This woman has just cut, chopped, broken, and burned five men beyond recognition...but no jury in America would ever convict her!
Of course, that tagline's more than thirty years old now. The torture and torment that this Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) inflicts on the men who so savagely attacked her is a hell of a lot more depraved than that. I mean, cameras were rolling on the original I Spit on Your Grave all the way back in 1976, so Camille Keaton didn't have eight Saw movies and several decades worth of slashers to mine for
inspiration. The Jennifer in this remake, though...? The kills are far, far more elaborate and sadistic. Otherwise, though, this updated version of the stickiest, most infamous rape/revenge film ever made still sticks with the same general premise. Jennifer is a beautiful, twentysomething novelist with one book already under her belt, and she sets out to write her followup in the quiet isolation of a lake cabin. A bunch of rednecks -- led by the gruff, womanizing Johnny (Jeff Branson) -- can't stomach the thought of some gorgeous city girl stomping into their sleepy little town and looking down on them. They stalk her. They taunt her. Then, when they're finished with the foreplay, Jennifer is savagely raped. Whenever she thinks the brutality is over -- that her attackers have had their fun and she can finally crawl her bruised, battered body away -- they giggle to each other and rape her again. And again. And again. Before they can finish Jennifer off for good and destroy the last of the evidence, she falls off a bridge into the water below. They skulk around the banks of the lake, waiting for her body to wash up, but weeks pass with no trace. Oh, but Jennifer survived, all right, and payback's a bitch...
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Probably the single most dramatic change in this remake is the shift in perspective. Once Jennifer is first attacked in the original I Spit on Your Grave, the camera hardly ever cuts away from her. We see Jennifer -- beaten, bruised, and broken -- piece herself back together...steel herself into the instrument of destruction she must become to exact her revenge. The remake takes the polar opposite approach. Jennifer is practically a spectre after her swan dave into the lake, not appearing again outside of flashbacks and hallucinations until she moves in for the kill. I do think that robs Jennifer's transformation of a lot of its power. Without having a chance to see the connective threads between the innocent Jennifer and the debased, murderous one -- and especially after adding in so many dryly delivered one-liners -- she starts to seem like a badnik out of a slasher flick. I'm a lifelong slasher fanatic, so I'm not pretending that's at all a bad thing, but that does make this version of I Spit on Your Grave a significantly different movie.
In fact, the Jennifer at the end of the remake reminds me more of Jigsaw than the shattered girl from the original I Spit on Your Grave. Whether or not that's a check in the win column is a matter of personal taste. Camille Keaton's character used her sexuality to lure her victims into a false sense of security. Another example of its feminist subtext, it's as if
Meir Zarchi was saying that men are stupid, primal beasts, walking mindlessly into the slaughterhouse if that's what their base urges compel them to do. Logically, sure, it doesn't make much sense that multiple rapists would expect to get some completely consentual nookie out of a woman they'd savagely attacked weeks earlier, and I can see why the remake would fiddle around that. Jennifer still turns the tables on the men who ravaged her, but she doesn't make any attempt at seducing them. The insults they hurled at her, their leering voyeurism, their individual ways of decimating every shred of dignity she once had...that's what she seizes hold of to destroy them. Her revenge is thrilling and disturbing to watch, and the end result is a hell of a lot more graphic than anything Meir Zarchi could've dreamed up in the mid-'70s. The fairly elaborate death traps do feel like something out of Saw, though, and that coupled with Jennifer's delayed return as an almost supernatural force of vengeance further distances the remake from reality. This take on I Spit on Your Grave is far more cinematic, but that also means that viewers are continually reminded that they're watching a movie. As superior as the remake is in quite a number of ways, I couldn't escape into it in quite the same way I can with the original.
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Camille Keaton struggled with some of the bubbly, more cheerful dialogue in the early moments of the original I Spit on Your Grave, but her physical acting during and after these savage attacks was consistently brilliant, and her delivery of the more seductive lines as Jennifer exacted her revenge was also extremely convincing. I get almost the opposite reaction from Sarah Butler in the remake. Well, at least to a point. Again, this is an extremely physical role, and Butler impresses in much as the same way as Keaton on that front. Her delivery of Jennifer's dialogue early on is much more adept than Keaton's was, but it gets much shakier when the time comes to be cold and vengeful. Still, Butler is beyond any doubt the greatest asset I Spit on Your Grave has at its fingertips. Even though the brutality she's subjected to isn't quite as viscerally photographed as what Keaton's character was forced to endure in the original, and she's not stripped as bare physically or emotionally, it's a still shockingly brave performance...certainly for an established mainstream actress in the here and now.
