Sunday, 26 July 2015

I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978) + I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (2010) - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - Superb Anchor Bay Entertainment Blu-Ray (in spite of the utterly vile content of these two rape-revenge exploitation items).

Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada has released one of the best Blu-Rays in years - easily on a par with the best work from Criterion, Kino-Lorber and Arrow Films. That said, the films are both utterly vile. I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE - the grotesque rape-revenge thriller spawned two - count 'em - TWO versions thirty years apart. Before examining the virtues, or lack thereof, with respect to the films themselves, a few words are in order to describe the added value features on this magnificently produced home entertainment offering.
The features on the disc containing Meir Zarchi's 1978 version are first-rate. I'd go so far as saying it has elements (mostly thanks to director Zarchi), which provide the kind of superbly detailed information that come very close to a mini film course in how a low budget exploitation movie is made.

Though there's a decent interview short entitled "The Values of Vengeance: Meir Zarchi Remembers I Spit On Your Grave", the real treat on this disc is director Meir Zarchi's commentary track. It's intelligent, erudite and insanely detailed (he even discusses what specific lenses were used for some shots). This is worth its weight in gold for any aspiring filmmakers on the verge of making their own first feature films with no money. (I speak from experience as one of Canada's most prolific producers of no-to-low-budget feature films that there isn't anything of a practical nature in this commentary track I wouldn't advise myself.)

Zarchi clearly took the time to prepare this commentary track which most filmmakers NEVER do on these things. In spite of the film's Grade-B roots, I'd place Meir Zarchi's commentary track on the same pedestal as those delivered by Martin Scorsese and Norman Jewison.

There's a second audio commentary track available by the always entertaining Drive-In Movie Critic Joe Bob Briggs wherein the happy Texan offers plenty of tidbits about the making and exploitation of the film, but he also delivers a knee-slappingly funny critical assessment of the film which I can't disagree with, but happily, as funny as it often is, it doesn't have that smarmy, stupid, holier-than-thou tone of MST3K. One doesn't get the sense he's making fun of the film or the filmmaking, but just making amusing observations which I'd reckon Zarchi himself would get a few chuckles over.

The funniest thing about Joe Bob's commentary is his "investigatory" approach to the film which is to try and answer the question: "Is this a feminist film, a female empowerment film or is it just plain misogynistic?" Damned if his observations aren't astute (twixt the laughs he gets, of course).

In addition to the aforementioned delights, the disc is packed with a ridiculous amount of period promo material and the transfer is gorgeous enough to say that the movie has probably never looked this good (and some might argue, it shouldn't look this good).

There are a bevy of extras on the I Spit On Your Grave 2010 disc including a director commentary, making of doc, deleted scenes and promo materials which will possibly tantalize those who like the remake.

The I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 1978 + 2010 Double Feature Blu-Ray is available from Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada. My rating for the BLU-RAY ONLY is ***** 5-Stars.

And now, separate reviews of each film:

I Spit On Your Grave (1978)
Dir. Meir Zarchi
Starring: Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor,
Richard Pace, Anthony Nichols, Gunter Kleemann

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Preface: A Note To Roger Ebert
"A vile bag of garbage named I Spit on Your Grave is . . . so sick, reprehensible and contemptible that I can hardly believe it's playing in respectable theaters. Attending it was one of the most depressing experiences of my life . . . This is a film without a shred of artistic distinction. It lacks even simple craftsmanship. There is no possible motive for exhibiting it, other than the totally cynical hope that it might make money . . . It is a geek show." - Roger Ebert, 1980
Give it a rest, Roger. Yes, it's vile beyond belief and yes, it's replete with creative elements of dubious merit, but I suppose what you could not have possibly realized back then was the film's impact and place in the history of American genre filmmaking and how prescient it was in terms of the even more reprehensible torture-porn garbage generated during the new millennium. Astonishingly, your review of its 2010 remake seems almost charitable. Yes, you still found it reprehensible, but for what it's worth, you grudgingly allowed it a few points within the realm of craft. Here's the deal though, Roger, I'd argue that there are artistic elements in the 1978 version which, in spite of its lack of polish are surprisingly powerful and far less exploitative than the bigger budgeted remake.

