Originally, I thought that the title of the film was NIGHT OF THE WOMAN, and, um, well, you know, I thought it was an interesting title considering the subject matter.
Actor Rodney Eastman
It's a thriller, it's a horror, it was torture, it was rape, it was a fetish film
Actor Jeff Branson
First of all, Welcome! Thank You for returning. Apologies for the long delay in coming back here and updating my blog. As is usual, life gets in the way of everything. But I'm back, and I hope that you enjoy reading what I've written for you. I want you to remember those two quotes above, as I'll be explaining later on in this post, why I've included them at the start.
If you're a horror fan, then the chances are you will have (hopefully) seen the 1979 classic I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE from director Meir Zarchi. (If not, then go do so now, and watch it. Then come back and continue reading, as this review will assume you have seen it, and includes some major spoilers.)
It's a phenomenally powerful and ugly film, that will (and should) shock you. It deals with the premise of a young woman, called Jennifer Hills, played superbly by Camille Keaton, who retreats to a wooden cabin, to do some writing for her latest book. Whilst there, she is brutally gang-raped, by four yokels. Afterwards, she retreats, and then decides to get revenge.
If you are also a modern-horror fan, you will know the film was remade in 2010, under the same name, by director Steven R. Monroe. Unfortunately, there will be an inevitable sequel, out soon, called - unsurprisingly - I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2, directed again by Mr Monroe.
Now, as I've said in previous posts, my blog is not about having the latest news, or the most up-to-date reviews. It is a place for me to write articles of interest, in detail. It is as such, ideal for what I am now about to post, because this weekend, I finally got around to renting the 2010 remake on DVD, and it inspired me to write this very article.
I'm not a fan of remakes, in general. They're often a complete waste of time, made by people without an ounce of intelligence, and with zero respect for the original work. (In fact, out of most of the major remakes that have occurred over the past 10-15 years, I can name only a handful, that were actually significantly better than the original.) More often than not, the remake is simply made with added violence, extra gore, and stronger and more overt sexual material. (Alas, more and more classics are being remade, which annoys and saddens me immensely.)
This is essentially what happened with the I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remake. The director clearly thought that a trend-setting, and taboo-busting film about an abominable act of violence perpetrated by four men against one woman, was ripe to be reinvigorated for a modern-day audience. What Mr Monroe failed to do, was understand why the original film works so well...
...The reason it works so well, is because the rape of Jennifer Hills is not the focus of the film! It is an integral part without doubt, but it is not the predominant feature of the plot, despite what many people seem to think. Not unlike IRREVERSIBLE (2002, Gaspar Noe), the rape tends to be the one thing most people feel is the nub. It's extreme nature, marks it out as a scene that you don't forget.
So whilst watching the remake, the hard-work had been done for the director. All Steven Monroe had to do, was reword the script, adjust the three main types of revenge that Jennifer exerts on her victims, and come-up with an alternate ending.
But no! What we get, was just a more brutal, more extreme, more desensitising version of the original, where the gang-rape has been made the focus of the film, and is the central concept of it!
What Mr Monroe did, was turn the rape into the sole focal point, on which the entire film hinges on. And what does he do? He amplifies it, extends it, focusses on the rapists pleasure that they are deriving from the rape of Jennifer, (this time, played by actress Sarah Butler, in one of many completely unconvincing cast members), and depicts and extends that focus for the audience watching it in the cinema, or at home.
Now, I rented the UK version, which was cut by the BBFC in 2010, to remove 43 seconds from the rape scene. According to the BBFC's website:
Before awarding an '18' classification to I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, the BBFC required seventeen individual cuts to its scenes of sexual violence in order to remove elements that tend to eroticise sexual assault (for example, through the use of nudity), as well as other elements that tend to endorse sexual assault (for example, by encouraging viewer complicity by the use of camcorder footage, filmed by the rapists, during the various scenes of sexual assault).The UK DVD and Blu-Ray actually also reframes certain parts of the rape. The film will jump from the original 2.35:1 Cinemascope ratio, to a full-frame, 1.85:1 Widescreen format, sometimes for only a couple of seconds, to aid the censorship, thus hiding the detail, without actually editing the film.
