I Spit On Your Grave opens with a handheld shot of a woman leaving her New York apartment and getting into a cab. It’s a little odd for this sequence to be shaky, considering the budget definitely accommodates a tripod. When the dialogue kicks in, it sounds like it was recorded on a stage – unfortunately the shots are all outdoors, revealing yet another lack of concern for technical quality. The woman is Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) and she’s headed to a vacation house in the Connecticut countryside where she can concentrate on writing a new novel. Unluckily, she dresses provocatively, and upon arriving at her destination, she immediately skinny dips in the lake and later sunbathes in a bikini. Many argue that I Spit On Your Grave is an exploitation film above all else, and these scenes don’t help those that claim there are genuine themes of female empowerment and justified feminist revenge mixed into the excessive violence.It also doesn’t help that the dialogue and acting are so mediocre. Jennifer is spied upon by four stereotypical country boys, all of whom engage in generic horror movie conversations and glib banter. A few days go by before she starts worrying about her surroundings – the seclusion creates an environment for peaceful writing, but also for privacy from the much-needed authorities. Two of her neighbors become tormentors when they tease her on her boat, which quickly turns ugly as they chase her through the tree-filled landscape. She fights back but to no avail. She’s overtaken as the duo is joined by a third man, as well as by Mathew Lucas (Richard Pace), a mentally retarded grocery deliveryman, who is the only one reluctant to partake in the attack. Jennifer escapes momentarily, only to be captured again and brutally assaulted by another member of the party, this time being raped and beaten.
In many ways, the film is like Deliverance, right down to the inclusion of a musician – one of her attackers eerily taunts with tunes on his harmonica. The defilements are just as disturbing and realistic as in Deliverance, although here they’re more persistent, graphic and unrelenting, and against a woman. After the second violation, Jennifer is left to crawl back to her house, bloodied and barely conscious. Just as she picks up the phone to call for help, the savage foursome reappears in her home to batter her yet again – this time the oafish Matthew is peer-pressured into participating, and when the group is finally finished with her, he’s coerced into stabbing her to death to avoid legal repercussions. The lout can’t bring himself to do it, however, instead covering the knife with Jennifer’s blood and reporting back to his cohorts.
Although badly injured, Jennifer is unusually strong-willed (she’s even determined enough to continue writing), pulls herself together and, two weeks later, sets in motion an intricate revenge scheme almost barbarous enough to match the crimes against her. Johnny (Eron Tabor) the gas station attendant, Stanley (Anthony Nichols), the balding one, and Andy (Gunter Kleemann), the one with suspenders, unnecessarily given names due to their indistinguishable roles, decide to run a reconnaissance mission to check up on the dead body, only to discover that Jennifer is alive and well. Moments later, the vengeful woman enters a church to ask god for forgiveness, then does scouting runs of her own, revealing that one of the rapists has a wife and kids. This would normally create a moral dilemma, except for the lack of any real character development for the assailants. They are ultimately an indecipherable bunch of serial killer types, begging for mercy when on the receiving end of a gun, devoid of a guilty conscience. And as such, ethics, sympathy and forgiveness are out of the question. The remainder of the movie is devoted to crazed revenge, presented equally as unremorseful as the initial violence. Jennifer uses her sexuality to overcome the villains in the least likely way possible, which adds to the absurdity of her plotting. The infamous castration scene is laughably bloodthirsty and downright silly when noting the use of a bathroom that locks from the outside.
The entertainment value of I Spit On Your Grave (originally titled Day of the Woman) is really only for horror and exploitation enthusiasts, doubtfully appealing to women or feminists, despite the abundance of horrific comeuppance served to the guilty party. The story is little more than a serious of atrocious events, without any real beginning or ending, although the sadism and vengeance is never hokey, always approached with unflinching seriousness. It’s extreme (originally rated X, then edited down to an R, banned in several countries, but released on DVD as Unrated), dated because of its filming qualities, and certainly undeserving of a remake – although one is already slated for an October 2010 release, promising to be even more disturbing, gory and all around nasty.
– Mike Massie