Welcome back, terrorphiles, to The To Watch Pile After Dark Podcast. My name is Justin McNamara and we are counting down my top 50 favourite horror movies.
You’ll find in this list that there is a lot of 70s and 80s films, and that’s because my opinion is that the best films came out in this period, and certainly the ‘horror franchise’, a pop culture trend that I love, was at its height towards the end of the 80s. This film WAS a one off, but the 2010 remake, and its sequels, were so successful that they eventually spawned a sequel to the original in 2019, which feels like Déjà Vu…
I Spit on your Grave aka The Day of the Woman tells the story of writer Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) who retreats to the countryside of Connecticut from New York to work on her latest novel. At a service station near her house she meets a bunch of ne’er do wells who act in a lecherous manner towards her, and her casual way is taken by them as flirting.
She goes to her country house and has some groceries delivered, which is done by mildly mentally disabled man Matthew (Richard Pace), goes tells his friends, the same ones at the service station, included ringleader Johnny (Erin Tabor) that she had been VERY nice to him and shown him her boobs, which they take an an invitation.
They descend upon her house and tell Matthew that he should rape her and that they are helping him to lose his virginity, but we he declines, the other men repeatedly violate her, beating and raping her, until Matthew, under the influence of alcohol decides to join in. This torture lasts for hours and they finally leave her for dead…
… but she’s not dead…
She carefully creates plans to exact her revenge on the men, and does so one-by-one, taking no prisoners, and doing so in grisly, violent ways.
This film was written and directed by Mier Zarchi after he and a friends found a naked woman who had been beaten and raped, and took her to the police. Zarchi claims the police officer was extraordinarily cavalier in his behaviour towards the woman, even insisting that she answer questions even though her jaw was obviously broken. Zarchi was offered a reward by the woman’s father, which he declined, but the experience stayed with him and he eventually wrote the film whilst on his commute to work.
As a writer and director, Zarchi isn’t really know for many other films, other than 2019’s sequel, I Spit On Your Grave: Deja Vu and the terrible ‘Don’t Mess With My Sister’ whose title offers some sense of dread, but never actually gets to the levels of this film.
This film, depending on the version you get your hands on as it’s received many cuts over the years, and was even one of the UK’s ‘Video Nasties’, goes for between 93 and 101 minutes, which is a standard movie length of its era, but what is unusual is the length of the gruelling rape scene which sits at around the 25 minute mark in the full uncut version, and Keaton spends all that time totally naked, a brave, potentially career killing choice in that day and age.
Rumour has it that the rape scene was so emotionally difficult to film that two crew members quit, one being a make up artist who was struggling with her own demons after experiencing a gang rape.
Zarchi skills as a director aren’t great and this shows in the average performances and dialogue delivery of his male cast, but his ability to direct an assault scene is amazing, and the scenes of Jennifer’s rape are gruelling, so gruelling in fact that by the time you get to the ‘revenge’ part of this ‘rape revenge’ film, you feel the men are actually let off lightly in comparison. The remake shows the Jennifer character, this time played by Sarah Butler, offer the men far more ‘torture porn’ styled punishments, which is to be expected in a post-Saw version of the film.
I Spit on your Grave was originally released as The Day of the Woman in 1978 and wasn’t received very well, but Jerry Gross renamed it I Spit On Your Grave and redistributed it in 1978 to a bit more of a response, though film critics Siskel and Ebert hated not just it, but the audiences response to it. In the UK it was labelled a Video Nasty and feminist Julie Bindel protested against its release, though she later claimed it was actually a feminist film.
I think many people protested this film initially without taking into account, described best in the 1986 book The Encylcopedia of Horror by Tom Milne and Paul Willeman, that ‘the men are so grossly unattractive and the rapes so harrowing, long drawn-out and starkly presented that it’s hard to imagine most male spectators identifying with the perpetrators’. I don’t think this quote means the men are physically unattractive, but instead psychologically unattractive with their attitudes which manifests initially as leering lust before escalating into so much worst.
Keaton’s performance in the ‘revenge’ part of the film has been criticised as well as being flat and almost catatonic, but I think that the assault causes her to be stripped back to an almost avenging angel figure, and that perhaps she has actually lost some of who SHE was.
The reason this film is in my top 50 is it is a film that effects me. As a married man with a daughter and mostly female friends, I find the film difficult to watch, and isn’t that what horror is supposed to be? It effects you in a way that I haven’t seen in many films, and this is all due to Keaton’s performance: her fear of her solitude being invaded, the response to every part of the rape, the dead-eyed horror of being stripped back to nothing more than a thing to be abused by bad men, and rebirth as an angel of vengeance with a cold heart.
I have to admit to being a latecomer to this film, and was surprised by how violent it was for the era it was from, and I have wrote at length about it, even to the point that the current release on DVD and Bluray in Australia has a quote from my review from my days as a film reviewer for now-defunct website Digital Retribution.
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