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!?|
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.
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.
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.
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.
HERE'S THE PART YOU'VE BEEN WAITING FOR...
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.
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.