I Spit on Your Grave is as vile as it sounds. Four rapes, four revenges, and one hour and forty minutes later, I’ve pretty much had about about as much as I can stomach of 70s horror films. I’m done with thick, waxy blood, an excess of nudity, constant female screams, flowing dresses with big sleeves. Too bad Scott and I are watching Last House on the Left later tonight! I’m really questioning this new blogging adventure.
The marketing for Spit is appalling. And this is definitely not Camille Keaton’s butt.
However, as a political statement and maybe a slightly feminist effort, I Spit on Your Grave is…not that bad. There is a difference between this vile rape/revenge film and a rape/revenge film as egregious as, say, Straw Dogs. The latter shows a rape victim suddenly enjoying the experience sexually, and yet it’s released on Criterion and highly praised by many critics. In Spit it is abundantly clear that Jennifer does not enjoy the experience in the least bit. In fact, she actively manipulates this fantasy myth to enact her revenge. Instead of enjoying violently passive sex, she actively finds ways to enjoy her own version of power through sex. Carol Clover argues that the rapes depicted in the film are not even sexually enjoyable for the men committing the acts, as “the rapes are presented as almost sexless acts of cruelty that the men seem to commit more for each other’s edification than for their own physical pleasure” (Clover, Men, Women, and Chainsaws, 118).
Clover also explains Jennifer’s cruelty as a genre convention. She writes “It lies in the nature of revenge or self-defense stories (horror makes the point over and over) that the avenger or self-defender will become as directly or indirectly violent as her assailant, and, as we shall later see, these films are in some measure about that transformation” (123). As Jennifer makes her transformation from a seemingly civil big-city-girl to a horrifically violent vigilante, it is clear that this story belongs to her. And her violent revenge is her way of reclaiming her sexuality. Because Jennifer does not just take revenge, she takes a sexual revenge. And she is just as easily able to manipulate the mentally retarded rapist, as the supposedly smarter leader of the group. I Spit on Your Grave is out to show rape as a culturally inevitable phenomena, and the way to counteract this phenomena seems to be a crime to fit the crime. As Clover writes “If maleness caused the crime, then maleness will suffer the punishment” (123). The film continually focuses on the gun that Jennifer has access to, only to throw it away in favor of castration and strangulation. Unlike the men when they are about to get their just desserts, Jennifer never expresses regret for her violence. The final frame of the film seems to prove this, showing Jennifer triumphant and almost smiling.
Despite the leanings towards a sort of reactionary feminism, the film is deeply disturbing in ways that a rape-revenge film like Straw Dogs might not be. Clover again seems to have a legitimate answer: “I Spit on Your Grave shocks not because it is alien but because it is too familiar, because we recognize that the emotions it engages are regularly engaged by the big screen but almost never bluntly acknowledged for what they are” (120). The film has no music or blatant special effects (but the blood looks spectacular) and even the efforts at comedic relief are terrifying.
This is one of the hardest films I have ever sat through. Brutal and disgusting. There is also the question of audience reaction that needs to be addressed. Roger and Ebert apparently reported that audiences laughed and cheered during rape scenes in the film, and thus used the film to launch a campaign against this sort of brutality being depicted on screen. While this might be a nervous reaction to what they are seeing (I experienced this directly during The Strangers, for example), the question of appropriateness is reasonable. I don’t have the answers. I’m not particularly glad that I ended up seeing this film, but I think there is more to it than a simple dismissal will allow.
For a different take on things, check out Scott’s blog. I think he had an even rougher time than I did with Spit.