Just about all of us Fellow Fans have that inborne need to seek out those films that we’re told are “too extreme”. As we learned from the British “video nasties” debacle back in the ’80s, the quickest way to get us horror fans to rush to see a flick is to tell us that we shouldn’t; it’s “too much” for our tender eyes to witness…our sensibilities will be forever marred…
“Well hell“, we always say; “Where do we find that one?!?”
One of the top “nasties” on this infamous list of films deemed “harmful” to society was Meir Zarchi’s 1978 rape/revenge flick, Day of the Woman, re-released (with much greater success) as I Spit On Your Grave.
Say that title to yourself; doesn’t it just reek of a grimy grindhouse theater? You can almost smell the stale auditorium, burnt popcorn, and that faint, underlying aroma that’s a mixture of cigarette smoke and piss, can’t you? This re-release title is a bit deceiving, however; though the film is an exploitation flick through and through, there is a purpose here, an underlying theme that went largely unnoticed and unappreciated by the very demographic that it was directed at…but I’ll get to that in a bit.
Jennifer is a confident, attractive New York writer, heading out to a lakeside summer rental house in Connecticut for some solace and an opportunity to work on her first novel, hoping to have the same success that she’s had with her short stories. Unbeknownst to her, this little time away will become a nightmare, as there are some real atavistic males with some seriously fucked-up ideas about women residing in the sleepy community. A quick fill up at the local gas station gets her noticed by Joey, Stanley, and Andy, the proprietor of the filling station and his two hanger-on cronies, respectively; being innocently friendly to Matthew, the mentally-challenged local grocery deliveryman ultimately puts her in the center of a plot by the four previously-named men to make her Matthew’s “first”. After all, didn’t she flash her long legs to the guys at the gas station? Isn’t it true, that (as the quartet muse around their fishing hole that first night) all New York women just wanna get laid as much as possible?
What follows is first harassment of Jennifer as she tries to work (revving their motorboat as they repeatedly pass her as she lies in a hammock by the lake, trying to hash out her story), and finally literal kidnapping as they use their boat to drag her and her rowboat to a secluded glade on the lake. Once there, the true horror of this tale begins; black-heartedly cruel and tortuous acts of physical and sexual assault are carried out on the helpless woman by the four men, reducing her to a simple toy for their use, violating her near the point of death. Jennifer survives her ordeal, but not unscathed; a darkness falls over her soul, and once she’s recovered, Joey, Stanley, Andy, and Matthew will face a reckoning unimaginable; their sins, repaid…with interest.
This one is hard to watch, but that’s not a reflection on the work; indeed, it’s a vindication of it. Let me say out front that it’s obvious Zarchi didn’t have a very big budget to work with here. The camera work isn’t terribly imaginative, but it gets the job done; in truth, the style of the work gives it more of a documentary feel, and that plus the lack of a musical score somehow makes the film seem that much more real. The acting certainly isn’t going to win any awards; the performances run from seeming a bit forced to being unabashedly over-the-top, but if you’re into the film that doesn’t matter for long…the cruelty and brutality is where this film gets you, and in that respect the four male actors do their jobs very well. Hatred forms effortlessly for the brutal characters, and I for one felt a strong sense of protective sympathy for Jennifer while at the same time feeling ashamed of being a male of the species after witnessing such behavior. Those two instances in themselves show that the performances carried across what I feel writer/director Zarchi was aiming at despite the lacking in other areas. The effects were cheap, but by far brutal enough; the rape scenes (yes, multiple ones) are among the most harrowing and horrific I’ve ever seen on film, and the pain and hopeless violation Camille Keaton expresses is positively gut-wrenching.
There’s not a goddamn thing erotic in these scenes (if you find them stimulating, please don’t show up at my convention table), it’s just a horrific illustration of pure ignorant dumbass evil. Later, when Jennifer takes her pound of flesh in return (and I mean that more literally than those of you that haven’t seen it may think!), the gore is very suitable for the kind of comeuppance the audience feels Jennifer’s attackers deserve.
For a long time, this film carried the stigma of being “misogynistic” and “promoting violence against women”; obviously (as it often happens), those critics spouting this had to be ones that walked out of the theater after the second (if not the first) rape scene (and in fairness, I really can’t say I hold that against them), and didn’t actually watch the entire flick. Yes, some very brutal and completely pointless violence is done to this woman; every inch of her person is violated, physically, emotionally, and spiritually…but she nonetheless finds an inner strength to dole out justice (although perhaps not in the most socially-acceptable manner; that said, I’d bet my last jelly doughnut that none of you out there would disagree that these men deserve what they get). It may take a gruesome and stomach-churning route to get there, but the film does illustrate the strength and empowerment of women; Jennifer doesn’t cower down and tremble for long; no man comes to find recompense for what’s been done to her, nor does she seek one; no sir, she deals with matters herself, ironically using the very sexuality that the men forcibly took from her to spell their undoing.
The beauty of the film, in my opinion, is that what it’s most known for in terms of horror films (the unspeakable things she does for revenge) is the part of the film that’s the deserved part; the real horror is what’s done to cause her to do these things.
The movie was an exploitation flick done on the cheap and it shows; nonetheless, the director has a message here, and the emotional effect that it elicits gives the viewer far more punch than one expects. It’s not the kind of flick that you’ll want to watch very frequently, but it’s a far more effective film than history has given it credit for.
One final bit of advice: Don’t watch it with your kids or mother…if you’re a guy, don’t watch it with your girlfriend…it may cause a bit of discomfort in the room.
That’s my two cents, folks.
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