The bottom line is that until I recently re-watched the 1978 version, I pretty much felt the same way you did. That said, my memories of it were relegated to an early 80s screening on a crappy VHS transfer and if I don't mind admitting, I've actually changed my mind about it. I'm not saying I think it's an exceptional work, BUT it is not without merit and I suspect you might also come to a similar conclusion.

Ah, but what am I talking to you about it for? You're dead.

I wish you weren't.

I wish we could have had a chance to discuss both the original and the remake of I Spit On Your Grave and to do so within the context of the genuinely great work of Russ Meyer, whom you wrote a great screenplay for, whom you ghost-wrote a lot of other cool stuff for and who, by your own admission was a filmmaker that presented lurid depictions of violence against women, but always within a context which rose far above the exploitative nature of the work. This is something I've never forgotten - that kind gesture you paid a tubby nerd from Winnipeg over 25 years ago when you took me for a coffee and donut so we could talk strictly about Russ Meyer. You said to me when we parted company, "Never, ever be ashamed to admit how much you love Russ Meyer."

And you know what, Roger? I'm not saying the 1978 I Spit On Your Grave is even a pubic hair's worthy of comparison to Russ Meyer, but I do believe it's worth a rethink and definitely a conversation over a donut and coffee.

Maybe we'll do that when I get to the other side.

The Review:

The famous poster for I Spit On Your Grave reads as follows:
This woman has just cut, chopped, broken and burned five men beyond recognition... but no jury in America would ever convict her!
It lies. No man is "burned" during the film, but most notably, four men, not five are "cut, chopped [and] broken." I am sure you're grateful to me for pointing out that minor discrepancy. However, four or five men, burned or not, the fact remains that the poster tells you pretty much everything you need to know.

The picture is 100 minutes long. The first 20 minutes is some excruciatingly boring exposition which could have taken five minutes. It reveals that Jennifer (Camille Keaton, who starred in a number of notable Italian exploitation films prior to this one) is a writer from New York who rents a country home in Connecticut to write a novel. Four scumbag layabouts from town (Eron Tabor, Richard Pace, Anthony Nichols, Gunter Kleemann) discuss women in a crude fashion and assume the gal in town will have sex with them because she's from New York and all women from New York want to do is, uh, fuck. Then we get 30 minutes of the four men graphically gang-raping her, 20 boring minutes of our gal recovering and then, the cherry on the sundae comes by way of 30 lip-smacking minutes of graphically violent revenge.

There you go. That's about it.

The levels of incompetence and padding in this movie are at a Grade-Z level. One of the most moronic moments occurs when our lads leave the lady alone in the house, walk down to the river, come close to boarding their boat and then decide she needs to be murdered. So, what do they do? They insist the mentally retarded grocery delivery boy go back to the house and kill her. This particular fellow has proven to be completely unreliable in all things, so why in the name of God are the inbreds sending him to do it? Why are these inbreds just standing around by the river as the retard, with clear trepidation, goes all the way back to the house? Why, after the retard can't bring himself to kill her and smears the tiniest bit of her blood on the blade, do the inbreds take this as proof he's committed the murder? I think I've answered these questions by repeatedly using the word "inbreds" to describe the characters.

So, you're probably wondering how I could possibly have had a change of heart about this movie, no matter how small this shift might be. Here's the deal:

1. The level of savagery during the rape scenes is so horrendous because of the manner in which Zarchi chooses to shoot them. Most of the time these attacks are clearly portrayed as vicious acts of violence and often from Jennifer's POV. There's nothing "sexy" here. She's bruised, battered, cut, bleeding, covered in mud while a lot of emphasis is placed on the mens' grotesque leers there's an even more inordinately sickening number of wide shots allowing us seemingly endless views of hairy, pock-marked buttocks as they pound away viciously. This goes for all the sequences involving Jennifer's attempts to escape in the woods and swamps around the location; the pain and discomfort seems real and palpable and there's an almost vérité approach to all the aforementioned sequences. There's nothing slick about the approach - so much so that if you didn't know you were watching a narrative feature drama, you might think you were seeing the real thing. Some might rightfully question the necessity of this, but there's no denying that Zarchi is doing this with the "best" intentions - to sicken and horrify. Are there sick-fucks out there who'd get off on it? Sure, but there are sick-fucks who get off on a lot of things. I can't imagine any sane individual finding this less than sheer horror.

