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I Spit on Your Grave 1978
Written and directed by Meir Zarchi and originally intended to go by the title Day Of The Woman, 1978's I Spit On Your Grave has been labeled everything from ‘the ultimate feminist movie' to ‘worthless garbage' and it's easy to see and understand why the film would divide audiences the way it did (and continues to do to this day). It remains a tough watch, even in this day and age, a truly unpleasant film if ever there was one.
The film revolves around a young woman named Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) who leaves her apartment in New York City and heads out to rent a cabin in a small rural town so that she can concentrate on writing her first novel. She stops for gas and catches the attention of a few local guys: Johnny (Eron Tabor), Stanley (Anthony Nichols) and Andy (Gunter Kleeman). Then, after settling in to her cabin, winds up striking the fancy of the slightly dim grocery delivery man, Matthew (Richard Pace). The guys pretty much agree that this big city girl is nothing but a cock tease and after their night of fishing loses its appeal, they decide to entertain themselves by dragging poor Jennifer through the water, onto the land, and then continually raping her.
When they finish with her and leave her for dead, they figure they got away with it and don't pay their crime a whole lot more mind until Jennifer shows up, looking good and seemingly wanting more…
The cover art for this release, taken from the one sheet, pretty much gives away what happens next, so it's not really much of a spoiler to note that she gets her revenge in the nastiest way possible, but after watching poor Jennifer beaten and gang raped for about twenty minutes or so, you can't really blame her for what she does. Even Matthew, who is obviously afflicted with some unspecified condition, feels her wrath and while we might feel a little bit of sympathy for him based on his personality, you can't fault Jennifer for what she does, even if how she does it is more than just a little questionable.
The end result is a vicious, mean spirited film that's wholly unpleasant to watch, and yet really quite well made in its own nasty way. If the film is meant to be empowering to women or a feminist statement, as some claim, Merchi's decision to shoot Keaton skinny dipping for no necessary reason seems a misfire, as it comes across as little more than an excuse to show the actress in her birthday suit. Adding to the conflicting message of the picture is the fact that, yes, the rape scene goes on… and on… and on, and the fact that some of the revenge scenes are very sexualized, quite unnecessarily and unrealistically at that. Given the opportunity to kill her tormentor, would a victim be more apt to put a bullet in his head or would she take him back to her place, give him a warm bath, and then dismember him? The answer is obvious, and the inferred scheming on Jennifer's part is out of touch with reality.
Keaton's performance in the film is a strong one. If at first she seems a bit snooty or pretentious, so be it but she certainly doesn't do anything to anyone to warrant the treatment she receives at the hands of the male characters, even if they do try to legitimize their actions at one point by inferring that she was asking for it by her style of dress. Keaton shows quite a bit of emotion in her eyes and body movements and is effective enough in this tactic to pull us in. Her performance is head and shoulders above the others in the film, with most of the men aping Hess' Krug from Craven's Last House On The Left (an equally nasty picture dealing with very similar subject matter).
Zarchi shoots the film very well and it's put together in a rather clever way (it took him the better part of two years to edit it). His decision not to use a score was wise, as it lets us focus on the humanity and subsequent humility that Jennifer goes through on our own terms, rather than letting the emotional tugs that inevitably come from music to sway our feelings. Lots of long distance and medium close ups showcase the ensuing nastiness while facial close ups are used sparingly though effectively. They are, if you will, the real money shots of the film in that they hit the hardest when they're used.,/p>
The movie does succeed in laying all our sympathies with the only real female character in the film and in portraying all of the men as either salacious, perverted misogynists or fools, but the exploitative and sensationalist elements are laid on too thick for this to really stand as a legitimate statement about the treatment of women in American society. As an exploitation film, however, it definitely delivers for those very same reasons.
I Spit On Your Grave arrives on Blu-ray from Ronin Flix taken from a ‘new 4k scan from the original camera negative' in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.85.1 taking up just over 34GBs of space on the 50GB disc. The transfer is very good, showing much nicer colors than the older Anchor Bay Blu-ray release from 2011 and considerably stronger detail as well. There's a grittiness inherent in the look of the movie that is retained here, and grain is obvious throughout but the elements used are pretty clean, there's very little print damage to discuss. Compression artifacts are never an issue and the picture is free of any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement issues. Skin tones look nice and natural and we get nice black levels too. For a grubby, low budget picture, I Spit On Your Grave cleans up quite nicely on this disc.
English language 24-bit DTS-HD tracks are provided in 2.0 Mono, 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 with subtitles provided in English SDH only. The 5.1 mix spreads out the score and effects throughout the various channels while the stereo mix obviously spreads things out between the left and right channels. The 2.0 Mono mix would seem to be the most authentic, however, but hey, there's nothing wrong with choices. Overall though, the audio here is quite good. The score sounds nice with some appreciable depth and things are properly balanced throughout. This obviously doesn't sound like the latest Hollywood blockbuster but it sounds very good considering its roots.
Carried over from the long out of print Elite Millennium Edition DVD is the commentary track with Meir Zarchi that is quite interesting, along with the equally interesting commentary that Joe Bob Briggs did for that same release. Both tracks are worth checking out, with the Briggs track standing as quite an informative piece that points out a lot of interesting facts and interpretations along the way. Briggs has a lot to say about the movie, and pretty much all of it is worth listening to. Even if you're not a fan of the film itself, you'll want to spend the time with these two tracks as the story behind the film and the influence it would go on to have are both tales worth telling.
Carried over from the older Anchor Bay Blu-ray release is a half hour featurette entitled The Values Of Vengeance: Meir Zarchi Remembers I Spit On Your Grave. While this covers some of the same ground as the commentary track, once you get past the unusually long animated opening credits sequence, this proves to be a pretty decent interview with the writer/director himself. He talks about making the film after moving to New York City from Israel, confirms the fact that the original title was meant to be Day Of The Woman and that the more sensationalist title was given to the film by the distributor after Zarchi decided to take the film to theaters in unrated form ("F.U.C.K. M.P.A.A." he states at one point). He talks about his relationship with Camille Keaton, both on and off screen, and discusses having to cut the film for its original R-rated theatrical release under the original title. He also talks about the mischievous behavior of Wizard Video, VHS junkies take note!
New to this release is Jennifer's Journey: the Locations Of I Spit On Your Grave. This is an eleven minute piece that compares the locations used back when the film was made how they appear today. Hosted by Michael Gingold we get a look at the New York City locations where the movie starts as well as the Kent, Connecticut locations such as the gas station, the house, the diner, the cemetery and church, the grocery store, and, of course, the woods and the river. There's also an amusing interview with a local resident who offers up his thoughts on the movie after finding out that his property was featured in the film.
Other archival extras include the alternate Day Of The Woman title sequence, four different theatrical trailers for the film, a few TV spots and radio spots, and a lengthy still gallery of posters and promotional artwork. Animated menus and chapter stops are also included.
I Spit On Your Grave remains an understandably controversial film, and for good reason, it's pretty appalling. That said, it's also very well done, a few obvious flaws notwithstanding, and you really feel for Keaton in the role. Ronin Flix's Blu-ray release is a very good one, offering up a considerably better transfer than has been made available before even when compared to the Anchor Bay Blu-ray and providing a nice selection of extra features as well. Recommended to those with a strong constitution not put off by the subject matter.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.