I Spit On Your Grave (1978)

I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE has been the source of controversy for decades since its initial release in 1978. As a rape and revenge film, it belongs to a very specific sub-genre of cinema that many critics consider to be intolerable exploitation. On the other hand, fans of these movies must consider it to be top-ranking in this particular category. In it, Jennifer heads off to a small getaway by the lake so that she can relax and complete her work on her first novel. Her arrival draws the attention of four degenerates in town, who abduct her and repeatedly rape her out in the woods. Just when it seems she has escaped, she returns home only to find the men there waiting for her. Jennifer barely survives the brutal attacks, but rather than going to the police, she regains her strength and sets out to seduce each of the men before exacting her own bloody revenge!

What makes I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE so powerful is that it never glamorizes the rape sequences. In fact, they are hardly bearable to watch due to Camille Keaton's harrowing screams and failed attempts to free herself. There are hints of hesitation and regret that come from several of the men that humanize the characters, which is even more dangerous than painting them to be soulless monsters since it draws them back into reality. It is not just the extreme violence against women that most critics condemn, but the manner in which the subject of rape is handled. Jennifer's independence and sexual liberation entice the men, which seems to suggest the common excuse that "She was asking for it." They hoot and holler as they each take their turns with her, shouting "You want to be a man, don't you?" This has brought fire down on the film, since it seems to depict that Meir Zarchi's views rape as a sex act, and not as an act of power and domination. It isn't enough for Jennifer to suffer physically, but she is humiliated as well as the men mockingly read from her unfinished novel before destroying her work.

The original title of DAY OF THE WOMAN can also help in reading the film as an underestimated but radically pro-feminist work. Jennifer is entirely independent and successful, writing for a number of women's magazines before setting off to complete her own novel. Her sexual freedom is a demonstration of a progressive society where women are treated equally to men (though the men in this story try to restore prior order). Even during the attacks, Jennifer is never depicted as being weak. She struggles with all of her might, but she is overwhelmed and outnumbered. After, she becomes that much stronger and more cunning, and she uses that strength to emasculate and eviscerate her adversaries. At the heart of any rape and revenge story is the revenge, and being that this is a Horror movie, Jennifer's revenge is swift and painful. Each of the men suffer a terrible death at her hands, the worst of which involves a knife and a bathtub as she takes the lead villain's manhood in hand.

I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remains an undisputed classic in the rape and revenge genre, and its notoriety as such has kept it banned in countless countries around the world for over thirty years. To say that it is nothing more than despicable exploitation, however, is to blindly overlook many of stronger points that Meir Zarchi brings to the screen.

Rating: 9/10.


If you liked this film, check out:
LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE, MS. 45.

17 comments:

  1. I just saw this a few weeks ago. It was hard to watch the rape scenes. Almost like I was there watching ugh! What made the rapes worse was that they seemed to be very slow, and how they spread them out. I was glad to see she got some revenge. Overall, it was a good movie. I wonder how women feel about the movie? I didn't see the remake yet.

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  2. It is detested in many crowds, but there are many feminists out there that herald the film for its pro-feminism as well. ISOYG always seems to split Horror fans, but I love it. One of my favs in the genre.

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  3. Welcome to "FRIGHT CLUB"
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  4. You dont mention how boring it is Carl. I don't have a lot of time for films that are so self-conscious in their determination to shock. I worry about people who enjoy films like I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. But when a film can become a major commercial success sold on rape, humiliation and revenge it tells you a lot about society. It is interesting from an historical point of view and within debates about the censorship and screen violence, but the film itself is without merit.

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  5. I've gone through it three times and I have never been bored. I don't necessarily know that anyone actually enjoys the rape scenes, as they are still just as disgusting and unbearable on the third watch as they were in the first. The revenge is something that I'm sure more fans can enjoy. I don't worry any more about people that like I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE than I do about people who like THE VIRGIN SPRING or STRAW DOGS. Rape is about the most degrading and deplorable act imaginable, and if any crime deserved such extreme punishment, it should be this. Zarchi never makes light of the crime, and depicts it in a gruesome manner each and every time. I don't necessarily feel that the repeated offenses were used just for shock value(shocking though they may be), but also to draw out hatred and the need for retribution from the audience as well. No viewer is able to experience the film unmoved, it stirs emotion in one direction or another, whether it is in hatred of the characters of of the filmmakers. This is actually the first time I have ever heard the word boring associated with it, which is awesome since it is sure to stir more lively debate!