Even with the cuts, I actually found the film to be an abhorrent experience, but not because I found the film disturbing, or offensive. If only... In fact, the film was making me angrier and angrier! Monroe's decision to sexualise the rape, and he does sexualise it, is the exact opposite of what Meir Zarchi does in the original. Monroe lingers on Jennifer's abuse, degradation, and torment. He appears to go out of his way to make you "enjoy" the rape. After all, this is just a bog-standard American remake, and in Monroe's view, more vulgarity, more violence, and a more salacious approach to the gang-rape was exactly what this film needed, to get punters to pay their hard-earned and sit through this in the cinema. It was rape served-up as fast-food entertainment, for the brain-dead modern film viewer!
It is this coercion of the viewer, enticing you into trying to get you to see the rape as "good", as "cool", that angered me so much! Even after the BBFC's intervention, it was clear to me, that the makers of this film, really did not understand the concept of what rape is, and of why it was such an essentail point in the original work.
In Zarchi's version, the rape is the pivotal moment, when the viewer goes from being a willing spectator of a film, to being a wholly unwilling accomplice in an act of outrageous and grotesque sexual violence. It is the defining moment when the viewer is forced into a corner, and you suddenly realise that you are being pushed down an alleyway, that you really do not want to walk along, and no one is here to make it nice, or safe, or comfortable for you. It confronts you with probably the most heinous act one human can do to another.
In the original, the rape is portrayed coldly, clinically, with some explicitness, but always with the point of view that the rape is something to be turned-off by; to revolt the audience, and to demonstrate in no uncertain terms, that rape is a vile act of retribution carried out by degenerate men with no intelligence, social skills, or other redeemable values to society. These men are animals. They are the lowest of the low, the worst that society has to offer, and in no way should you, or anyone watching this film, be under any illusion of what rape entails, and the devastation it can have on women and men.
Rape is not pleasurable, sexy, fun, enjoyable, or cool. It is the exact opposite of all of these, and if by viewing this film for the wrong reasons, then Zarchi clearly turns the film against you, in a deliberate act, so you are left as devastated as Jennifer Hills is.
It is a scene designed to shame all men. It is a scene, designed to show the ugliness of rape. It is a scene that is meant to haunt you.
And it does so, in such a fashion, that it is as gruelling to endure as a real rape might be. That's not to say that a film of a fictional rape equates to the harrowing and violent feelings that a real-life rape victim may experience, but that this is a way of signposting to the audience that rape is not just a simple act of aggravated sexual violence. It is eminently more than that.
Rape is devastating! That scene should devastate you, and if it does, then that scene will have done its job.
When Jennifer recovers, and decides to take her revenge, at no point can the viewer sympathise with any of her victims. Not Johnny, not Stanley, not Andy, and not even mentally-challenged Matthew. (The remake retains the same characters names.) So, when Matthew is hung, and Johnny is castrated, and Andy and Stanley are axed in the back and motorboarded to death respectively, the film ends on an intentional high: Jennifer has had her revenge, and those men deserved everything they got.
Just as in Delhi, today, where the four men on trial for the gang-rape (and death) of an Indian woman from last year are awaiting sentencing, many in the public are demanding the rapists are given the Death Penalty. After all, why should an innocent woman, who spent the last few hours of her life in unagonising pain and suffering, not have her rapists suffer at least equally as much? (For more on the story, click on this link here to read about it.) It may not be just. It may not be politically-correct. But it is human!
Of course, in real life, Jennifer would probably be prosecuted for her crimes, and almost-certainly be imprisoned. However, in the world of the movies, such retribution can be seen as acceptable. A proverbial eye-for-an-eye. Yet as Gandhi once said:
An eye-for-an-eye makes the whole world blind
Revenge and retribution are never truly the answer to any crime, but it's easy to see why revenge may seem like it, and why it still retains its appeal. Even in the legal systems in the USA, when people do receive the Death Penalty, it seems mightily hypocritical that we condemn revenge, yet we have a law that allows us to do just that, and that same law is called "Justice"!
But back to I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE! As I was saying, the original used the rape as a negative. The overriding point at which the viewer is forced to confront something that they thought they could tolerate, but in fact can't. Not in the remake. In the remake, the rape is treated rather impetuously. It's merely another plot point, that moves the story along, from point A to point B to point C. It's solely just any other part of the film.
