Articles on remake of misogynist movie, I Spit on Your Grave


I Spit on Your Grave: Calling all sadists!

National Post
October 14, 2010
By Barry Hertz

Some things exist in this world for a reason. Money, soap, sandwiches -- all those disparate items serve one purpose or another. Other things, though, well, they have no good reason to exist. I’m talking about such inconsequential, utterly pointless annoyances as bed bugs, Axe body spray and Steven R. Munroe’s remake of I Spit on Your Grave.

Based on the 1978 grindhouse “classic” by Meir Zarchi, Munroe’s assault on the senses should never have made it past the pitch stage. Derivative, nihilistic and driven by nothing more than a base desire for profit and audience disgust, it is the first film I have ever contemplated walking out on. (And this is coming from someone who has happily endured Lars von Trier’s genital mutilations in Antichrist and various Dane Cook performances.)

Like the original, Munroe’s exercise in nausea focuses on a young, attractive novelist named Jennifer (Sarah Butler) who has come out to the country in order to work on her next book. On the way to her isolated cabin, Jennifer runs into a quartet of depraved rednecks at a gas station, accidentally embarrassing their alpha-male leader Johnny (Jeff Branson). Since, according to the filmmakers, any woman left on her own is ripe prey, it isn’t long before Johnny and the boys break into Jennifer’s home, beat her, rape her and leave her for dead.

Filmed like a serial killer’s wet dream, Jennifer’s rape is a 30-minute assault on both the art of cinema and humanity itself. Munroe treats his audience to not only multiple instances of gang rape, but also gun play, verbal abuse, forced intoxication and one cartoonishly sadistic sheriff who, instead of riding to the rescue, joins in on the activities. But unlike other films centred on sexual assault (Irreversible, Straw Dogs), there is no larger purpose served here, no comment on society or the dark intersection of sex and violence -- this is sadism for sadism’s sake.

The picture doesn’t end with Jennifer’s attack, though. After all, it’s a rape-revenge movie, so there’s got to be some sort of payback in the second half, and thus some excuse Munroe and company can trot out to justify the degradation that came before. So, after somehow surviving a naked plunge into an ice-cold river at the hands of her abusers, an almost supernatural Jennifer returns a month later to exact bloody retribution.

Unlike the original, where Jennifer subversively seduced her rapists before slicing and dicing them, our 2010 heroine merely Jigsaws it up, concocting outlandish, Saw-like death traps involving fishing hooks, garden shears and vats of acid.

But don’t mistake Jennifer’s various acts of comeuppance for feminist fantasy: This is a thoroughly revolting, hateful picture that hides behind a mask of female empowerment only to disguise its true motivation: money. Quite cleverly, Munroe knows his film will be slapped with damning reviews, which will in turn generate more controversy and paying audiences, all curious to see how much is too much.

At the risk of fuelling Munroe’s toxic fire, I’m issuing a personal plea to ignore his provocations. Just like yesterday’s garbage, his film should be kicked to the curb and treated as the disposable, putrid trash it is.


I Spit on Your Grave

Why the hell would anybody remake this piece of crap?

Metro Times
October 13, 2010
By Corey Hall

With perhaps the most audacious title to ever grace a drive-in marquee, the original I Spit on Your Grave scandalized disco generation movie critics and audiences as one of the most brutally exploitative slabs of celluloid ever. That’s something of an achievement, considering it was competing with Bloodsucking Freaks and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the coveted moral-outrage dollar.

In truth, this cheerful little ditty about rape and revenge was released to the sound of crickets in 1978 — under its original title The Day of the Woman — until two years later, when some marketing genius retitled it, made some cuts and rushed it back out. The film generated heaps of controversy and oceans of bad ink, including savage condemnation from Roger Ebert who said it was "one of the most depressing experiences of my life."

Later the flick earned defenders claiming absurdly that it was some feminist howl. It certainly made an impression, but was more talked about than seen.

So why did anyone bother remaking it? The short answer is somebody got the rights and thought the title snappy, but truthfully it’s because some film producers are morally and intellectually bankrupt and will do anything for coin. There is also the sad fact these days that torture porn is a zero-sum game, and the way to separate from the pack is up the violence to absurd levels. That’s the case here, with a painfully extended rape and torture sequence, followed by even more gruesome and elaborately staged set pieces in which the heroine torments her tormenters.

