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Classic Review #9 - I Spit on Your Grave (1978). Day of the Woman.



Writer/Director: Meir Zarchi

Stars: Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Pace, Anthony Nichols & Gunter Kleemann.



For me, I Spit on Your Grave was one of those titles that I’d only heard about when I was growing up. Some films on the nasties list I managed to watch originally before titles were banned, and were still widely available, but I Spit on Your Grave, was one that I missed.


I think there are two reasons why I never saw it originally.


Firstly the title. There’s something rather disgusting and almost repellent about 'I Spit on Your Grave' as a film title.

There was also a French movie from 1959 that had the same title, well, it roughly translated the same as it was called, J'irai cracher sur vos tombes.

Now obviously, I didn’t know about the French film when I was a kid, but the title of I Spit on Your Grave, just didn’t appeal to me. Sure, I doubt if Day of the Woman, the movies original title would have appealed either as I was more interested in things that had blood, or chainsaw, or beast in the title, but I have to admit, that I do prefer it.





There was one other thing that put me off, but I’ll get to that in a bit after I’ve gone over the story:



Writer Jennifer (Camille Keaton) is taking a break from the hustle and bustle of New York City by taking a summer break at a riverside cabin. She’s previously written a few short stories that have been printed in women’s magazines but has decided to take the steps towards writing her first novel. On her way to the cabin, Jennifer stops by at a local gas station and we get to see the films main antagonists, Johnny (Eron Tabor), Andy (Gunter Kleeman) and Stanley (Anthony Nichols).

Johnny runs the gas station, but the other two spend most of their time just goofing off.


There’s nothing too untoward at first. Johnny runs his lecherous eyes over Jennifer, but there is no real hint of what’s to follow.

I’m not condoning being a letch by the way, but everyone has looked at someone with lust, longing or appreciation in their eyes at some point. However, it’s the intent behind the look that counts and it’s one thing to look at someone because they are attractive and another completely different thing to look at someone as if they’re nothing more than a piece of meat whose only purpose is to satisfy your own desires.

And Johnny is definitely in the latter of those things.


After arriving at the cabin, Jennifer orders some groceries from the local store. These are delivered to her by Matthew (Richard Pace), a man with a slight mental impairment that gives him a childlike quality. Jennifer, or Jenny as she tells Matthew to call her, has a warm, friendly personality and chats away with Matthew, telling him that she will be his friend.


Unfortunately, Matthew happens to be friends with the Gas station crew and brags to them that he has a friend and that she’s a beautiful woman and that he’s seen her breasts.

The following day two of the gas-station-goons drive their boat around the stretch of river outside the lodge where Jenny is staying, being a pair of annoying a-holes.


They also return at night to whoop and holler in the darkness around the cabin.


It’s hard to tell what their plan was at this point. Did they simply mean to terrorise and be a nuisance, or did they genuinely think that driving a vehicle like a moron and screeching like a howler monkey would somehow get Jenny interested in them; like some bizarre form of courtship ritual?

Mind you, judging on the amount of engine-revving faux macho posturing that still goes on, perhaps it’s more likely that some people, are just fucking dumb.


Things don’t stop at idiotic behaviour though, and the next day, whilst Jennifer is relaxing in her rowboat, the goons return, grab the rope from her boat and tow it and Jenny off towards a secluded area of the surrounding woods.


From then on the group proceed to terrorise and abuse Jenny as they beat and rape her.

Simple-minded Matthew is with them and the group taunt and cajole him into raping Jenny. Initially, he refuses, but peer pressure gets too much and he capitulates to their twisted demands.

As the group leave, they realise that they can’t leave Jenny alive to identify them, so they give Matthew a knife and send him to kill her. Unable to commit this final act of terror, Matthew draws the knife through some of Jennifer’s blood and returns to the group, proudly showing them the now bloody knife and proclaiming that he stabbed her in the chest.


Broken, both physically and emotionally, Jenny starts to slowly piece herself back together – shown symbolically by her piecing together pages of her torn manuscript that one of the group ripped apart.


She slowly starts to mend, but she will never be the same, her life irrevocably changed by the terrible encounter.

One morning, two of the group drive past the cabin in their boat again and see that Jennifer is alive.


Jennifer resolves to take her revenge on the group and one by one she lures them in so that she can dispatch them in a suitably brutal and well-deserved fashion.



