Welcome to the first installment of “Worst Movie Ever?,” where every month we’ll examine a universally panned movie to determine if merit lies in its critically deposited scorn.
With the recent passing of Roger Ebert, this first choice, Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave (originally titled Day of the Woman) is fitting. The great critic called it “an expression of the most diseased and perverted darker human natures.” That blurb wasn’t a compliment, but it still found its way to the DVD box anyway.
At least the film’s marketers know what the film is. I’m not sure about Zarchi.
Writer Jennifer Mills (Camille Keaton), working on her first book, leaves New York City for the quiet and solitude of a small country town. Unfortunately, she attracts the attention of four bored townies who apprehend her, rape her in three different locales, brutalize her, and leave her for dead.
That the young woman gets her revenge is almost an afterthought, sadly.
Is I Spit on Your Grave really that bad?
The movie left me emotionally battered. I was sad for Keaton, especially when she was naked, covered in dirt and splayed over a rock. I felt sad that Zarchi found that women’s value and allure came from being sex objects. I also felt sad for the cast and crew, who I imagine now view their participation as some kind of minor felony.
Two possible reasons exist for enjoying I Spit on Your Grave (1978): as camp and as a feminist empowerment tale. The first doesn’t work because rape is one act — unless you are a brilliant satirist — you can’t joke about. And camp can’t survive when Keaton, at best a mediocre actress, appears to be in genuine anguish during the endless rape scenes. As for the “I Am Woman” platform, come on. Mills is a writer and an intellectual, but the first thing she does upon arriving at her bucolic retreat is strip off her clothes and go for a dip. We don’t know how she feels or acts or what her motives are. She’s there solely as a blow-up doll to fulfill, at worst, an erotic fantasy; at best, she’s the central figure in a campfire tale for morally reprehensible teens.
Mills’ revenge involves having sex with one of her tormenters, while another is lured into a bathtub for a Lorena Bobbitt-style revenge. And, in an example of Puritan restraint, killing the others while wearing a two-piece. In Zarchi’s world a woman is an object who doesn’t hurt or feel or think. She only expresses herself — as a hero, as a victim — through fucking. It’s the reason the four men laugh at Mills’ writing and why she tells one of the characters, mentally-challenged delivery boy Matthew (Richard Pace), that she has multiple boyfriends.
The fatal appeal of femininity has a long history in film noir, where sex is frequently used as a weapon. But in movies like Double Indemnity and The Last Seduction, sex was used as a means to an end. Or the director painted a world where morality was negotiable and cold cunning ruled. I Spit On Your Grave runs on testosterone-fueled nastiness. It would be an honest approach — if Zarchi didn’t spend the time conceiving ways to undress and humiliate his future wife.
Is there anything good about I Spit on Your Grave?
There’s this notion that notable low-budget films belong to forward-thinking auteurs who scrapped and saved and sacrificed to get their vision seen by the public. I Spit On Your Grave takes that message to another, almost democratic, level: anyone, regardless of intentions, can make a film. And viewers have the right to like it or hate it.
Any other comments?
I could not bring myself to see the 2010 remake. The blurb on the DVD case advised that viewers should watch it only if they could handle it. After watching the original, I don’t think I’ll be in that position anytime soon.