I was asked while reviewing supplimental material on this release by someone unfamiliar with I Spit on Your Grave: “Is it a good movie?” I had to answer that with caveats. Is it quality filmmaking with a lot to say, well yes. Is it an enjoyable movie, well no not really. I have seen this film many times over the years and was never really sure what the filmmaker’s intent with the film was until this new release. Did he mean for it to be a fun night at the movies or something more? Well, now I finally know, or at least think I know, the answer.
The plot of the film is a pretty simple revenge film, but this is the revenge film to beat all revenge films. Jennifer is heading out of the city for the summer (New York City specifically) to write her great American novel. She has rented a secluded cabin in the woods searching for quiet, relaxation, and inspiration. Upon arriving in a small town near her cabin she stops at a gas station to fill up, and little does she know this is the moment her life takes a devastating turn.
Jennifer meets Johnny, who fills her gas tank and sees his friends horsing around. She paces back and forth in front of the car stretching her legs and commenting on how tired her legs are after hours of driving. She is a very pretty woman, wearing a red dress and high heels. She thinks nothing of the conversation and continues on to her cabin.
The four men, led by Johny, are bored with mundane existences living in the lower economic scale, just drinking beer and talking about women. They eventually begin stalking Jennifer and seemingly out of nowhere, herd instinct maybe, they chase her into the woods and brutally beat and rape her multiple times over. This is not your softcore rape that’s gratuitous and titillating. These sequences are bloody, dirty, muddy, and violent. As many times as I’ve seen this film I still squirm in my seat. The sequences are unflinching, shot often in long master takes that don’t cut away. The men enjoy the rape, but they also enjoy taunting Jennifer by chasing her through woods they know well, always able to get ahead of her ready to scare her, beat her, and rape her again. There are two key scenes in the film that are the most powerful in the film. The first is a long, overly long, shot of Jennifer’s ravaged body draped across a rock after an incredibly brutal assault. Just when you think the shot is going to cut, it doesn’t. It’s unrelenting and horrifying.
Somehow Jennifer survives the assault and recovers over weeks. She is in shock. Eventually she devises a plan to seek revenge on these men, and this is the other half of the film. The second most powerful scene in the film occurs when Jennifer fatally wounds one of the men in a way that not only ensures a painful death but also makes a statement. She quietly sits and waits for him to die. The scene feels like it takes forever. It’s incredibly powerful.
While I Spit on Your Grave isn’t a particularly long movie it does manage a slow pace that feels like reality making the events all the more impactful. The simple story works due to the editing and precise pace and mostly the acting from Camille Keaton. Keaton is beautiful for sure but her eyes are those of a strong independent woman, while still feeling somehow innocent and vulnerable. Keaton literally was the perfect actress to play this role.
I Spit on Your Grave was dubbed the most controversial film ever made by Roger Ebert for good reason. The violence feels real and it all hits harder because the film is pretty much humorless unlike Last House on the Left, a similar film from the same era. Some critics call it the most gratuitous film ever made while others call it a milestone for women. The film was originally called Day of the Woman, and I believe was supposed to originally be a statement from the filmmaker of how he sees women being treated in the years after the sexual revolution and women’s continued fight for equality. At one point one of the men blames Jennifer for what happened to her because she was flaunting her sexy legs in front of him when the reality is she was just taking a walk.
Writer and director Meir Zarchi never did another film as relevant as I Spit on Your Grave. He did other films but none were at the level of this one. It turns out the story came from the fact that he rescued a woman in a park covered in blood who had been raped similarly to Jennifer. He took her to the police and witnessed them questioning why she was in the park alone to begin with rather than rushing to her aide. Sometimes the best works of storytelling come from real experience. This event impacted Zarchi so much that he had to depict it on film. He needed to visualize what this young woman went through physicaly, emotionally and mentally not just from her attackers but also from the police. The film is just so visceral, and after finding out the impetus of the story I now understand why.
I Spit on Your Grave is absolutely one of the most contraversial films ever made, but it also ends up being one of the most heartfelt grindhouse films ever made too. It’s a truly difficult film to get through, and it should be. That’s the point. It’s amazing to compare the film to Zarchi’s other works because it has a much more definite vison than anything else he’s done. He felt for this woman. He was crushed by what he saw, so he wanted to crush us too. It’s often beautifully shot and edited with purpose. Keaton’s acting chops running the gamut of emotions carries the film. There’s so much more to be said about I Spit on Your Grave but I’ll leave it for film schools.