The plot is elemental: Jennifer (Sarah Butler), a hip, young big-city journalist rents a cabin deep in the woods to work on her first novel. The loutish clerk at the local gas station makes a clumsy pass at her, which she laughs off. This, and the sight of her tiny jogging shorts is apparently enough provocation for this psycho and his creepy redneck pals to assault her at home, abusing, debasing and sodomizing her in a scene that eats up the film’s middle third, and a good chunk of the viewer’s soul. Naked, bleeding and broken, she stumbles into a muddy river and vanishes, only to return like some avenging ghost.

Then things get really nasty. Just describing some of the gruesome things Jennifer inflicts upon her attackers could’ve had me arrested in gentler times. How about about a catalog of some "weapons" used? Fishhooks, rusty pliers, a horse bit, a bear trap, a bathtub full of lye, garden shears … you get the idea.

I Spit on Your Grave is artfully made garbage, effective and bold in its use of violence as a narrative driver, but reprehensible in all other respects. Sarah Butler’s performance is brave, the camerawork is ominous and direct, the grime is palpable, and the tension is thick as molasses. But no matter how hard it tries to dress up its sadism in bogus pretensions, this ain’t The Virgin Spring.


I Spit On Your Grave remake pushes some uncomfortable buttons

Metro
By Phil Brown
08 October 2010 08:00

I Spit On Your Grave was one of the most shocking titles of the VHS horror era, so the fact the remake is generating controversy before it has even been released should be no surprise.

Early screenings at film festivals came flooded with reports of how graphic and frightening the film is, leading to the surprising decision to release the film unrated in U.S. theatres. (In Canada, the same version of the film is rated R).

It’s rare for a film to hit U.S. screens without a rating these days, but for the grisly I Spit On Your Grave — in theatres next week — it was really the only option. Like the original, the film deliberately pushes buttons and boundaries. “I think that if we don’t push the envelope as filmmakers, we might as well just pack it in and direct romantic comedies all of the time,” said Monroe.

“This is what art forms are for, to force people to think, to question, to feel things, or see and understand things that they otherwise wouldn’t.”

“I first saw (the original) in 1980. It had a two-day run in theatres in 1978 and then it went away and came out on VHS in 1980. I saw it then and it stuck with me for a couple of days. I definitely had an on and off funk for a few days. It kept popping into my brain and pushing my buttons.”

Even making such a film was difficult to endure, especially for lead actress Sarah Butler. However Butler is quick to admit that the overall experience was worth it.

“There were days where I couldn’t break out of the character because I was so terrified that I had to keep crying for about 10 minutes before we could do another take,” recalled the actress.

“But that’s the kind of thing that actors dream of, so it was an honour to play the role.”


I Spit on Your Grave reborn

Shocking rape-revenge flick gets a remake

Aug 13 2010
Toronto Star
By Jason Anderson

Regardless of what you make of the news that one of the 1970s’ most notorious grindhouse flicks has spawned an equally gruelling remake, you have to concede the fact that any viewer who sees the title of I Spit on Your Grave and still buys a ticket should have an inkling of what they’re in for.

“I can’t imagine that anyone’s going to come in to the movie thinking that they’re seeing My Best Friend’s Wedding,” says director Steven R. Monroe.

Monroe’s remake of Meir Zarchi’s 1978 rape-revenge shocker plays Aug. 19 at the Bloor Cinema as part of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.

Co-presented by Rue Morgue, the event marks the film’s second appearance in Canada after a tumultuous — though, as Monroe attests, largely positively received — world premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia festival in July.

Given that vintage horror flicks ranging from The Amityville Horror to The Toolbox Murders have already been recycled, it was only a matter of time before enterprising producers got around to I Spit on Your Grave.

Yet one aspect that makes Zarchi’s film (originally titled Day of the Woman) unusual was that it wasn’t really a horror movie in the first place.

Instead, it was a grim, grimy drama about a woman whose writing retreat at a remote cottage ends with her physical and sexual brutalization by a group of locals. Presented in a manner that was explicit and protracted even by the standards of exploitation cinema, her rape is followed by a campaign of vengeance that’s nearly as ugly.

