The original 1978 film Day Of The Woman (cynically re-titled for its 1980 release as I Spit On Your Grave to give it a more sensational feel) has always left me feeling ambivalent. In its favour, the film features a memorably brittle performance from Camile Keaton and possesses a grimy amateurish art house quality that makes you think the filmmakers maybe had something other than just moneymaking on their minds when they made the film – which was then hijacked as a grindhouse drive-in feature. Going against it is the relentlessly nihilistic and exploitative feel to the scenes of rape, murder and mayhem. I’ve never really been a fan of the film, but I can more or less defend its existence. Well, almost.
The plot of both versions is as simple as they come: a female writer rents a remote log cabin in which to work on her latest novel. She is terrorised and raped by a gang of local rednecks. Then she sets out to get her bloody revenge. This second version of the film loses credibility immediately because of the very fact it’s a slick, modern remake of a hugely controversial bargain-bin original. There’s no reason for the remake other than to make money: that’s the single aim of this project. There’s also a gleeful maliciousness permeating the film that makes it genuinely uncomfortable to watch. It’s simply an exercise in cynicism. If the original left me with mixed feelings, then this remake confuses me even more.
One the one hand, female protagonist Jennifer (Sarah Butler) is sexualised from the start – she never dresses in anything other than skimpy outfits (even when she’s alone in the cabin, or out running in tiny shorts and a tight, cropped vest), and whenever she takes off an item of clothing the camera pans across her curves, almost forcing the viewer to leer at her. The prolonged rape sequence, however, is fittingly grim and harrowing, almost unwatchable in its relentlessness – I was squirming in my seat, exactly as I was supposed to be. Yet, after she’s been gang raped, sodomised and basically battered to hell, the woman still looks gorgeous. This made me feel incredibly uneasy; at least in the original film Keaton’s ordeal leaves her looking worn, haggard and unattractive: the personification of a victim, whereas Butler looks too well-groomed, like a designer victim in a magazine photo-shoot.
The methods in which she gets her revenge are what finally tip the film completely into the realms of pure tack and exploitation. If the first 45 minutes make an attempt to stick to the spirit of the original, and at least attempt to justify the film’s existence, then the next 45 kind of ruin all that good work.
These deaths are clearly inspired more by the Saw franchise than by the gritty vigilante films of the original’s era. Ludicrous, overly complicated, and contrived, the murders are at once nauseatingly graphic and ridiculously cartoonish (very much like those in the Saw films). In the original, she cleverly uses her own and the men’s sexuality to overcome them, which you might argue (if you were feeling particularly generous), is a rather crude and satirical attempt to examine gender politics.
But in the remake she just knocks the men unconscious and trusses them up in pointlessly elaborate, jerry-built death puzzles. Although graphic, the murders aren’t staged with as much gruelling intensity as the rape scene. The camera cuts away from the mutilation but it lingered on the rape. It’s as if the director was comfortable showing a man spit on his own fingers to lubricate a woman’s anus before raping her, but lost his nerve when it came to showing that same perpetrator’s face being blown off by a shotgun that’s been inserted into his anus. To me, this imbalance didn’t make sense.
I think the final estimation of the film’s worth must lie in whether it possesses the thing I always look for in this kind of extreme cinema: integrity. In my opinion, the people behind this film had none. They exploited one of the most famous exploitation films of all time, and the end result is even more exploitative than you’d expect.
There are actually some good things about I Spit On Your Grave; namely the way it looks and some of the acting (especially by Butler, who’s often very good indeed, and the ever-reliable Tracey Walter – who makes a brief cameo appearance), but the lack of integrity regarding the motives of the filmmakers makes it difficult to defend. I’ll end this review by suggesting you watch the film and try to make up your own mind… but only if you can handle the graphic presentation of such upsetting subject matter.