Wednesday, July 4, 2012

I Spit On Your Controversy...

Once, there was a film so wrought with controversy and burdened by hatred that those who dared to watch it were called misogynistic, sadistic, or at the very least perverted.
Yeah? Whatever.

I Spit on Your Grave (a.k.a. Day of the Woman) is a 1978 film that caused such an uprising when it came out that it was slapped with the title "Video Nasty" and was banned in several countries (including the UK) and added to a number of "Most Violent Films Of All-Time"-types of lists.   In as much as the film seems to brutalize women, it also explores revenge in the most elementary way possible.  Kill the motherfuckers.

Oh, and spoiler alert central if you have yet to see the film...

Jennifer Hill (Camille Keaton) is a writer from NYC who rents a cabin by a lake in order to start her first novel.  Admittedly, this is a fairly stupid idea.  Knowing nothing of the surrounding area or the local townsfolk, she chooses to stay the summer in a cottage in the woods.  Alone.

Excuse me, is that 63 cents for a gallon of gas!?
I suppose it could be argued that women have every right to do something like this, and why should it be any different than a man staying alone for the summer?  Of course they have the right to, even the NEED to...but that still doesn't make it the smartest idea in the book.
Being of the female persuasion myself, I can honestly say I doubt very much I would do something of this sort, and I even own a cabin in the woods.  I have never stayed there alone, though I would probably feel okay doing so if it weren't for the abundance of bears in the area and the distance from the cabin to the outhouse.  But I would still always be utterly unnerved.  I would be fine during the day, but when night fell I would be sure to conjure up all sorts of scenarios in my head and noises outside that would prevent me from not freaking out in a major way.

Anyway, Jennifer stops at the local gas station to fuel up and while Stanley and Andy (Anthony Nichols and Gunter Kleemann) - a couple of local yokels - eye her up longingly, she struts her long legs around and attracts the attention of the station owner, Johnny (Eron Tabor). 
Now when I say strut I don't mean she is doing it intentionally.  Jennifer is a beautiful woman with a nice body wearing a skirt.  Men ogle.  So do women.  If Joe Manganiello was shirtless and filling my tank (pun intended), I would be staring to beat the band, too!

Soon after, Jennifer orders some groceries from a local market and welcomes Matthew (Richard Pace), a mentally challenged man, into her home when he delivers the food to her door.  Matthew later brags to his friends (the jokers at the gas station, natch!) that he "saw her boobs!".  There is much vulgar banter while the guys taunt Matthew for never having gotten laid, and they promise him that will all change.

Stanley and Andy case out the cottage by power-boat, watching her move around inside the cottage at night, and openly gape at her relaxing in a bikini on her hammock during the afternoons. Soon, they up their game and when she is out on the lake in her canoe they surprise her and tow her canoe to shore and start chasing her through the woods.

What happens then is the entire reason this film gets such a bad reputation.  In the same vein as The Last House on the Left, the men attack her.  Johnny appears, as does Matthew, and they push Jennifer to the ground, making her painfully aware of their intent.  Matthew is frightened by the violence and shirks back, but Johnny pushes him at Jennifer, announcing that he got her for Matthew.  When Matthew refuses to participate, Johnny becomes disgusted and rapes Jennifer himself. 

This scene, as well as many to follow, makes me feel completely ill.  As a woman, I am sure that is the intended and totally natural response.  When I first saw this film as a teen, I was not only shocked and horrified, but was actually frightened.  Scared that this could happen to me.  Sex is always talked about with such affection and regard  - it was something that was not only an important rite of passage, but it was supposed to be FUN, dammit.  This did not look like fun.  It was exceedingly difficult to watch, and it's hard to believe I actually got through it that first time.  Where was the gore I was promised?  I hadn't signed up for THIS.

As if the first rape wasn't bad enough, it happens again.  Just when you thought Jennifer was going to be alright, albeit bruised and battered and completely demoralized, she is accosted again trying to get back to her cabin.  This time, Andy brutally rapes her anally, and even the other guys start to balk a bit and want it to stop.  It doesn't, though.  At this point I wasn't sure it was ever going to end.  When it finally does, I had a pit of disgust in my belly I thought would never leave me.  But I was sure that someone was going to pay for all this violence.

BUT NOT YET!  Jennifer quite literally crawls back to her cabin, and unfortunately the men are waiting for her there.  They try again to get Matthew to rape her, but he is still hesitant.  After several swigs of alcohol, Matthew declares himself ready and he too, does the awful deed.  The men hoot and holler and the disgust I felt grew by leaps and bounds.  But I know that this is the desired effect by the filmmakers, that being privy to such sexual sadism only makes the audience more pissed off and wishing for vengeance of the worst kind.