That description could easily be applied to Monroe’s remake. Sarah Butler stars as Jennifer, a writer who is again subjected to horrific abuse before she evades her assailants, eventually re-emerging as their hunter.

Unsurprisingly, I Spit on Your Grave has already attracted controversy both in and outside the horror community. While some people are wary of seeing changes made to a work of such infamy, others question whether a movie of its nature should exist at all. Says Monroe in a recent phone interview from his office in Los Angeles, “There are people online right now who are saying, ‘Anyone who sees this movie is sick and perverted and should go to jail.’ That’s absolutely insane.”

The 45-year-old director says that the majority of criticism that has appeared has come from people who have yet to see the movie, which isn’t released theatrically until October.

“What I’ve gotten from people who’ve seen the whole film has been very positive in the sense that they were very disturbed and upset by the film but not disgusted,” he says.

That may seem like a strange distinction to make but I Spit on Your Grave has always been a peculiar and problematic case.

Zarchi’s original figures prominently in Men, Women & Chainsaws, a pioneering examination of gender dynamics in horror cinema by academic Carol J. Clover. Clover argued that matters of sadism and spectatorship in slasher movies are more complicated than they initially appear. And as abhorrent as they were, the roughest scenes in Zarchi’s movie may have been less exploitative than equivalent sequences in more prestigious fare like Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs or Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy.

Monroe’s version also makes an important change by presenting its protagonist as a coolly calculating killer in the movie’s final third rather than someone who uses her sexuality to turn the tables on her victimizers, as the character did in the original.

The director says the remake’s producers backed the change. Zarchi — an executive producer on the new film — did not agree.

“Though he didn’t technically have a say in things, we always wanted his blessing,” Monroe explains. “But this was one thing that was a constant argument — he believes in what he did in the original and we had problems with it so that had to go.”

Other viewers may still be troubled by the presence of so much sexually violent imagery in a movie that otherwise aims at the same audience that keeps the Saw franchise in business.

Yet Monroe wonders why such imagery should be verboten when moviegoers have become so blasé about other varieties of screen violence.

“This certainly isn’t the first film that’s had an upsetting rape sequence,” he notes. “But people are so offended that that’s part of the film yet they have no problem with any violence of any type in other movies. Nobody flinches at all at how incredibly horrific violence has gotten, especially in war and action films.”

What was important to Monroe was making sure everything about his film was realistic and therefore as upsetting as it ought to be.

“I honestly believe that as long as something is portrayed truthfully and realistically, it doesn’t matter what subject you’re touching on,” says the filmmaker. “I don’t think anything is taboo.”

I Spit on Your Grave plays Aug. 19 as part of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.


Rape and revenge, remade

Feminist slasher or exploitation film? Thirty-two years after the original,
I Spit on Your Grave gets the remake treatment.

Globe and Mail
July 09, 2010
By Matthew Hays

Though remakes of landmark seventies horror films have now become routine – the past five years have seen retreads of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House on the Left and The Omen – horror buffs will be watching the remake of Meir Zarchi’s 1978 landmark I Spit on Your Grave with special attention.

After all, when the original took its bow in Chicago, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel – then arguably the most powerful film critics in America – were so offended by its content, they attacked it forcefully enough that the distributors yanked the movie from 20-odd Chicago cinemas. I Spit on Your Grave benefited from the publicity, immediately transforming into “the movie Siskel and Ebert don’t want you to see.” Ebert gave the film a starless rating, calling it “a vile bag of garbage … without a shred of artistic distinction.”

The main bone of contention was the film’s centrepiece: a gruelling, brutal, 40-minute gang rape of a woman. But a number of feminist critics have since convincingly argued that what follows the gang rape is truly radical: the victim recovers, hunts down the four men who committed the crime and murders them one by one in explicit acts of revenge (including one castration). In her 1992 book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, author Carol Clover points to the rape-revenge film as unique, in that the woman does get to take out the men who violated her.

Steven R. Monroe, who has directed the remake – which makes its world premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal this weekend – says he knows a remake like this is inevitably risky. “There are some people who I know are hoping they can say it sucks. Horror fans are a completely different breed. Bless them, they are so passionate about the genre. But that means their expectations run very high.”