Why? How can you, Steven R. Monroe, treat that scene so flippantly? And more importantly, why did you feel the need to eroticise and sexualise that scene as well?
Admittedly, Jennifer is never seen naked, or topless (or bottomless for that matter) in any part of the scene. But the camera (and the in-film "camcorder" footage) certainly lingers on her abuse and degradation, in any way it can. The constant need to have the film portray the "best" view, the proverbial "money-shot" of the rape, seems to be a deliberate attempt to entice the viewer in, and casually endorse the rape. In essence, you were being tempted and told "Hey, it's okay" when actually, the completely diametrically opposite is what you should have been intending. The wooden dialogue, spouted during the rape is hardly conducive to redeeming Mr Monroe's version of it. Dialogue such as...
I don't take orders from a fucking woman!
...explicitly demonstrates to me, that you wanted to create a scene that was as misogynistic as possible. You almost wanted us men to be "cheering" during the rape scene, as if it were a good thing. Not unlike the rape in Jonathan Kaplan's also controversial 1988 rape drama THE ACCUSED, in which the men are depicted as laughing, goading, jeering ignoramuses.
The men in the I SPIT... remake are no different. They are some of the most degenerate, backwards, racist, sexist, feeble-minded individuals I've ever seen cast. I know the male characters aren't meant to be glowing angels of humanity, but if you'd have added a sign saying "Dumbass, from Hickville" on each of the men, then it couldn't have been any more explicit. These are men who make the guests on TV shows like THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW and THE JEREMY KYLE SHOW look like Mensa-graduates by comparison. And the rampant homophobia?! Good God! It seems American film directors love to still denigrate one section of society, and so whilst they won't be so demeaning to Blacks, or Hispanics, or pick on people because of their religious beliefs, the new, go-to offense is demeaning Homosexual men and women, by using the term "faggot", as a casual, throwaway derrogatory slur.
I don't expect exploitation films to be 100% P.C., but I really detest it when directors and script-writers feel the need to use such language unnecessarily in modern-day films, because they need to denigrate someone; to make one section of society feel even worse than they may already do. It used to be that non-White's were picked-on in films. Then the women were selected as the slur-of-choice. Then that became a no-go zone, so we moved on to demonising people of different faiths and religious beliefs. Now that that is no longer acceptable, we've got one last group of people to be seen as okay to have a good old name-calling session at: the gays!
I despair! I really, really do! Why, in 2013, is this still allowed? Have we reached that nadir where we have to demean someone, some section of society, so we can rub someone's face in the shit? Have we gotten to the point where there always has to be someone less-equal to you; someone beneath you on the social-pegging order? Clearly, it does. What a shame that has to be the case!
I SPIT... is an insult to all horror fans. It is an insult to every grown adult's I.Q. Level! Everyone who was remotely connected to this movie, should hang their heads in shame. Even committing hara-kiri as penance, wouldn't be enough in my view, to atone for the sins of this serpentine, slap-dash remake. Not only this, but the remake spits on the (proverbial) graves of Camille Keaton and Meir Zarchi, because the remake has turned-in on the original concept - namely that rape is not a pleasant thing, and women aren't just objects for male abuse and degradation.
I mentioned earlier that the remake made me angry. The macho-bullshit that the male characters spout in the remake made me ask myself an interesting question: are we supposed to hate these men, because of what they did to Jennifer, and thus we can say that by the end of the film, they got their just-desserts? The answer to that was simple. No! I hated these men, because they were all degenerate morons! Which was the wrong feeling to have! But that's what the remake does. It twists and subverts what you should be feeling, and makes you feel all the wrong emotions. It does the very thing it's not supposed to do. It normalises rape. It doesn't ever condone it. It never says "No, this is wrong". It never judges the characters, nor condmens them for what they did. In fact, the remake doesn't actually judge or condemn the men at all. And for me, that's what makes this remake so fucking turgid and soul-destroying. It's made (male) horror fans look like we are all knuckle-dragging simpletons, who see all women as cyphers for abuse, humiliantion, abasement, and ignominy!
And that's an insult to me, because I am a male horror fan, but I am absolutely and resolutely not an simpleton, nor a neanderthal. I treat everyone with respect, because I want to be treated with respect. More to the point, everyone deserves to be respected.