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  6. this was one of those, not feel good movies... much like deliverance. i saw it once and once was enough, though she did get her revenge.

    list of movies that are one time:

    i spit on your grave
    carrie
    the last house on the left
    dirty dancing

    my list, my nightmares
    jeremy

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  7. I disagree Carl about the repulsion of all the rape scenes. The first one for example is shot using soft focus lenses in a manner not dissimilar to the look and feel of 1970's poronography. The act is repugnant, but the style in which it is shot is troubling to me. The other two of course are absurdly repulsive. I think you're giving Zarchi too much credit. I have no doubt in my mind what his motivations were for making this film. To suggest it has anything to do with feminism like some people have argued is beyond laughable. But then some people have to find ways to justify their enjoyment of a film with multiple gang rapes.

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  8. I don't necessarily disagree with Zarchi's intentions, but I do feel there is an unintentional result in the character of Jennifer that brings out the feminist read in the film. The same could be said for MS. 45 and THRILLER, although the girls in THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT or NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS never have the chance to reconstitute themselves and serve as their own avengers. I would say that any positive themes running through I SPIT are inconsequential to Zarchi's purpose.

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  9. Personally, I think the movie glorifies violence and depravity as so many other similar 70s movies did. Zarchi says he wasn't trying to make the rape scenes exploitable, yet it's difficult to see them any other way. I don't have a problem with the film, although the 45 beat, rape & torture sequence is very hard to watch without turning away, or getting up to do something till it's over, or simply skipping it. I have a moderately funny, if uncomfortable story associated with this movie, actually.

    Considering the sheer amount of rape revenge movies that followed in SPIT's wake, a remake is pretty much pointless and no doubt was made to capitalize on the name only. I mean, we already have--

    NAKED VENGEANCE
    THE LADIES CLUB
    SUDDEN IMPACT
    DEMENTED
    THE RAPE SQUAD
    MS. 45
    LIPSTICK
    MOTHER'S DAY
    THRILLER: A CRUEL (awful) PICTURE
    SAVAGE STREETS
    HELL HIGH

    and probably a few more.

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  10. Let alone -- help me with the title V -- RAPEMAN in Japan?

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  11. RAPEMAN is/was a popular manga series over there that made the transition to a popular series of films. It was all satirical, if in bad taste. Rapeman was a superhero of sorts. He didn't rape random women, just the villainous ones. It was very similar to the HANZO trilogy from the 70s starring Shintaro Katsu who was famous for starring in the 25+ ZATOICHI film series and 100 episode television series. Hanzo did the same thing and it, too, was very satirical and quite humorous. Neither were of the 'rape-revenge' school.

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  12. Oh, I forgot another one before rape-revenge movies became "all the rage". It's a brutally violent, but below average western called FIVE SAVAGE MEN (1970). The gorgeous Michele Carey is tortured and raped by five men led by Keenan Wynn. Henry Silva plays Chatto, an Indian who trains her to shoot and exact her revenge on the bad guys.

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  13. Sounds like all sorts of distorted Hentai vengeance! If only RAPEMAN was a tentacled beast..

    Where's FIVE from, and is it worth seeking out?

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  14. It's an American western born from the "new age" style of bloody western that erupted after THE WILD BUNCH in 1969. SOLDIER BLUE and THE HUNTING PARTY are far more accomplished and surpass Peckinpah's movie in sadism, but then, that was likely the point. But no, FIVE SAVAGE MEN isn't worth seeking out. It occasionally pops up on Encore westerns. You do get to see the stunning Michele Carey naked, though and Keenan Wynn chew massive amounts of scenery. If you've seen CHATO'S LAND with Charles Bronson, or HANNIE CAULDER with Raquel Welch and Christopher Lee you've basically seen 5SM. They're almost identical, but came after 5SM.

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  15. Your encyclopedic understanding of every genre never ceases to amaze me V! Brace yourself though... I haven't seen any of Peckinpah's films either. Criminal. Will be sure to correct it shortly, most likely with STRAW DOGS.

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  16. I haven't seen but a few of his movies, myself. STRAW DOGS is a good place to start. It's the closest to a horror movie he came I'd say. It's similar to LAST HOUSE as well. The most disturbing aspect of STRAW DOGS is the rape scene and you'll see why when you get around to watching the movie.

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  17. jervaise brooke hamsterMay 16, 2013 at 3:15 PM

    I want to bugger Camille Keaton (as the bird was in 1968 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

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