Sunday, October 12, 2008

#88: Day of the Woman (I Spit on Your Grave)


I Spit on Your Grave
Written and Directed by Meir Zarchi
Released November 3, 1978

Alternately titled Day of the Woman, Meir Zarchi's I Spit on Your Grave is a horror/exploitation "classic" in the same vein as The Last House on the Left, with more than a hint of Deliverance thrown into the mix.

The story is pretty simple: a young female author named Jeniffer Hills (played by Camille Keaton) moves to the country to try and find some peace and quiet away from her hectic life in New York City. Of course, country life in a horror movie can mean only one thing: deadly rednecks who don't take kindly to city folk.

Hill isn't 5 minutes into her journey before she makes horror movie mistake #12: going skinny dipping. The movie gods have spoken, and Hill is in for some trouble. Really, her only mistake is in being nice to a small group of dumb hicks when she comes into town and buys gasoline. Oh, and maybe lazing around in a bikini while she works on her first novel. For an exploitation movie, that's all it takes.

Soon, Hill is abducted by the gang, dragged into the woods and repeatedly raped by each of the four men. Yeah, this ain't entertainment. The attacks are filmed in an almost documentary style, with very few camera movements and no music whatsoever. It's unsettlingly realistic and brutal, complicated even more by Keaton's believable performance. Anyone who finds any moment of her attacks enjoyable should immediately seek psychiatric help, because you are an incredibly fucked up person.

By the time of Jennifer's third and final attack, I was pretty much defeated. The only real value or relief one might get after getting through these scenes is watching Keaton get her deserved revenge. No matter what fate awaited these guys, it wouldn't be enough.

I Spit on Your Grave, as a piece of film making, seems at first to be almost hilariously inept. One great example is the fact that all of the "country" boys talk like the closest they've come to the South is being from the South Bronx. But by the time Zarchi gets to Jennifer's attacks, which are as uncompromising and depressing as almost anything I've ever seen, this initially silly little horror movie becomes a firebrand of controversy that even today will shock any viewer.

Some critics have said that Day of the Woman glorifies violence against women, but I just don't see how that is possible. You'd have to be a complete animal to not side with Jennifer, especially in the second half of the movie when she seeks out her bloody revenge. If anything, this movie is brutal revenge therapy.

Don't get me wrong, though: there's virtually no reason for you to see this movie. There's no entertainment value to speak of, and very little production value to redeem it as art (although some might say, and I might agree, that the lack of production value makes it that much more disturbing). If you invited friends over for a viewing of this on Halloween, you'd probably lose a few friends. Possibly before the movie even ended.

As a revenge movie, however, it's probably one of the most honest and realistic ones ever made. When Jennifer steps into a church to ask for forgiveness for the crimes she is about to commit, you'll find yourself thanking God that you didn't shut the movie off because her revenge will hopefully help you feel a bit cleaner after the things you just saw.

As I noted earlier, Day of the Woman is Deliverance for women. By the film's end, I felt like I would write a massive essay on a number of themes, the main one being how the catharsis of cinematic violence (and whether that cathartic notion be good or bad) can so easily be changed by the context in which it happens. When you get to the bathtub scene -- and you'll know what scene I'm talking about when it happens -- you'll really know what it feels like to be internally conflicted about the positive or negative effects of violence in the movies.

I've seen dozens of Horror movies, but few of them have really fucked with my head, gotten under my skin or been more true to the meaning of the word "horror" than the way this one did.

For more on I Spit on Your Grave:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- Wikipedia information about the "video nasties", a series of movies banned unde the UK's Video Recordings Act of 1984.
- Buy the DVD.

The I Spit on Your Grave trailer:

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