When I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE was initially released it was one of the most talked about films of its time. First you had Ebert & Siskel on their weekly show discuss how terrible and disgusting the movie was. Then, once released in England on video, the film became notorious for being one of the original “video nasties” there (if you haven’t heard of them google them. They make for an interesting mix of films). So was there a reason for controversy? Was the movie truly that disturbing? Having just watched the blu-ray release of the film I can only say yes, a feeling I had when watching it for the first time years ago.
I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (originally released as DAY OF THE WOMAN) was one of those films that you heard so much about that you had to find it and watch it. Controversial movies have always had that effect on the viewing public. It doesn’t matter if the movie is good or bad, you find yourself drawn to it because of the word of mouth surrounding it. What surprised me this time around was that after over 30 years since its first release (1978-80 depending on where you look), the film still has that punch in the gut effect that it had the first time around.
The story revolves around a young woman, Jennifer Hill (Camille Keaton) who leaves New York City for a month in the country to relax and write her first novel. She stops to get gas at the local station and meets the station owner, Johnny, and his group of friends. It’s a casual meeting with no names exchanged and little happens. Later on she meets Matthew, a dim witted young man who delivers groceries, not knowing that he’s friends with Johnny and his group.
When Johnny and his friends get together, they begin talking about how attractive Jennifer was. After talking long enough, they decided that they want her and will indeed take her. The next day while she’s in her boat on the lake, they grab the rope on hers and speed off with her in tow. Once they land, the group savagely takes turns raping her with the exception of Matthew.
Jennifer leaves them behind, bruised, scraped and bleeding. As she makes her way through the woods, they find her again and brutalize her once more. They leave her behind here and she makes her way home only to find the group waiting for her. Matthew now among them, they convince him to follow their lead and he rapes her as well. Rarely has the violent act of rape been so convincingly played. This is brutal and animalistic. There is no chance that someone would find this erotic, unless they find something nice in rape. And it’s these scenes that are the most brutal and disturbing of all.
Matthew is sent in to kill Jennifer but can’t bring himself to do so. Surviving the ordeal, Jennifer is now a changed woman. No long content to sit back and be taken advantage of, she plots her revenge on each of the group. Matthew is the first, seduced by the lake and then left hanging from a tree.
While it’s weird to say this, Johnny gets the most deserving act of revenge and one that will stick with you long after watching the film. ***SPOILER ALERT*** Jennifer seduces Johnny back to her place and while sharing a bath with him, reaches out, takes a butcher knife and cuts off his…well think of John Bobbit and you’ll know what she does. With little or no special effects save for a well placed sound effect, this scene will make you cringe just like the rape sequence. Jennifer does indeed finish her revenge and the movie ends.
As with films like HOSTEL I tend to find no pleasure in watching what is commonly known these days as torture porn. Anyone easily disturbed will find this movie incredibly hard to watch. Yes, the victim in the movie does have her revenge, but the fact that we’re watching this forcible rape time and time again doesn’t offer entertainment at all but leaves one feeling the need for a shower.
Is it worth watching at least once? Perhaps. If you can stomach the scenes described above then sure, especially if you want to see it as a piece of film history. Amazingly the film, while made on a low budget, does offer some decent photography and is well acted for being made with unknowns. The transfer makes this movie the best looking version that’s ever been released.
As I said, I’m not a fan of the genre. But as I watched I found that while disturbing it offered a better story than I first remembered. For a low budget film it was quite well made, written and directed. But it still leaves you with that unwashed feeling.
I know many people think that movies have to push the envelope now and then, to go further than they did before. That may be true at times. Then again sometimes pushing the envelope doesn’t add anything to our way of life. And to call it art to me just denigrates art. You can probably tell I’m betwixt and between on this movie. Its one that you have to witness and make your own mind up about.