It's difficult to justify such brutality in film, after all - what on earth would cause a screenwriter or director to want to make a movie like this?  What kind of person are they?  With no real cause for the rape and the extent to which the rampage is forced down our throats, it's hard to imagine what the hell it's all about. I don't think there is a reason, really.  I have no idea what was in the minds of these filmmakers other than to make a ridiculously sadistic exploitation film. More on that later.

And what happens next?  Well, since we all know Stanley hasn't had his turn, we know what's coming when he takes his chance. Though he doesn't rape her in the truest sense of the word, he forces himself on her nonetheless and assaults her sexually as well.  The men find her manuscript-in-progress and tear it to pieces while reading selections aloud and making fun of her.  After they have apparently had enough, they leave her sprawled on the floor of her cabin, wounded, bleeding, and utterly destroyed.

The men make their escape but then realize that she will be able to identify them, so Johnny sends Matthew back with a knife to kill Jennifer.  Of course, as expected, Matthew is unable to follow through and simply dips the knife in Jennifer's blood as she lies unconscious on the floor. He lies to his cohorts and all is quiet..for a while.


Revenge is a dish best served cold.  Truer words have not been spoken.  Give your attackers time to cool think they've gotten away with think they are safe.  Then you throw down the gauntlet.  Which is exactly what Jennifer does, and it is a thing of beauty. 

My favorite moment in the entire film has to be when Jennifer goes to the church and asks the Lord for forgiveness for what she is about to do.  You know at that point that all bets are off.

When the guys find out she isn't dead, they naturally pummel Matthew and tell him to basically fuck off. Jennifer, in turn, lures Matthew back to the cottage by placing a grocery order.  When he arrives she is waiting by the lake for him, all gussied up and looking lovely.  (It has been weeks since the attacks and she is back to her gorgeous self.)  He falls for her ruse and she seduces him.

Now here's where I have a bit of trouble with the film, as does my hubby (who viewed it for the first time a few days ago).  It is so very hard to imagine, even for a moment, that a woman who has been brutalized and raped would even remotely be able to get close to her attacker(s) again, at least in a sexual way.  I understand she was putting one over on him, but the mere thought that she could actually have sex with him just to initiate her dastardly plan is fairly far-fetched. My husband said this would never, EVER happen and it kind of ruined the movie for him.  He was all set for the revenge, but totally disagreed with the script.  I suspended my disbelief though, long ago for this film.  Jennifer has Matthew just where she wants him and proceeds to hang him up in a tree to strangle to death.  Lovely.

She moves on to Johnny with similar tactics.  She heads to the gas station and entices Johnny to get into the car and come with her.  Stupidly, he does this.  She pulls over and they get out, where she whips out a gun all Foxy Brown-like and demands he takes his clothes off.  Johnny then uses the oldest line in the book when he blames the rape on Jennifer, saying that if she hadn't have paraded all around half naked they wouldn't have been so tempted and prone to their violent acts.  Jennifer acts as though she is moved by his earnest statement and she instead takes him back to the cottage where she proceeds to run him a hot bath and join him for a sensual massage.  (Goddamn, this guy is dumber than a box of rocks!)  As you can imagine, that does not end well.

When Andy and Stanley discover Johnny is missing they head to the cabin in the speedboat.  Andy takes the ax and disembarks the boat with intent to find and kill Jennifer.  But our stealthy heroine swims out to the boat, gets on board and fouls their plan by pushing Stanley into the water. She then circles around and comes after Andy, who now is coming toward her with the ax in the water.  Somehow, Andy is an asshole and drops the ax in the boat.  Jennifer quickly uses that to her advantage and sinks the ax into Andy's back. With Stanley struggling to get back on board the boat by grabbing onto the motor, she starts the engine and says "Suck it, bitch!" - the same thing he rasped at her while assaulting her - as she drives away, effectively spilling Andy's guts into the lake.  With a determined look on her face, she speeds away and the credits roll.

While it was not my intention to give a play-by-play of the film, it was impossible not to discuss the film without telling both sides of the story. By which I mean part one: the assaults, and part two: the revenge.  By and far the best part of the film comes in the last half-hour.  To watch an hour of rape scenes and torture is not really my cup of tea.  I've seen loads of films with torture, and my fair share of rape scenes (Irreversible still takes the cake as the mother-load), but when they are thrown together in such a dramatic fashion as in films such as this one and The Last House on the Left, it doesn't make for very FUN movie experience.

But I think all the harsh criticism of the film and the eternal debate over whether or not it is "too violent", "demoralizes women", or "has no real merit" is a tad ridiculous.  No one (at least to my knowledge) has ever been hog-tied and forced to watch I Spit on Your Grave at gunpoint.  My thought about this (and video nasty issues in general) is this:  IF YOU DON'T WANT TO WATCH IT, THEN DON'T!  It's as simple as that.  Parents, guard your children.  Turn off HBO.  Burn the Penthouse magazine under your 14 year old's bed.  Do whatever you think you have to to make your children safe from the world around them.  They'll find their way to all of it eventually anyway and you won't stop them.