2. Though there is camera work of either dubious quality or of a perfunctory nature, there are an equal number of shots in the film which suggests a real filmmaker is behind the lens (the odd rear-view crotch-shots in the boat are especially insane/brilliant).

3. The location sound is often dreadful, though I think the "naturalistic" use of it plays into a lot of the film's vérité shooting style. Most notably, there is no musical score. Nothing save for the "naturalistic" sounds are used. A score would have, in fact, heightened the exploitative potential of the film, in particular the rape scenes. Zarchi focuses upon the true horror of the "action" without musical enhancement. The only music I recall hearing in the whole movie is the horrendous MUZAK in the local grocery store.

4. Camille Keaton's performance is genuinely a great one. It's brave, raw and so often achieves emotion with both her physicality and her alternately large and subtle responses/reactions. The camera loves her and she is very obviously a gifted actress. No matter what anyone might say to the contrary, I actually can't help but think that her very real and vulnerable work here might have been the very thing to keep her from moving forward in much bigger, more deserving ways. If there's anything dreadful about this movie's existence, this might actually be it.

One could successfully argue that Zarchi has front-loaded the film with sickening sexual depravity so he could dramatically justify an audience's cheers when Jennifer exacts her revenge upon the rapists. On top of this, Jennifer uses her sexuality to bait each of the men into vulnerable positions for her to kill them. The level of savagery and violence she employs once she's entrapped them is jaw-dropping. One is hanged, another axed, another butchered with the blades of an outboard motor and perhaps most gruelling of all, a graphic bloody castration followed by a slow agonizing death in a bathtub. Again, there's potential to argue how sick-minded this all is, but I think it's more than possible to make a convincing case that Jennifer turning the tables on her attackers by exploiting their boneheaded single-minded sexist/misogynistic stupidity is not only thought-provoking, but I daresay an attempt at intelligent storytelling.

Provocation, however, is probably the most notable keyword to describe every aspect of the film.

Whichever way one looks at it, the fact remains that it's a film of real power in exposing the baser instincts of men and mankind. This is the true horror. The picture is no mere incompetent rape/revenge snuff film. It has a filmmaker with a voice (albeit tainted by the very budget-challenged nature of the production). In fact, Zarchi's background in corporate filmmaking no doubt allowed him to approach this material with a very clear vision to its vérité elements. He might not be a good screenwriter (given some of the more ludicrous holes, motivations and dialogue we're forced to stumble over), but he is not a director to be dismissed.

Ebert might have been right in calling it a "geek show" though. There's simply no denying that watching I Spit On Your Grave is as sickening as seeing a circus geek (often mentally challenged and/or an alcoholic) chasing after live chickens, only to eventually bite the head off of one of them for the edification of a sideshow mob. The act of watching is as vile as what we are watching. In this sense, the movie is imbued with a certain purity, if you will, in its 100 minutes of unremitting brutality.

*** 3-Stars, with obvious caveats as outlined above

I Spit On Your Grave (2010)
Dir. Steven R. Monroe
Starring: Sarah Butler, Daniel Franzese, Jeff Branson,
Rodney Eastman, Tracey Walter, Andrew Howard and Chad Lindberg

Review By Greg Klymkiw

During the question and answer session following the 2010 edition of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival screening of his remake of Meir Zarchi's somewhat inept 1978 scumbag movie of the same name, director Steven R. Monroe responded to queries from the moderator and audience with a degree of humility and sensitivity that one wouldn't expect from a filmmaker who had just served up an extremely well-crafted 107 minutes of gang rape followed by torture-porn styled revenge.

Given the controversial nature of the picture he was asked if there were any crew members who walked off the film due to the extreme subject matter. He then referred to some "idiot" on the local Shreveport, Louisiana crew with a "drinking problem" who up and disappeared, but that nobody else abandoned the proceedings and certainly not due to the graphic recreation of various indignities perpetrated against virtually every character in the movie.

