Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #355
Also known as Day of The Woman, I Hate Your Guts, The Rape and Revenge of Jennifer Hill
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: November 22, 1978
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 101 minutes
Director: Meir Zarchi
Producers: Meir Zarchi, Joseph Zbeda
Screenplay: Meir Zarchi
Special Effects: Beriau Picard, William Tasgal
Cinematography: Nouri Haviv
Editing: Meir Zarchi, Spiro Carras (re-edit)
Studio: Cinemagic Pictures
Stars: Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Pace, Anthony Nichols, Gunter Kleemann, Alexis Magnotti, Tammy Zarchi, Terry Zarchi, Traci Ferrante, William Tasgal, Isaac Agami, Ronit Haviv
Suggested Audio Candy:
Giacomo Puccini Sola Perduta Abandonnato
Isn’t it awfully nice to have a penis? While I appreciate that fifty percent of my readership are currently unable to form a rejoinder, I feel obliged to explain the benefits of said member. Aside from the big three: reproduction, masturbation, and urination, it can also be great fun to slap against your thighs. Whether you place it in one of Auntie Mabel’s warm home-baked apple pies for shits and grins or use it to play When The Saints Come Marching In in G major on your harpsichord, it’s a useful piece of kit and not to be taken lightly. My love affair with my own tallywhacker started at the tender age of ten and around that time I was first introduced to Meir Zarchi’s harrowing tale of revenge I Spit on Your Grave. Come the conclusion I valued my Johnson all the more.
Originally titled Day of The Woman, Zarchi’s film sparked an outcry upon its release and ended up branded as immoral, repugnant, and many other expletives all of which suggested that it was exploitative trash of the algae division. With a moniker such as I Spit on Your Grave it was asking for trouble and, even now, there is a stigma attached to this film which prevents many from giving it the time of day, although Steven R. Monroe’s remake helped to fill in the blanks for modern audiences and performed well enough to bankroll a sequel. Needless to say, lovable killjoy Roger Ebert wasn’t amused with the reboot after taking great umbrage to the original stating it was the worst movie he had ever seen. He wasn’t alone either.
To this day the debate rages on over whether I Spit on Your Grave is feminist cinema at its ballsiest or simply exploitation of the lowest common denominator. Zarchi’s motivation for making this movie came from personal experience after he witnessed a badly beaten woman in New York crawling naked from the bushes after an assault. He did as any law-abiding citizen would in such circumstances and reported the attack to the authorities but was appalled by their insensitive treatment of the traumatized girl, given what she had already been forced to endure. The lack of compassion shown inspired Zarchi to tackle this thorny topic head-on through the media of film and not shy away from any harsh reality. Many critics have curbed their contempt over the years and the once maligned pariah of home video is now considered something of an empowerment feature.
Whatever it is and I am perched in the pro-feminism camp to a degree, the question still stands: is I Spit on Your Grave worthy of merit? Yes and no would be the answer but let’s get the negatives out-of-the-way first. It is often amateurish, lacking any discernible score to soften (or heighten) its blow, is crude, mean-spirited and a long haul to sit through if truth be known. The first forty minutes feature continued suffering which leave the viewer utterly numb as the beleaguered Jennifer (Camille Keaton) is tormented and defiled by four less-than-hospitable local twats. Clearly this is the reaction Zarchi wants from his addressee and he pummels us into submission with a protracted rape scene which is downright ugly, plain and simple.
However hard to watch Jennifer’s ordeal may be, the courageous performance by Camille Keaton is simply off-the-chart. After her lengthy indignity has subsided she gazes at the camera in a manner that convinces that she is disinterested in gaining our sympathy. After some much-needed bed rest, a metamorphosis occurs and she becomes black widow; using the same body so harshly mistreated to lure each of her assailants in turn into her vicious web of retribution. Marilyn Burns aside, of all the turns in 1970’s exploitation cinema, it is Keaton’s which hits home hardest. She is portrayed as resourceful, intelligent, and cunning and uses all three attributes to teach these filthy pigs a lesson they won’t likely forget in a hurry.
In a starkly contrasting second half, it is the men are portrayed as the vulnerable parties. Despite this, we still hold them in utter contempt for their atrocities. Zarchi wants us to despise them, the pay off is in their comeuppance and when it comes it’s good riddance to bad trash. Keaton was the consummate professional and had no objection to being naked for much of the first act, indeed, her only bugbears were battling off the persistent mosquitos and having to trudge through the woodland with bare feet. Now that is the mark of a true professional. The male actors were respectful of her plucky spirit and all four offered to appear nude as a show of solidarity. This doesn’t get them off the hook however and her bittersweet retribution is both swift and decisive, showcasing how a more feral side can manifest after sufficient punishment.
The scene which will forever be etched into my psyche is the now infamous moment whereby Jennifer evens the score with ringleader Johnny (Eron Tabor) and, even now, I watch it with my legs crossed. Zarchi uses the exact level of restraint to make his point without resorting to crude practical splatter and this makes it all the more mortifying as the blood begins to bubble up from her victim’s severed genitals, initially unbeknownst to him. What really sells the scene is her utter nonchalance as she wipes the blade and returns downstairs while he slowly bleeds out. The headphones go on and the soothing tones of Sola Perduta Abandonnato assist her in unwinding after a hard day in the bathtub. Then she calmly disposes of his corpse, burns his clothes in the fireplace, and strikes his name off her mental hit list. Job done; cold, composed, and utterly calculating.
I Spit on Your Grave is often mentioned in the same breath as Wes Craven’s equally scorned The Last House on The Left and there are admittedly certain parallels. However, Craven’s film shows no end of artistic merit if nothing else whereas, Keaton’s shattering performance aside, there’s little here to raise it above mediocrity. When all is said and done I would much rather not view either again any time soon as I prefer Deadites rattling cellar doors to watching a young women suffer indefinitely, regardless of whether feminism is key or not. One thing is for damned sure – I’ll never take my penis for granted again.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: For all of its infamy, I Spit on Your Grave is a relatively bloodless affair and the true horror lies in the merciless treatment of Jennifer at the hands of her aggressors. Having said that, the bathtub scene is enough to tuck the old chap under and less proves more in this case. Deeply unpleasant, never an easy watch and harder still to unwatch, Zarchi’s film shows that human depravity can work both ways, given enough motivation, a kitchen knife and some scented bath salts.
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