31 Days Of Horror: 'I Spit On Your Grave' (1978)
October 14th, 2010 4:07pm EDT
Scenes of prolonged rape and battery don’t exactly register too high on my things to see list. It took me a long time to watch Last House on the Left, and Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible will probably sit at the bottom of my Netflix queue for the rest of time, regardless of how much respectable criticism it gets. But since it’s horror season, and one of the things that horror movies are supposed to do is horrify you, I figured that it’s time to buckle down and watch I Spit on Your Grave, a movie Roger Ebert described as being "a vile bag of garbage." So. This should be fun.
Determined or not, I did pretty much everything I could think of to put off watching I Spit On Your Grave. I watched something like six episodes of Parks and Recreation. I went to two different stores looking for canned peppers. I cooked dinner. I watched another episode of Parks and Recreation. Then I did dishes. The point I’m trying to make here is that I really didn’t want to watch this movie. I thought it might make me feel like a bit of a vicarious sex criminal—and while it thankfully didn't manage to go that far, it still succeeded in getting me pretty skeezed out with myself.
I Spit on Your Grave is the type of film where you will find yourself turning down the volume even when there’s no one else around, just on the off chance that someone may overhear and think you some sort of horrible pervert. Still, it isn’t really the harrowing experience that I expected. Most of the reviews for I Spit on Your Grave wrote it off as being exploitive and trashy--a movie that sexualizes rape and transcends mere bad taste. Now, I don’t think director Meir Zarchi intended his movie to sexualize anything—I think he probably set out to make a pro-feminist movie (it's original title was Day of the Woman, after all), but his methods to go about it were all weird. Apparently Zarchi's idea of feminine strength overcoming male tyranny involves castrating a guy in a bathtub while giving him a handy.
The problem with the extended rape scenes and the bloody aftermath is that they don’t really leave you feeling much of anything. The unflinching first half of the movie, where Camille Keaton (Buster Keaton’s grand-niece, incidentally) is repeatedly raped and left to wander around the woods looking like Phan Thi. Kim Phúc, doesn’t disturb so much as make you feel kind of grossed out for watching it. While the second half’s bloody vengeance turns that self-loathing into outright depression. This combination of unblinking detachment followed by bleak moralism has a numbing sensation. What’s to be taken here besides that violence begets violence? What Zarchi meant to spin as a statement of feminine strength, really just comes across as being a case for human animalism--proof that we're nothing but a bunch of rapacious and murderous beasts. C'est la vie, I guess.
So, while I think that claims relating I Spit on Your Grave to rape-porn are bogus (it at least doesn’t fall back on slap stick b-plots to soften up the violence like Last House on the Left), its sensationalist presentation makes its supposed feminist message come across as fumbling and stupid. At one point our rape victim goes on to sleep with one of her attackers, a mentally challenged grocery boy, just so she can tie a rope around his neck and choke him to death. Uh. Yay?
Tomorrow: Something less rapey and more Lovecraft inspired with the Sci-Fi Horror From Beyond.
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Photo Credits: Cinemagic Pictures, 1978