But not in the world of drivel like the I SPIT... remake!
On top of all of this, the film itself has other problems. Putting aside all of the issues I've mentioned thus far, there are other equally problematic issues:
- If Jennifer Hills is such a "city girl" as the remake suggests, would she really be willing to gut a fish, and spread its entrails over a guy, during one of her revenge scenes?
- How did Jennifer set-up all of her revenge devices, without anyone noticing? Most weren't basic tools, like a noose, or whatnot, but detailed and intensive torture implements that would have taken days to recreate and prepare. None of this is explained in the film, and even using "film-logic", it still doesn't work out.
- When dropping one of the rapists in a bath of Lye, how did she not get burnt in the process? She dunks him in quite viciously, yet she comes off without a mark on her.
- How did Jennifer magically con her way into the Sheriff's family home? Wouldn't the wife of an officer-of-the-law be a little bit more careful about letting a stranger into her home, and certainly, into letting a stranger get anywhere near her young daughter?
- And lastly, how is it that the final frame of the film shows Jennifer without a single mark, bloodstain, scratch or blemish on her or her clothing, despite having just castrated, burned-in-Lye, and brutalised five men?
All of these are substantial and rather fundamental flaws in the film, that only serve to weaken an already dangerously flawed work. I really do get the impression that no one cared for this film. The script is mediocre. The dialogue inane. The cinematography is, well, a joke in my book. The direction an embarrassement, and it's filled with a cast of people who are all equally inarticulate, whiny, difficult and imbecilic as I have ever encountered in a horror film.
Just to rub even more salt into the wound, you have the likes of Frightfest and Gorezone - two organisations who are well-known amongst horror and exploitation film fans as being pretty damn knowledgeable about these things, raving that this remake is some kind of cinematic masterpiece. Alan Jones of Frightfest said:
Outstandingly brilliant. The defining horror event of the year.Whilst Gorezone said:
Stark, twisted, and brutally shockingIn both cases, they are wholly and utterly wrong. Even in the uncut version, I can't imagine this raising the bar beyond much of the 1980's and 90's direct-to-video drivel that was often released, when a film wasn't warranted as worthy of a cinema release. This film is insulting on so many levels, that even though I rented this on DVD, I still felt like I deserved my money back, as well as the 103 minutes of my life, that I wasted on this cretinous junk.
If you are wondering why I posted the two quotes at the beginning of this article, I did so, because clearly the cast had no clue as to what I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE is about. And in my view, that means, it should never have been remade. It also demonstrates the film-makers stupidity. Considering this film is about truly stupid people doing really stupid things, it's highly ironic that the real actors were just as thick as their character counterparts.
I really do feel that mainstream American horror has lost the plot. It constantly churns out derivative, by-the-numbers filler, that is disparaging to the congoscenti horror fan of the 21st Century. It is demeaning to men and women. In fact, it is demeaning to anyone with I.Q. Levels marginally larger than their footwear. But what really gets me angry, is that this turgid pile of crap, has been given a sequel, that is very soon to be playing in a cinema near you... possibly... in one form or other... and quite possibly censored just as badly. (In the UK, the BBFC saw the uncut version, advised the film-makers that certain scenes would not be passed at an 18 certification level, and would actually earn a ban, and so the film was revised, and resubmitted, where it was passed uncut, after some 27 cuts/edits and/or alterations had been made - predominantly as before, to scenes of sexual violence and rape that had been eroticised!)
Can horror films ever recover from this ever-lasting freefall of quality cinema? Are we now destined to constantly be bombarded with remake, after remake, after reimagining, after sequel, after threequel?! If so, then please stop the horror train, because I want off, and I want my money back! Considering that POLTERGEIST and David Cronenberg's SHIVERS (aka THEY CAME FROM WITHIN) are both now being lined-up for new "interpretations", I think it will be left to European film-makers to come-up with critically-acclaimed work, that advances the horror genre, rather than regressing it back ever further. So three cheers to France, to Spain, to Germany, to Italy, and to all the other European cousins whose work is consistantly shocking, innovative, jaw-dropping, controversial, exciting but above all original, because, by God, we need you now more than ever.
Thanks for reading!