This is the first film I have reviewed from Ronin Flix and I was extremely excited to dive in and see what they have done with I Spit on Your Grave. Every version of the film I have seen was either washed completely out or red shifted. This new 4k scan dropped to 2k for the blu-ray release is absolutely the best I have ever seen the film look. Colors are muted in that ever so 70’s style, grain is apparent but not overbearing and that ugly red shifting is nowhere to be found. That said, this is not a consistent presentation. One night scene in particular is super murkey with most of the detail just disappearing. One character is wearing a black t shirt and his head just appears to be floating on screen because you can’t see the shirt at all at times. Daytime scenes overall are really solid though. You can see clouds in the sky, which in previous versions I have seen you could not. It’s not a Criterion level restoration but you have to imagine how rough the source 35mm print must have been. The film was shot in 1976 and never given a wide theatrical release so the prints that do exist have been beat to death. With all of that in mind I do have to say that Ronin Flix has done an admirable job bringing this film back to life and again, this is the best I have ever seen the film look.
Audio for I Spit on Your Grave does not come back to life as strongly as the video unfortunately. There are a few audio options on this release but I’m recommending the Dolby Surround mix. Sounds do jump out of the center channel to the left and right speakers making the film more immersive (Do we want to be more immersed in this?). The issue is the dialogue. In all of the mixes the dialogue is pretty low in the mix and the levels vary so you may have to ride your volume a little or just deal with the horror scenes being just a little too loud. The audio is listenable though and also probably better than in previous releases of the film.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The packaging for this three disc release is following a sort of Arrow Video style limited release and I am not complaining. The three discs each get their own clear amaray case all packed inside a hard textured cardboard box with beautiful custom artwork. There’s also a perfect bound book printed on heavy matte paper featuring writings about the film and photos and poster art.
Disc 1: I Spit on Your Grave
The first disc features the uncut version of the film and a selection of bonus materials. The high points of these bonus features are the Joe Bob Briggs commentary and the featurette visiting the locations from the film. The locations featurette was shot this year. We know this due to the prevelance of masks. There’s a commentary from the director and a lengthy interview with the director as well that are both good but repeated information from the feature documentary on disc three. I’m glad they are both here because they do both still provide additional information about the film.
I love that the reversible artwork for this disc provides the original Day of the Woman title and poster art. There are also TV and radio spots, a still gallery, and the original day of the Woman opening credits.
Disc 2: I Spit on Your Grave Deja Vu
So the director, while he did participate in the remake of I Spit on Your Grave, never felt the original film was properly followed up. In 2017 he finally had a script for what he felt was the real follow up. This film, without mincing words here. is just terrible. Deja Vu still wants to have social commentary of classism and sexism but it forces it down your throat by lemgthy stiff exposition rather than visuals and emotions. The nudity and rape scene this time are both nowhere near as visceral and much more exploitative than the original. In the end it just felt like the film was trying to hard to say something without being as contraversial as the original. This kind of film just has to happen. It has to be real. It can’t be forced. That’s why the original works and the remake just feels like an homage. There are cast interviews that aren’t particularly well executed either. Anytime you have to put the question up on screen the interviews were not properly done. Being a documentary filmmaker myself I am a stickler for this. The making of featurette an behind the scenes featurettes are essentially the same thing, fly on the wall footage of the film being shot with occsional comments toward the camera. I actually enjoy this sort of fly on the wall footage so I liked these featurettes better than the actually film. There’s no reversible art for this disc but there is internal art, which is still cool.
Disc 3: Growing Up with I Spit on Your Grave
The TLDR is thi documentary is detailed and fascinating. Before I get into it let me point out the one thing I hate. The music in the film is just loops from Garageband. I found the music to be super distracting. The film was made by Zarchi’s son. He should have taken a note from his dad and skipped the music all together.
This documentary follows the film from beginning to end with incredible detail from the initial inspiration for the film through the writing of it, the casting, crewing up, production, and eventual distribution. Along the way the film also builds the director as a character through biographical information and family interviews. There’s so much to learn about the film and filmmaker here that it may change your perspective on the film. Growing Up with I Spit on Your Grave is a perfect partner to the original film. There are some bonus features on the disc including trailer and adverts. You really don’t need much more supplements to a feature length supplement to another movie. There is internal artwork taken from family photos and the cover is a riff on the original poster. Other than the music, I’d put this documentary right up there with Document of the Dead, the documentary about Dawn of the Dead.
This release comes packed in Ronin Flix’s premium branded box with a couple of mini posters and vhs replica magnets. I do wish these items would fit inside the hard box with the movie.
There’s hours of bonus features in this set and perhaps the best part of it all is that it makes you see I Spit on Your grave in a whole new light. The packaging is premium and very high quality and the book is beautiful. This is a library presentation overall.
Collectibility and Relevance
I Spit on Your Grave has deserved and needed this level of preservation for years. Ronin Flix has done an admirable job of restoring the film and pulling together a fantastic selection of bonus features that gives perspective, conversation, and a historical narrative to this grindhouse film that almost didn’t find distribution back in the 1970’s.
Overall (Not an average) 8/10