At the Movies with Alan Gekko: I Spit On Your Grave “78”

MPAA Rating: NR/Genre: Exploitation Horror/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/Runtime: 101 minutes

I would like to start today’s scintillating film review off by asking you guys a couple of questions: what kind of content would see a movie being too much to handle, when does a film go too far, and when does a film go between being in good taste and when is it just completely and utterly pointless? The reasons I bring these questions up is because the movie I am reviewing today, 1978’s I Spit on Your Grave is a fairly visceral film that has its flaws, but at the end of the day also asks if it really is that wrong to applaud when a quartet of rapists get their brutal comeuppance. Yet I don’t think the issue here is with this principle. Rather, it’s the visceral showcase of sexual violence against someone that goes perhaps a bit too far in a way that is akin to something like Deliverance from 1972. Yet although Deliverance is applauded, it can also be said that a movie like Deliverance has a lot more narrative heft to it besides giving its characters much-deserved vengeance. I Spit On Your Grave on the other hand is viewed by a lot of people as a borderline snuff film that has no place even existing in the first place even though there are movies a lot worse than it in existence. Thus this is the kind of movie that by and large has 2 distinct camps in place. There’s the camp that wants nothing to do with it period and then there is the camp that embraces it since, in their minds, sometimes you want to watch an Oscar contender and sometimes to want to see a movie where a woman gets vengeance on a quartet of despicable men who deserve every single bit of the pain and agony this woman is about to send their way and then some.

The plot is as follows: The film tells the story of a young woman from New York by the name of Jennifer Hills. A girl who, as the film gets underway, is headed out into the tranquil countryside in order to get some relaxing alone time in while she is in the midst of penning a debut novel. To that end, we see that her arrival at her cabin is entirely without incident and our heroine is able to embrace her newfound relaxation and isolation to the fullest. And then the locals drop in and soon we see that boats and unnecessary flirtations swiftly transform into a horrific nightmare. A nightmare that consists of our main heroine being taken advantage of by a quartet of men who are trying to give one of their number the chance to at long last lose his virginity. Yet although the guy in question can’t find his inner chauvinist to finish the job, we see that this is to our heroine’s benefit since it also helps to survive this nightmare. Yet as our heroine recuperates from the physical injuries she received, she also starts to become aware that the psychological trauma will never completely go away as long as those who did this to her are still among the land of the living….5 guesses and the first 4.5 don’t count as to where this film decides to go from here.

Now perhaps the definitive question that this movie throws your way, at least from the point of view of reviewing it, is just how in the world can I give you a fair yet still opinion-based analysis of a movie that is known for how awfully visceral it is yet still is regarded as one of the definitive vengeance films? Well on one hand there is the argument that some make that a movie like this should never be made in the first place. I mean don’t get me wrong if this happened in real life no jury would hear this case and not feel this woman was entirely justified in what she does, but does the ordinary movie goer really need a film where the entire middle act is nothing more like a visceral and extremely drawn out rape sequence? Well to some they would answer yes since for as visceral, unnerving, and difficult to watch due to the level of repulsiveness on display act which proves to be the catalyst for this young woman exacting the brutal and bloody vengeance she gets on her attackers at the end. Yet even with that in mind the question still remains: would this movie’s audience still react to this film the way they do and would the killing in this still be seen as justified had the movie chosen to either have the rape be implied or nowhere near as drawn out as it ultimately is? That therefore is the moral quagmire at the heart of this film. Thus yes this film is very difficult to watch at times, but ultimately I leave it up to each and every one of you to make up your own minds on if the content in the middle act of this film is worth the thrill of seeing the main heroine get her revenge at the end. At the same time, although this movie is not for those who get queasy easily, the violence is not exactly vulgar and not exactly meaningless either for that matter. If anything, the violence in this film at the end just serves as a champion for visceral vengeance being permitted as long as it’s on the level of violence that is committed to someone first. Indeed whether that is acceptable in either a film or in reality is neither here or there since this movie is already in the world around us. Rather, if you choose to watch this just know that you will also have to choose if the actions committed by the heroine in this and, by extension, the movie itself are both justifiable and worth watching or not.

Now putting aside the message that most either seem to embrace or despise as well as the possible areas where you might find yourself doing a bit of self-analysis, I think it should be said that I Spit On Your Grave by and large is not that much of a film save for its ability to offend and the final moments where we see our main heroine get her visceral and quite brutal vengeance. Indeed this is one movie that really does feel as low-budget as it was through and through (though the filmmaking methods on display might have made that a bit more obvious as well). Plus when you take into account the fact that any scribe or director with even a modicum of film knowledge would know this movie most assuredly would not be accepted by a mainstream audience and have to accept being one that only a select group could really embrace, the low budget doesn’t really surprise me all that much. Yet even with that in mind, I Spit on Your Grave is, by and large, able to get past these technical stumbling blocks due in large part to the narrative and just how visceral it manages to get. Indeed a lot of this film’s flaws, even the ehhhh performances from the majority of the cast, simply fade in reflection when taking into account the thematic concepts the movie is operating with as well as how visceral this gets from a visual perspective. Now I say the majority in terms of performances because main heroine Camille Keaton does actually give a trinity of fairly well done roles. I mean in the beginning she’s the ordinary girl who’s ready to relax and get this novel of hers underway, then she turns into someone who just goes through complete and utter hell as the victim of a truly horrific crime, and then at the end she transforms into a stoic, assertive, and void of all emotion in her quest for vengeance woman who won’t let anything get in her way of exterminating the men who completely and utterly threw her life into a tailspin. As for Jennifer’s attackers/eventual victims the quartet of men do give us performances, but how successful they are really does vary. Perhaps the best is the one given by Richard Pace as Matthew. Sure it could be a lot better, but Pace does give us a fairly good effort as this backwoods country boy who, despite his inner decency, gives in to peer pressure and horrifically pays the price for it.

All in all I can’t really lie to you dear reader: the original I Spit on Your Grave from 1978 is a very difficult movie to review no two ways about it. I mean for some of you this might be even harder to sit through than even I had the first time I saw this (at the same time I was 7 years old when I first saw this so go figure). I mean don’t get me wrong: in some weird way this movie does have its heart in the right spot. At the same time though, the execution of said movie is one element that you could debate for a while let alone the quandary of if this film should have even been made and yet there is no right or wrong answer to that question. Be that as it may be, there is no denying that I Spit on Your Grave is easily one of the most infamous films out there and that’s exactly what this movie needs in terms of publicity since giving a movie the label of “notorious” just seems to result in a lot more copies of it being sold than it might have otherwise. I mean for some the notoriety and lecherous subject matter might be enough to deter you from this, but at the same time this is one movie that I can easily recommend in a double feature with something, and I know how weird this is going to sound, akin to Deliverance or Wrong Turn. Suffice it to say that I Spit in Your Grave is one movie you should definitely check out if you are the kind of viewer who enjoys the challenge of giving darn near any movie a chance whilst also not giving a care in the world about any sort of controversy attached to the movie in question. Thus yes this movie is hard to sit through and even past that it’s not exactly a great movie, but darn it all if that little voice inside you is not to some degree or another cheering like mad for the entire final act. Make of that therefore what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give I Spit On Your Grave “78” a solid 2.5 out of 5.

*Now this is normally where the trailer would be, but after viewing the trailer I can determine that it is fairly spoiler-heavy and would therefore be detrimental to your viewing experience should you make the choice to watch this movie. I therefore have elected not to place it here. Thanks again for reading and I’ll see you guys….at the movies! Ag*