Jennifer's attackers have also been updated for this remake. The rapists in the original I Spit on Your Grave look normal enough at first glance but gradually devolve in feral animals, growing less and less recognizably human with each assault. They rarely address Jennifer directly, generally talking around her rather than to her during the rapes. To them, she wasn't a person...she was a thing...a toy to distract them. I really don't get the impression they'd look at a gang rape as being all that different from a lazy Sunday afternoon at the bowling alley; it's just a way to pass the time, and they're clearly
making it up as they go along. Someone who'd lived under a big enough rock not to be familiar with I Spit on Your Grave's infamy could watch the first fifteen or twenty minutes and have no idea it was a rape/revenge story...that the seemingly harmless guys from that gas station could be capable of something so horrific. In the remake, these men are more overtly evil from word one. The physical torment they inflict is every bit as grueling, but this film is less interested in that aspect. Meir Zarchi preferred his takes to be cruel and unflinching. The remake generally glosses over the worst of it, even allowing Jennifer to black out through quite a bit of the second assault. It's far more fascinated by the psychological torture these five men inflict. With the prolonged and very deliberate way they toy with their prey, the cowboys and Indians analogy that Joe Bob Briggs uses to describe the original I Spit on Your Grave no longer applies. These men are all too aware of what they're doing, they've coldly and calculatedly schemed this gang rape, and they relish every last second of it. The actors playing the rapists are a good bit stronger than the cast of the original, particularly Chad Lindberg as this very different -- and much more culpable -- Matthew, the dimwitted man-child with a quiet crush on Jennifer. Most every frame in the second half of the film is told from their perspectives. I don't think this is inherently a bad idea,
although I Spit on Your Grave does drag between the rape and revenge, losing the momentum and emotional hook that the original film had as Jennifer rebuilt herself.
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Even though it's not at all a complete success, the way I Spit on Your Grave approaches the original material is what I like to see out of a remake. It sticks to the same basic blueprint as the original but doesn't blindly retrace its exact footsteps. Most of the updates it makes don't betray the spirit of the earlier film, and the deeper into the movie we go, the more it cements itself as its own beast. The homages to the original film aren't distracting. Some of the most iconic lines from the 1978 movie are repurposed here, but they're almost always used in a different context and often by a completely different character. The updated I Spit on Your Grave corrects some of the clumsier missteps from decades past, particularly the order in which Jennifer exacts her revenge, which makes much more sense dramatically here. A couple of the twists and turns caught me completely off-guard, and the movie earns that element of surprise too. The greatest disappointment is the transition away from Jennifer since her transformation to me is such a defining aspect of the original film, and her blood-soaked revenge loses a lot of its impact without that. Still, Meir Zarchi's I Spit on Your Grave is a flawed film, and this updated version does some of those same things much better, others much worse, and others...well, just differently. The original is raw, primal, and occasionally amateurish, while the remake is a glossy, cinematic, and more overtly escapist fantasy. There's no right or wrong answer, and...hell, it's not as if you have to choose one anyway. Both films are imperfect and then some, but I still find a lot to appreciate in them both, and I'd still say that I Spit on Your Grave is a very worthy remake. Recommended.
The exploitation films from the 1970s that are infamous as the most disturbing -- The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Last House on the Left, and I Spit on Your Grave -- all had rough-hewn, documentary-style
photography that made the violence seem that much more real. This remake of I Spit on Your Grave shies away from that, preferring instead a clean, digital, unmistakeably cinematic look. I have to admit to not being all that much of a fan of this bleached, desaturated visual style. It's just so overused that it doesn't accentuate the bleak tone of the movie the way I'm sure it's meant to. Because of that cold, almost monochromatic approach, contrast is extremely flat, and black levels are unusually anemic. Even fades to black come across as more of a deep purple, and that's especially distracting since they're framed against the pure black of letterboxing bars. Detail and clarity are in the same general league I'd expect from a flick straight out of theaters but aren't anything particularly impressive. The image certainly has that tinge of softness I'm used to seeing in movies shot on the RED One camera, and a few shots look somewhat hazy, although I'm guessing that's part of the same visual approach. Technically sound and well-photographed but not exactly demo material.
