I Spit On Your Grave


Written by Chris Price
17 Monday 17th January 2011

I spent the majority of my youth collecting dodgy VHS horror films, and the video nasty was always the holy grail – a subgenre of low budget shockers that still have a cultural resonance today. Films like I Spit On your Grave are in the fortunate position to exist in a filmic stasis - growing fat on the legacy of myth created by the ‘Video Nasties’ furor back in the early '80s, which the ushered in the BBFC’s film classification system. 

The main problem is that the majority of ‘Video Nasties’ were uniformly shit, picked up by small film distributors aiming to make a quick buck in the burgeoning home video market. Vivid central European horror films, repackaged with a snazzy name and a lurid sleeve (see the ISOYG original below) were used to make films stand out from the bulk – creating some striking graphical imagery, which ultimately led to its downfall - at the hands of the Daily Mail and Mary Whitehouse (a diminutive Richard Littlejohn meets Mrs. Doubtfire).
Whether it was corpse-fucking (Nekromantic), eyeball trauma (Zombie Flesh Eaters), ritual humiliation (Salo) or animal slaughter (Cannibal Holocaust), you needed a Unique Selling Point to make it in the horror rental market. Originally released in 1978, I Spit on Your Grave’s MO was the rather distasteful gang-rape revenge opus, sporting a rather spurty castration scene – and aside from a general electric blue wash applied to the whole affair, very little else. Atrocious acting, a fetishistically protracted and directorially involved rape and weak horror set pieces conspired to create an unrewarding and morally ambiguous film.
I Spit On your Grave 2011 is Stephen R. Monroe's attempt at picking the kernels from Meir Zarchi’s festering turd (originally titled Day of the Woman). Shit’s been going south as far as horror remakes go, with only Marcus Nispel’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre bringing anything new to the table. Its the three stage evolution of Sarah Butler, an Ugg-wearing urbanite who travels out to a remote log bunker in bumblefucksville only to be assaulted and raped by a unit of dysfunctional yokels. She then returns, phoenix-like, clad in the armour of post-feminism, administering retribution in various complicated bushcraft-inspired ways.
No matter what the press says, this is feminism like Russ Meyers did feminism. The original used implemented sexual violence to gain a spike of notoriety within a VHS market. This remake is pure popcorn horror, awkwardly using the atrocity of rape to elicit an emotional response from the audience, one which never quite clicks – leaving the film emotionally barren from then on in.
The squeamish editing and tasteful angles will immediately disappoint anyone hoping for an exploitation-tinged remake – and in director Stephen R. Monroe’s rush to each set-piece, it runs roughshod over any subtle opportunities that an able supporting cast (Jeff “suck it, bitch” Branson and Andrew “I’m an ass man” Howard chew up the scenery as 24-carat bastards) to cultivate a more emotional level of horror in the audience. The script opens several opportunities (Jennifer’s pre-rape humiliation, Matthew’s revenge paranoia, threats against Sheriff Storch’s family) that are never fully explored. It’s a loose remake (god be praised) benefiting more from the name that anything else.
The direction is unremarkable, losing the sleaziness of the original lingering yellow-tinted frames. The influence of five years of torture porn ensures that the deaths are finally visceral enough to fit a heinous crime. But the whole film just seems like missed opportunity to capitalise on the history of the name, and raise it from being a murky milestone to a genuinely frightening romp that lives up the to the hyperbole. As it stands, it’s a drive-in horror that will entertain some, shock others – but won’t fulfill its birthright. Still, there’s always I Spit on Your Grave 2 (aka Savage Vengeance) – I give it three years.
I Spit On Your Grave (cert. 18) opens at UK cinemas Jan 21

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