Rest assured the volume has been cranked on the original (though even with the recent spate of torture porn – like the Saw and Hostel series – the original remains intensely disturbing). The basic plot remains the same: a woman from the city arrives at a secluded country house to write a novel. Early in the film, she stops in at a gas station where some men spy her. They later track her down and brutally rape her. She survives to destroy them all. There is one key difference that those familiar with the original will notice: In the first film, Jennifer (played by Camille Keaton, grandniece of Buster) enacts her revenge by seducing the men. In the remake, Jennifer (Sarah Butler) doesn’t attempt to seduce anyone, just skewer, mutilate, eviscerate (with a rifle), and yes, castrate the offenders.

Monroe says he first saw the original when he was 16 and was shaken up by its brutality. Several years ago, he learned a producer he occasionally worked with had acquired the remake rights. “I said, ‘You have to hire me!’” he recalls. “I lobbied them for about a year. I really wanted it, as I could see if the remake fell into the wrong hands, it could easily end up disastrous.”

The extensive rape sequence remains disturbing, with the thugs employing the expected litany of misogynist epithets. And the class difference is again pointed up, with the men suggesting that Jennifer “thinks she’s too good for us.” Monroe has upped the ante by having one of the rapists bring along a camera so he can catch the degradation on video.

But another thing remains the same: The question hangs over the remake as it did the original. Is this simply another case of a lurid exploitation, or does the ultimate revenge make it a radical feminist departure?

“I shudder to use the word ‘entertained,’ but I hope people will be affected by it,” says Monroe. “The fact is, if you represent this in a real and believable way, it’s going to be upsetting. Why else would you touch on this subject? I know this divides people. Fifty per cent say, ‘Who wants to sit through a 30-minute rape scene?’ But the other 50 per cent say that a rape scene should point out just how horrific rape is.”

Zarchi, the writer and director of the original, served as an executive producer on the remake. While he didn’t initially agree with some of Monroe’s choices, he says he now endorses the new film, calling it an effective update. Zarchi says he wasn’t surprised when the original got so much attention. “I wanted to make a ripple in the ocean. It turned out to be a tsunami.”

But he says he does have a recurring nightmare about critic Roger Ebert, who repeatedly savaged I Spit on Your Grave. “I’m terribly afraid he’ll show up at my house some time, and ask for residuals. Every time he’d attack the film we’d sell thousands and thousands of copies of the video!”

“Days after I first saw the original,” Monroe recalls, “my mind kept going back to it. I couldn’t get it out of my head. That’s what I’m hoping will happen with audiences with this version.”

I Spit on Your Grave (2010) will have its world premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival on Sunday, July 11 at 10 p.m. at Concordia University’s Hall Building (fantasiafestival.com).

* * *

Other horror movies that truly horrified

Freaks (1932)

Director Tod Browning turned the tables in his tale of romantic betrayal, having the disabled and disfigured circus freaks in the film as the good guys, with the physically beautiful actors cast as the evil ones. Censors denounced the use of actual circus freaks as an exploitive casting stunt. Half an hour was cut from Browning’s original version (including a revenge castration scene). The footage has never been recovered.

Peeping Tom (1960)

This feature came out but a few months before Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was released – and that film, of course, became a massive box-office and critical sensation. But oddly enough, Peeping Tom – which dealt more brazenly with similar themes of violence and voyeurism – was attacked by critics and failed to capture the audience’s imagination. Writing in the British magazine The Spectator, Isabel Quigly called it “the sickest and filthiest film I remember seeing.” Director Michael Powell’s career was severely damaged by the furor, but the film was recuperated critically after Martin Scorsese championed it in the 1980s.

Irreversible (2002)

Gaspar Noé’s feature included a shattering 20-minute depiction of Monica Bellucci being raped (notoriously, the scene featured a computer-generated penis). The sequence proved so extreme that 25 people required medical attention at the Cannes premiere, either fainting or leaving the cinema vomiting. Noé conceded he wanted to out-do previous big-screen representations of rape. “I wanted to beat the sins of Deliverance and Straw Dogs,” he told me in 2002. “The only movie I ever walked out on because it was too tough for me was Straw Dogs. I think that rape is a fear that is much closer to everyday life than even death itself. Ever single kid, male or female, has felt the fear of rape.”


Promotional picture for I Spit On Your Grave remake

I Spit On Your Grave remake promotional poster