Call it what you want, but Meir Zachi's I Spit on your Grave is one of the most influential films in horror history, and has gone a long way toward reshaping the way horror films are seen and marketed (for good or bad!). Zachi's tale of rape and retribution has fueled many a late night session at censorship boards around the globe, and while I've personally seen more offensive films, this exploitation classic has long been considered the poster child for all things "Nasty". After inspiring a surprisingly good remake in 2010, Anchor Bay has opted to release both films on Blu-ray simultaneously, offering fans (or detractors) a chance to see how they measure up to one another.
I Spit on your Grave was originally released as Day of the Woman and, while not the first film of its kind, has become synonymous with the genre, spawning dozens of imitators. The plot of the film is simple; Jennifer Hills, a young writer from the big city, (Keaton) retreats to the country to work on her novel. There, she raises the ire of a band of backwoods deviants, who are both attracted to her and angered by her “city ways”. The gang follow her out to the remote cabin she’s rented and brutally rape her (multiple times) and leave her battered and bloodied but alive, seemingly unconcerned about there being any consequences of their actions. As she recovers from the attacks, Jennifer seeks out the men, seduces them, and then kills them in increasingly grisly fashion.
While many consider the film a misogynistic sleaze epic, I don’t see it that way. Sure, it’s exploitative, and, yes, the majority of the film focuses on the rapes rather than the revenge, but as far as claims that I Spit on Your Grave was meant to be a titillating film, I strongly disagree. Zarchi's depiction of rape is about as arousing as watching a puppy stuffed into a meat grinder, and nothing about these scenes are glossed over, eroticized, or sensationalized in any way. Zarchi's camera lingers and observes with the cool detachment of a passive voyeur, making all of us feel like accomplices, or at the very least, silent witnesses. While I still sort of flinch at the manner in which Jennifer goes about seducing her tormenters (I prefer the more vindictive manner in which it’s handled in the remake), at least they get their comeuppance, which is more than you can say for dozens of “erotic” films of the era (mostly of Italian origin) in which forced sex is depicted as macho and, most disturbing of all, ultimately mutually gratifying. One need only witness one of the many rape scenes in the Black Emanuelle series to see what I’m talking about. I Spit on Your Grave shows rape as painful, humiliating, and scarring - it’s tough stuff, even more than three decades later, and, while not a perfect film, it’s still a brutally effective one.
The Blu-ray presentation by Anchor Bay is quite solid, with a very vibrant and colorful transfer that boasts a surprising amounts of fine detail. There are occasional artifacts and signs of print damage here and there, but this is still the best I’ve ever seen the film look, and I’ve owned it in several iterations, including the excellent Millennium edition from Elite, which, until now, served as the benchmark in terms of transfer quality. The True HD 5.1 audio track is well balanced, with clear dialogue and some robust bass, but is otherwise pretty unremarkable.
Supplemental materials are plentiful, including a host of theatrical trailers (SD), television and print adverts, radio spots, posters, video covers, and two commentaries; one by director Zarchi and one by B-Movie fanatic/journalist Joe Bob Briggs (both carried over from the Elite release). The director's commentary is very spirited and occasionally quite funny, but the Briggs commentary is pure comedy gold. Joe Bob is not only hilarious, he is also incredibly informative and side-splittingly critical of the film's weakest elements. Watching the film with Joe Bob's track is a bit like an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but with less bad jokes and more fascinating genre insight.
Rounding out the impressive collection of goodies are an alternate title sequence (HD), and a fairly beefy retrospective entitled The Values of Vengeance: Meir Zarchi Remembers I Spit on Your Grave, in which Zarchi talks about both the original film and the remake, of which he served as a producer.
I Spit on your Grave is a very hard film to review, and, as with the remake (which I wholeheartedly recommend) it really comes down to the individual’s tolerance for the subject matter as to whether or not they’ll be able to stomach the movie, let alone enjoy the experience. Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray presentation is fantastic, with an impressive transfer, and a generous assortment of supplements, making this much-maligned-yet-important piece of genre history a film any true horror fan will want to add to their collection.