“I Spit On Your Grave” received a Best Actress Award (Camille Keaton) at the Catalonian International Film Festival of Fantasy and Terror, Spain (1978)
Easter Egg: From the Main Menu, move the Up Cursor to the film title. "Grave" will highlight, and pressing enter will yield four stills: a location shot during a break in filming, Camille Keaton with the director's mother on location, a European black & white publicity still of Keaton, and director Meir Zarchi and his wife at their current Los Angeles home.
One of the most vilified exploitation film from the seventies, "I Spit On Your Grave" still provokes passionate arguments against its graphic depiction of rape - namely two ugly, seemingly unending scenes of brutality set in the woods, and the final attack set in a sedate cottage, where writer Camille Keaton attempts to kick-start her first novel; the film's defenders, in turn, trumpet the movie as the ultimate feminist vehicle, praising the director's unrelenting realism, and Keaton's empowerment as Woman triumphing over the innately animalistic nature of Man, setting the record straight.
The record of the film and its maker have been pretty murky for decades, and according to avid supporter Joe Bob Briggs, writer-director Meir Zarchi has publicly discussed the film only once - a reason Zarchi's first-ever commentary is so important in assessing the film.
Zarchi, a picture and sound editor with only three directorial credits (1962's "Nini," and 1984's "Don't Mess With My Sister" being the others), used his organizational skills to assemble a dramatic commentary that covers key aspects, including the real inspiration of the script (which we'll get to shortly).
Elite's superlative DVD release essentially gives you the opportunity to watch the film in its original uncut version, and sift through myriad extras so you can assess the film for yourself - the smartest way to handle a celluloid hot potato in the Digital Age.
Whereas the more recent "Baise-Moi" (2001) combined hardcore penetration footage with straightforward editing to enhance realism in the film's opening rapes, "Irreversible" (2002) opted for a static angle for the lengthy assault, shot in real-time from grungy ground-level; labeled art films by their supporters (and kinder critics), the former told its story within an outlaws-on-the-run road trip formula, and the latter used a backwards-narrative structure (a la "Memento") that deliberately bludgeoned audiences with an escalating pattern of ugliness before subsiding around the midpoint to a gradual series of docile, calming scenes.
"I Spit On Your Grave" was originally conceived under the title "Day Of The Woman," a script inspired by Zarchi's encounter with a brutalized rape victim that clearly left a scorching imprint on the filmmaker. Though produced within the exploitation structure, Zarchi injects portents of violence amid Camille Keaton's first days at the cottage, and uses his editorial skills to depict her hellish afternoon, adding character nuances to establish the men's behaviour before, during and after their criminal acts.
Joe Bob Briggs, an exploitation pundit, historian and off-the-wall critic - a kind of enlightened hayseed with bottomless, smart-ass wit for those unfamiliar with his media personality - is given his own commentary track on the disc, and though trapped within his own artifice, Briggs deconstructs the attack sequences as conscious efforts to de-glamorize and de-eroticize the rapes; well familiar with exploitation genre, Briggs cites subsequent "I Spit" rip-offs, and two 1974 precursors that added torture and gore (Wes Craven's "Last House On The Left") and hardcore sex (Bo Arne Vinenius' "Thriller: A Cruel Picture") for more overtly commercial ventures, thereby weakening any claims by their filmmakers as statements on society or women.
Once into the film's revenge finale, Briggs slowly eases back to his usual persona, albeit a relatively restrained version, and listeners might find the humour over the final half - making it your second or third film viewing in toto - a bit trying; or it might just be an acceptable end to an otherwise heavy film experience.
Though Zarchi had attempted to distribute the film himself - shorn of 17 minutes to appease the MPAA and acquire a Restricted seal - it wasn't until 1982 when the Jerry Gross Organization (the happy campers who created the immortal double-bill, "I Drink Your Blood" with "I Eat Your Skin" in the early seventies) made an offer at a Miami trade screening. Changing the title and ad copy to something more alluring, the Gross people released it to theatres, where it raised epic outrage from Chicago critics Gene Siskell and Roger Ebert, whose own venal reviews motivated the local distributor to pull the picture and give "I Spit" priceless publicity. Detractors and supporters entered the media bear pit, while the Gross Organization took advantage of the new home video market through specialty label Wizard Video. Unbeknownst to Zarchi, however, both the 1982 theatrical and 1984 videotape releases contained Zarchi's uncut version, which defied the R-rating used in the ad copy, and resulted in a legal suit with the MPAA.
Further into his commentary track, Zarchi takes Ebert's ire to task, pointing out at the end of the film how the critic chose to decline a carte blanche opportunity to discuss a movie which, according to the director, Ebert still publicly excoriates. The DVD includes several archived pro and con reviews, including the original Siskel and Ebert columns, plus some industry extracts.
Publicity materials for the "Day Of The Woman," "I Spit On Your Grave," and "Eye For An Eye" campaigns fill out the disc, including posters, international videotape covers (boy, this movie's traveled far!) and a collection of radio ads and trailers for a movie that remains a top member of England's 'Video Nasty' hit list (for movies deemed too disturbing for release in their uncut form).
Zarchi's own "Day Of The Woman" trailer is really a digest assembly with some nudity, and no credits; the Spanish version is a dupe with extra shots on lesser quality stock, with burnt-in Spanish subtitles; the TV spot is a serious condensation of the two, and the radio spots hype the film as "…dealing with an eternal subject" and "…the ultimate day of terror." The "I Spit" campaign - adding a fifth and fictional rapist who gets burned, according to the brilliantly deceptive poster - uses hype, montages, narration and music to sell the film, and closes with Keaton wielding an axe as she motors towards her last two victims.
Elite's excellent anamorphic transfer shows off Yuri (Nouri) Haviv's fine exterior cinematography, including the riverside cottage and forest locations. Skin tones are natural, with a slight pastel shading in just a few bedroom scenes; and the cottage interiors (Haviv's own summer hacienda) are sharply photographed, showing no visible artifacting. Though Haviv had photographed several Doris Wishman sleazefests (including "Double Agent 78"), the location work is first-rate, and Zarchi's expert editing gives the film a more professional look.
Does the film need a 5.1 Surround overhaul? Probably not, but the remastered audio adds a wider location ambience for the film's exterior scenes through discreet rear surrounds. Using no original score, the director relies on sound effects and sparse dialogue, which register well in the new 5.1 design, and purists can switch to the original mono mix as well.
A Cast and Crew Filmography finishes the DVD. The male cast members never made feature films again, so their inclusion pretty much confirms "I Spit" wasn't helpful on the résumé. Zarchi was briefly married to Camille Keaton after filming, and though she made several women-in-peril films - beginning with "What Have They Done To Solange," in 1972 - she formally retired from acting in 1989, apart from a cameo in Terry Zarchi's debut, "Holy Hollywood," which father Meir executive produced in 1999. Meir Zarchi's last credit remains "Family and Honor" (aka "Don't Mess With My Sister"), made in 1985.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan