Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave isn’t a classic in the traditional sense of the word. I mean, it’s a low-budget, poorly-acted, and misogynistic piece of drive-in filler catered toward revenge seekers and rape fetishists. However, it’s also amongst the first films of its kind, created a monumental shitstorm with the censors, and, ultimately, served as the blueprint for an entire sub-genre that, for better or worse, still has a sizeable audience today. For that, alone, the 1978 original has more than earned its cult-status and place in the horror hall of fame. When it was announced that the film would be remade for modern audiences, I didn’t have a problem with it as, unlike films like Halloween, Friday the 13th, et al, I felt that Zarchi’s (who serves as this remakes executive producer) movie had plenty of room for improvement. I also had no doubt in my mind that said film would be little more than a neutered version of the original as the MPAA have long since tightened the reins on how much nudity and violence can coexist in a film. Boy howdy, was I ever wrong.
Writer, Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler), retreats to the country to a remote cabin so that she can work on her next novel away from the distractions of city life. Upon her arrival in town, she immediately runs afoul of a group of surly rednecks at the local gas station, embarrassing their ringleader, Johnny (Jeff Branson), by laughing at his particularly pathetic attempt at a come-on. Jennifer doesn’t think much of it and heads off to the cabin, where she begins writing in solitude. Later that evening, however, we see she’s not alone, as one of Johnny’s flunkies, Stanley (Daniel Franzese), videotapes her through her window whilst she’s stripped down to her skivvies.
The next day, Jennifer has plumbing problems, and her landlord (played by the great character actor, Tracey Walter) sends over Matthew (Chad Lindberg), a mentally challenged young man who happens to be a wiz with toilet repairs. Grateful for his help, Jennifer gives Matthew a big kiss, and the confused man rushes out without getting paid. Later, we see Johnny, along with Stanley and Andy (Rodney Eastman), fishing with Matthew. Stanley shows everyone his video footage of Jennifer, and then goes on to tell them how she kissed Matthew, prompting the gang to tease Johnny about her choosing “the retard” over him. Johnny tells them he can have her anytime he wants, and sets out to prove it later that evening, when the four men invade Jessica’s cabin, setting in motion a shocking chain of events that…well…you get the idea.
Like Zarchi’s original, I Spit on Your Grave 2010 is pretty straightforward in terms of plot. Men rape a woman, said woman gets revenge. That’s pretty much it. It’s a model of simplicity, but, at least here, writer Stuart Morse, changes things up for the third act, offering us a much more damaged and brutally inventive protagonist in this modern Jessica. No longer does she seek out her rapists to seduce them before killing them; this Jessica’s revenge is swift and vicious and oh-so-satisfying, with each of her antagonists getting their comeuppance in a fashion befitting the manner in which they participated in her ordeal. I won’t give anything away, but Jessica’s had time to put this plan together, and it’s a doozy.
I was actually quite surprised by how much director Steven R. Monroe was able to get away with in this update, especially during the brutal second act, where Jessica’s first tormented, then humiliated, and, ultimately raped and left for dead. Much of what happens during the sexual assault is implied rather than shown, but, to be honest, the implications are far more distressing and disturbing than anything in we see in Zarchi’s comparably tame original. That’s right, I used the words “tame” and Zarchi in the same sentence, but, trust me, once you see Monroe’s version, the original film looks positively quaint in comparison. It’s also a much better acted, scripted, and crafted film, with the addition of a new, especially despicable antagonist with an unsettling back-story. Needless to say, his demise is particularly satisfying.
Performances are solid across the board, with Butler doing a commendable job in what has to be one of the most difficult roles an actress can be faced with. While it’s all “make believe” there’s a definite twinkle in the actresses’ eye when she carries out her revenge, which makes me think she looked at the final act of the film as compensation for the abuse she took earlier. Unlike the original film, the antagonists are more than a gang of southern stereotypes and caricatures. There’s some depth to them, here, especially the “new” character I’ve chosen not to reveal as it’ll blow a major twist, as well as the semi-tragic Matthew, who spends much of the film struggling with the realization of what he took part in. He’s seeking more than forgiveness, he wants to repent, and Chad Lindberg conveys the character’s desperation and regret palpably.
Anchor Bay releases I Spit on Your Grave on Blu-ray in a very impressive 2.35:1 transfer that boasts exceptional detail and vibrance when the scene calls for it, but, once the “mood” of the film changes, so too does the aesthete, devolving into an intentionally gray and grainy look that is even more impressively conveyed by the transfer. The Dolby True HD 5.1 track is excellent, with crisp and clean audio, and an arsenal of impressively mixed spatial effects. The woods come to life, here, filling the room with all manner of atmospheric sound effects that’ll had me looking over my should on more than one occasion.
Extras features include an audio-commentary by director, Monroe, and producer, Lisa Hansen. It’s an interesting track, and one that goes into depth as to how some of the more uncomfortable moments in the film were approached. We also get a featurette entitled The Revenge of Jennifer Hills: Remaking a Cult Icon, which sports interviews with cast and crew, lots of raw footage and comparison shots, and some input from Zarchi, himself. Rounding out the extras are a collection of deleted scenes, a trailer for the 1978 original (HD), as well as trailers for the new film (HD).
I always find it hard to recommend a movie like this as it’s not really so much an enjoyable experience as it is a viscerally satisfying one, and that satisfaction, of course, comes in the final act of the film, meaning viewers have to endure some pretty distressing stuff to get there. Steven R. Monroe’s taken a film that many consider nothing more than exploitative trash and has remade it into a chilling, suspenseful, and brutal film – one that will surely stay with the viewer long after the credits roll. This retelling of I Spit on Your Grave is certainly not for everybody, but, if you’ve the constitution for such things, this is one of the better examples of the sub-genre, and well worth checking out.