I Spit On Your Grave (1978)

Written by Mike Lyon on February 23rd, 2008

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Precious few exploitation films retain the power to shock and disturb as decades pass and audience tolerance evolves, making Meir Zarchi’s I Spit On Your Grave, the great-grandma of the rape/revenge genre, all the more impressive. By turns reviled or sheepishly apologized-for, the time is well-past due for a reevaluation of this picture.

Grave’s dirty secret, of course, is that it is neither as bad as one would expect from the genre in terms of artistry, nor as unrelentingly horrifying as the sensationalistic title or poster would suggest. Zarchi is no genius, but he’s smart enough to build tension slowly and let more innocuous scenes linger unnervingly long, keeping the viewer off balance by interrupting any natural cadence. The lengthy spaces surrounding the film’s more acute atrocities ramp up the panic-inducing quotient considerably.

The gang rape is truly distasteful, and in a genre practically devised to portray rape as titillating, Grave is notable for being deliberately and monumentally uncomfortable. I find it interesting that none of the scenes of sexual violence are as protracted as the “foreplay rape” scenes, those scenes of harassment and dehumanization that precede the act of physical violation. The short, sharp shocks never last long enough to blunt their edges; this is mettle-testing material.

Despite an enjoyably epic castration scene (complete with operatic score), the revenge portion of the picture is more uneven and sports an utterly weird aquatic denouement. Part of my ambivalence towards this second act stems no doubt from my fundamental problem with the rape/revenge genre’s structure. The murderous retribution of the survivor, The Revenge, has always struck me as a particularly male-oriented brand of feminist wish-fulfillment. Are the emotions of any survivor as simple as homicidal rage? An eye for an eye can make for a superficially satisfied audience, but can this ultimately reductive view truly satisfy after such a harrowing and thought-provoking first act?

[rating:7]