Am I saying it's okay for a young teenager to watch this film and ones like it?  Of course not.  And as for you bible thumpers that think movies like this (or anything "R" rated or worse) is sacrilegious or blasphemous, well all I can say is: so the fuck what.  Get off your high horse and smell the coffee.  No one is forcing anyone to experience the violence and mayhem of films like ISOYG or LHOTL.  I'm dead sick of defending my position on things like this.  A friend on Facebook recently commented on my status post that I was watching this film with something to the extent of:  "Why would anyone write something like that! It's awful and disgusting!" Yes, it is.  But so is Dance Moms and Jersey Shore for all intents and purposes. 

What I Spit on Your Grave gives us is about 100 minutes of startling and affecting film.  Do I ENJOY the movie?  I can't say enjoy is the right word, but I am certainly overcome with emotion watching it.  It affects me.  It makes me think.  Does it disgust me?  Parts of it, yes. Of course.  But it astounds me and shocks me and staggers the hell out of me. THAT is why I watch it.  THAT is why I picked it up on DVD for $7.50 at Walmart. And THAT, my friends,  is why I wrote this review.


JP "Strange and Shocking Turn Of Events" Wendel said...

I'm glad someone else thinks it's absurd Jennifer would lure her attackers with sexual advances, though I think it's absurd for a slightly different reason; I think it's silly that these character would actually BELIEVE her advances and NOT think it was a set-up! Luckily the 2010 remake did away with that.

Chris Hewson said...

Great review!

Have you heard why director Meir Zarchi was inspired to make the film?

Zarchi says that (from wikipedia, from a DVD commentary) "he was inspired to produce the film after helping a young woman who had been raped in New York. He tells of how a friend of his and his daughter were driving by a park when they witnessed a young woman crawling out of the bushes bloodied and naked (he later learned the young woman was taking a common shortcut to her boyfriend's house when she was attacked). They collected the traumatized girl, returned the daughter home, and quickly decided it was best to take the girl to the police rather than a hospital, lest the attackers escape and find further victims.

They quickly decided that they made the wrong decision — the officer, whom Zarchi described as "not fit to wear the uniform", delayed taking her to the hospital and instead insisted that she follow formalities such as giving her full name (and the spelling), even though her jaw had been broken and she could hardly speak. Zarchi insisted the officer take her to the hospital and he eventually complied. Soon afterwards the woman's father wrote both Zarchi and his friend a letter of thanks for helping his daughter. The father offered a reward, which Zarchi refused."

Jeremy Bates said...

I've seen this movie 3 times, showing it to friends. When I first saw it, I kind of felt sorry for Stanley, but sure was glad he received his due punishment.

You wrote a damn good review by the way.

Christine Hadden said...

JP: I agree that it is equally as ridiculous to believe that the doomed men would be so easily seduced and fooled. But then again, they didn't seem all that brilliant in the first place, did they?

And a word about the remake. I saw it and actually liked it, though most of the grit of the first film all but disappeared and the "traps" she set up were rather far-fetched I thought, and they drifted into 'Saw' territory a bit too much. But Sarah Butler did a great job, in my opinion.

Chris: Thanks, and thank you for the info. I had never heard the story of the reasoning behind the writing of the film. It almost sounds like an urban legend, to imagine something like that happening. But very interesting nonetheless.

Jeremy: I wonder if you meant you felt sorry for Matthew (the mentally challenged one) - I think we as the audience are meant to feel somewhat sympathetic towards him, but he failed as a human being in the end, just like his "smarter" counterparts...
And thanks for the kind words.

Pendulum said...

Good review, but there's no controversy. It's a movie - plain and simple. It's up to the writers and director to implant the ideas and the actors to interpret them. Nothing more than entertainment. I suggest reviewing for more discussion about the subject of fear.

Kaijinu said...

this was my first rape and revenge flick seen as a horror lover and yes, the effect is ever lasting.

nice sum up, mate! nothing beats this one in rawness!

Christine Hadden said...

Pendulum: While I appreciate your comments and your reading my post very much, using the comments section of a blog to further your own agenda or plug your own blog is kind of sad, don't you think?

This movie is completely controversial. As are tons of movies, books, television, etc. Politics are controversial. Religion is controversial. This world and the people in it are controversial. The reason behind it is simple: everyone is entitled to their opinion but there is always someone around to knock your opinion on its ass and call it faulty, stupid, or just downright wrong.

I don't think the point of this review was to discuss fear, so it really seems like you just want people to read your blog.

Kaijinu: Thanks for reading!
Yes, this was my first R & R film as well. Hard to believe I even watched another one after this. But again, I think it is the CONTROVERSIAL aspects of these kind of movies and how they affect the viewers that makes me, and scores of others, watch them.

Alex Jowski said...

Great article! I agree with you that the controversy over this movie is ridiculous because if someone doesn't like the content of a movie they just need to not watch it.