Now for the second reason why I think I’d never watched the movie; I’d had part of it described to me, or more accurately, one of the most infamous scenes from the movie described to me. My young mind (and eyeballs) had no desire to see some guy getting his dick chopped off. It sounded terrifying. It sounded brutal. And I didn’t know enough about the film to know why that act of violence had occurred. I’d only heard about that scene and nothing else about the movie but that was enough. It was also highly elaborated on when I was told about it and the imagined gross-out factor just sounded too much for me at the time.



Jennifer hated doing the housework, especially when she had an actual blood bath to deal with.


By the time I’d plucked up the courage to see the movie, it had disappeared from shelves.

Banned.


When I finally got around to watching it, I was well into my twenties and in a way, I’m glad that I was older when I saw it for the first time. Not because the film would have disturbed me, or damaged my fragile little mind in any way, but because I wouldn’t have appreciated just how good a film it is.


Good might be an unusual term to use though, it’s not a movie that you watch for enjoyment. It’s one of those films that I don’t watch very often, maybe once every five years or so, but when I do, it still has the same impact on me as it did the first time I saw it.


It is harrowing and brutal, made even more so by the fact that it’s loosely based in a real event that director Meir Zarchi supposedly experienced after he came to the aid of a girl who had been beaten and raped. Not only was he obviously appalled by what had happened, but also by how the girl was treated by police as they kept trying to question this poor girl, who apparently had a broken jaw, rather than get her any kind of medical aid.


The film is a brutal and harrowing experienced, but it certainly didn’t deserve to be banned, and certainly doesn’t deserve the air of notoriety it gained either. It isn’t an exploitation film, the camera doesn’t linger over what occurs, it hangs back and we see events from a distance. As an audience member, you’re forced to watch but as a helpless observer and whilst what is occurring is obviously sickening, the camera doesn’t show anything in any graphic detail. There’s nothing titillating and you feel sympathy for Jenny and find yourself wishing she could just escape and find a place of safety.


Yes, the cover image to the movie is provocative but it is the only image that sexualises the movie. The picture is there to grab attention and draw the eye, it’s not even a shot from the film and isn’t even actress Camille Keaton on the cover as it is apparently Demi Moore, posing for the cover image.

I’ll admit that it is a shame that it does sexualise the film, but that eye-catching picture was probably what drew my attention to the movie when it was first released.

I may not have liked the title or what I’d heard about the cock-chopping, but that image always caught my eye.

There were numerous errors on the poster too such as where it states ‘cut, chopped, broken, and burned five men beyond recognition…’ There are only four men, and no one gets burned.


This was later altered and the ‘burned’ was dropped and the number of men changed to four.






It is difficult, in a way, to recommend a film with depictions of rape and violence, but recommend it, I do. It’s a stunning piece of film work and acting that whilst being notorious, has been undeservedly lambasted, with the likes of film critic Roger Ebert calling the film a “vile bag of garbage” and also stating that the film is “without a shred of artistic distinction.”

Now everyone is entitled to their opinions, but I couldn’t disagree more.


It’s a masterful piece of filmmaking and yes, I realise that may sound odd considering the subject matter, but the act of distancing the camera from events, not sexualising the scenes and the lack of score which leaves you to focus purely on the world in which the film is set, works really well. There is no distraction or getting away from events and that all helps you root for Jennifer and to make you cheer as she dispatches her attackers in a way that is not only cathartic for her, but for the audience too.


And that brings us to the performances. Camille Keaton is absolutely amazing. She nails the role of Jennifer as her character transforms from the friendly, innocent, carefree girl at the start to the beaten and bloody victim stumbling naked through the woods, to finally being the vengeful figure dispensing her wrath at the end of the movie. She brings so much to all the facets of the character that you are with her every step of the way. It truly is a remarkable if oftentimes disturbing performance.


Yes, it’s a difficult watch at times, but it’s supposed to be. There shouldn’t be anything relaxing or easy in viewing someone being terrorised and raped. You could argue that there is no place for things such as this to be shown in a movie and I would argue that actually there is.

Rape is something that occurs in the real world and as deplorable and sickening as that is, it shouldn’t be swept under a carpet and ignored.

In many ways, I Spit on Your Grave is a true horror film in the sense that what unfolds on the screen could (and has) unfolded in real life.

There’re no zombies, no ghost or ghouls, just people. And people can often be the worst kind of monster.

You might not agree with me about the movie and you may not agree with how Jennifer responds to her abuse by killing those responsible, but there is no denying that this is a powerful film. Unlike many others that were banned and put on the nasties list at the time, I Spit on Your Grave has not diminished from when it was first released and is just as impactful and disturbing today as it was all those years ago.