Monroe, for some reason, was bemused to relate this story about the "idiot" and perhaps it was because he thought it was funny or infused with irony. All it was infused with, frankly, was considerable insensitivity towards a fellow human being who might well be an alcoholic and as such, is/was suffering from a horrible, debilitating disease that should inspire empathy at the very least and certainly not derision.

I honestly couldn't figure out why Monroe chose to relate this anecdote with a goofy grin accompanied by a bit of nervous laughter, but it came close to tempering my response to the movie - which was already not all that positive to begin with. I girded my loins prior to writing this piece and tossed it off as perhaps nervousness and/or being thrown by the question.

Ultimately though, it reminded me what a danger it is to art when an artist comes across one way while publicly discussing their work and then foolishly and/or mistakenly throws something out that contradicts his initial feelings towards the work he's created. All of Monroe's attempts to deflect the notion that he was exploiting sexual violence for the edification of scumbags became so much dust in the wind.

So, does the film exploit sexual violence? Of course it does. In all fairness, however, all movies - to varying degrees - are exploitation. One manipulates and exploits in order to derive an audience response, so I'm not going to level any ill will towards the notion of exploitation in the movies, since this is the job of filmmakers - every last one of them (whether they want to believe and/or admit it or not).

That said, I did wonder, just as I wondered when I first saw Meir Zarchi's original 1978 rendering of this tale what, exactly, was the point of this movie? At the time I thought Zarchi's picture was so dreadful, one could barely consider it anything other than a disgusting pile of crap thrown together to give a bunch of sick fucks their jollies. BUT, whatever you want to say about the 1978 version, Meir Zarchi's movie IS what it IS.

Monroe's is a bit more problematic - especially because it is very well made. In spite of Monroe's craft and that of his key creatives and actors, I still am not sure why the movie exists other than to make a buck off of revelling in the suffering of its characters.

That, I suppose, is the only point. One can try to justify it on a moral or political level - but that's all it would be, justification. I say, let's just call a spade a spade without condemnation. The movie is there simply to shock and titillate. End of story.

And, speaking of story, such as it is, the movie (for those who've been on Mars) is about a woman who seeks solace in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, gets gang-raped and then gets the most gruesome, satisfying revenge. There you have it. There not much more to it than that.

Does it do its job well?


There really isn't a single bad performance in the movie. Each actor playing the rapists is suitably and believably vile and reprehensible. The performance of Sarah Butler as the female victim is certainly brave and delivered with complete professionalism. I will admit, though, it was hard to buy her as a professional novelist since she carried herself with the air of a young freelance magazine journalist trying her hand at writing a novel. That might have been more "realistic", but the filmmakers chose a more implausible role for its heroine.

I will not even begin to suggest that the gang-rape is handled with any sort of sensitivity, but it is definitely presented in the most horrific, graphic fashion and seldom does the extended sequence resort to inspiring (or even attempting to inspire) hard-ons amongst the fellas in the audience (thank Heaven for tender mercies). Monroe shoots the rape in a way that pretty much forces an audience to react as it did - with cheers and hoots of approval when the rape victim eventually gets back at her violators in the most grotesque, nasty, painful ways. I should, perhaps also mention that just because the gang-rape is not shot with the intent to titillate, chances are good that with certain segments of the audience, it will.

So, if you've a desire to see:

(a) a man forced to watch a video monitor with fish hooks keeping his eyelids open whilst fresh fish guts, thrown in his open mutilated eyes, inspire crows to peck his eyeballs out;

(b) a man drowned in a tub full of lye until his head and face are rendered to a pulpy mass;

(c) a man castrated and forced to choke to death on his own testicles and penis;

(d) a man repeatedly sodomized with a shot gun which then goes off, the bullet plunging through his anus, out his mouth and hitting yet another rapist in the head;

then this, ladies and gentlemen, is the movie for you.

In a weird way, though, the movie's high level of craft makes it far more egregious than Meir Zarchi's 1978 version. Zarchi came by his nadir of motion picture exploitation with a perverse honesty. This film, however, is all gussied up and as such, seems far more reprehensible.