemagic Pictures (1978)
Since discovering the horror blog community, one of the cult classic horror films that is bandied about as a visceral must-see is I Spit On Your Grave. Before visiting blogs like The Vault of Horror and Day of the Woman, I'd never heard of it. I'm just not a cinephile, even though I love watching movies. Anyway, I had the chance to watch this movie for the first time this year, and found myself with conflicting feelings of being underwhelmed and a lingering sense of revulsion.
One one level, the reputation of it being one of the most deplorable, mysoginistic exploitation films of the 70s--and a particularly despised film in Roger Ebert's opinion--the movie is not nearly as offensive and earth-shattering as I had presumed. Granted, a lot has gone down in film since then, and what was considered taboo and blasphemous in film-making back then, has thirty years or so to ferment. Oh, the first half of the movie is brutal, alright, but I was expecting a movie so vile in content that I would be left physically ill. No such luck.
On another level, it is not an easy movie experience. The plot is drop dead simple: pretty woman goes to rural America alone, gets abducted, raped, and left to die by a band of redneck reprobates, and then she exacts her revenge. It's the execution of the film that is unsettling, and that's due in large part to the performance of Camille Keaton as Jennifer. Her desperation, dread, agony, and mental collapse are wrenching to watch, even with the less impressive performances of her male co-stars--particularly Gunter Kleeman's offensive portrayal of a mental challenged stock boy, Andy.
If you can manage to sit through the first hour or so, the movie takes its inevitable turn into revenge film. But this is where the movie lost a lot of believability for me. Where, despite the rather cartoonish, spastic depictions of rape at certain points, a potent sense of sympathy and heartbreak for the Jennifer character exists. But, she seems to rally back in only a couple of weeks to become a one-woman army, a la Charles Bronson, to take out the four men to savaged her one by one. The act of revenge is certainly a palpable and believable one, but the somewhat sadistic and convoluted ways in which she goes about it, along with her conflicting portrayals of cold detachment and malevolent taunting, make her character a bit less real to me.
Like so many other cult favorites I've seen over the years, I not only fail to recognize the animated vitriol heaved upon it by detractors, but I also fail to see what merits the movie being put on a pedestal by so many horror fans. I didn't hate it, but I don't think I'll ever be in a hurry to watch it again. A film like this, once is more than enough.