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The remake of I Spit on Your Grave is matted to an aspect ratio of 2.39:1, and its AVC encode spans both layers of this BD-50 disc.
The six-channel, 24-bit Dolby TrueHD track on this Blu-ray disc immediately sets itself apart from the 1978 film with a colossal low-frequency blast. The sound design is consistently enveloping, in the slow, stalking sequences and throughout the film's more subdued moments. Leaves rustle in the wind. Rotten wooden floorboards creak and groan. The manic flutter of ravenous crows swarm from every direction. Unnerving sounds suddenly explode from behind. A pistol kicked out of the way pans from one speaker to another. It's a really lush, organic mix...one that takes pains to create a sense of place. Each element is rendered clearly and distinctly, and dialogue never struggles in the mix. There is a score in the remake, which I'm not thrilled about, but it's generally unintrusive...more a series of ominous tones and bassy growls than music in the usual sense. It's not overbearing, but what little of that is present comes through extremely well, giving the subwoofer plenty of chances to snarl. I really don't have any complaints at all.
There are no dubs or alternate soundtracks. Subtitles are limited to English (SDH) and Spanish.
- The Revenge of Jennifer Hills: Remaking a Cult Icon (16 min.; SD): I Spit on Your Grave's making-of featurette revolves mostly around the cast and their performances, particularly how they wound up ensnared in the remake and the extremes they were forced to endure while cameras were rolling. It seems like this could've been a lot more tightly edited...some of the interviews ramble, and it gets a little stale hearing everyone talking about going to a deep, dark place for the eight quadrillionth time. The runtime's padded more with clips from the movie than I
would've liked as well. On the upside, there is some behind-the-scenes footage scattered around in here, including a peek at the practical effects work. Decent but not essential viewing.
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Oh, but it is kinda funny that Joe Bob Briggs makes it a point in his audio commentary on the 1978 film that I Spit on Your Grave never aired on television, period, and that's even after lobbying to get it on Drive-In Theater. Jeff Branson, meanwhile, talks about how he first caught I Spit on Your Grave on Joe Bob's TV show. I mean, I know Joe Bob's commentary is pretty old, but he didn't get another TV deal where he could've shown a movie like that between then and now, did he?
- Deleted Scenes (12 min.; HD): I guess just to attack this straight off the top, there is no additional sex or violence anywhere in this reel of deleted scenes. You do get one false scare that would've been dropped in early on, but that's as close as it comes. Of most interest to fans of the original I Spit on Your Grave is a bit with Jennifer thumbing through a Bible and asking for forgiveness. The bulk of this footage consists of brief establishing shots and additional chatter between the rapists...nothing all that memorable or noteworthy.
- Audio Commentary: Director Steven R. Monroe and producer Lisa Hansen chime in with a solid commentary track. I'm almost always a fan of these kinds of in-the-trenches discussions, and I particularly enjoyed hearing about the many stumbling blocks they had to overcome: I Spit on Your Grave's unexpected journey to an unrated theatrical run, pulling up stakes to a completely different state at the last minute, scouring Shreveport for a stuntwoman to strip naked and swan dive off a bridge as the clock's ticking, the many struggles in getting the runtime under two hours, and losing all the DV tapes that were supposed to be spliced in. They also touch on why Jennifer doesn't seduce her prey in the remake, the alternate plans they were mulling over for Matthew, and explaining why the fate of one minor character who completely disappears is left ambiguous. Well-worth a listen and easily the best of the extras on this Blu-ray disc.
- Promotional Material (5 min.; HD): Rounding out the extras are a teaser trailer, two full-length trailers, and a nineteen second radio spot.
The second disc in the set is a digital copy for use on iTunes and Windows Media-powered devices.
The Final Word
This remake of I Spit on Your Grave feels like more of a cinematic construction than the rawer, more unflinching film that inspired it, but I can respect that. Even though I Spit on Your Grave threatens to become more of a modern slasher flick, it still carries over a lot of what fascinates me about the original while still standing reasonably strong as its own movie. It succeeds in ways that Meir Zarchi's film doesn't, and...well, they're both ridiculous and deeply imperfect in completely different ways. This updated version does enough right that I have no problem saying that I like it, and this still easily ranks among the more effective exploitation remakes of the past few years. Recommended.