Review Date: January 27, 2003
Released by: Elite Entertainment
Release date: 12/17/2002
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
"She must have asked for it."
Often, thatís the response when someone (usually a male) hears that a woman has been raped. Somehow, the clothes a woman wears, what she may say, or just how she carries herself can turn normal law-abiding males into rabid sex fiends, and itís all the womanís fault. Whatís worse, the film industry (which is male-dominated) often affirms that idea. Rape in movies usually occurs when a woman has been excessively flirting or dressed provocatively. In some cases, the woman eventually comes to enjoy it!
Well, one film that attempts to depict rape in itís horrible, violent, and dehumanizing reality is Meir Zarchiís infamous I Spit on Your Grave (aka Day of the Woman). Yet surprisingly, feminists have actually decried the movie as a "rape how-to" film, when it is anything but. Meir Zarchi (along with a film critic beloved to horror fans) finally answers those complaints in a wonderful commentary track, one of the many new outstanding features on Elite Entertainmentís latest Millennium Edition, I Spit on Your Grave.
The plot is about is simple as they come. New York City writer Jennifer Hill (Camille Keaton) is spending her summer upstate to write her first novel. When she arrives in the small town she first encounters local lowlife Johnny (Eron Tabor) and his two lower-life cronies Stanley and Andy (Anthony Nichols, Gunther Kleeman). She also meets Matthew (Richard Pace), a mentally handicapped delivery boy. Matthew immediately becomes infatuated with the stylish city girl.
Matthew also hangs out with Johnny and his buddies. Not a good idea, as heís pretty much the butt of their jokes. The guys want Matthew to lose his virginity, and come up with a pretty basic scheme: They kidnap Jennifer, strip her, hold her down, and call Matthew to have sex with her. Ah, the magic of "the First Time".
In a rare (but brief) display of good taste, Matthew is reluctant to engage in forced sexual intercourse. The other guys however, have no problem with it. What follows is perhaps the longest (25 minutes) and most graphic and disturbing rape sequence ever put on film. After all four guys (yep, Matthew eventually participates as well) have taken their respective turns at beating and humiliating Jennifer, they leave Matthew to kill her.
Once again, Matthew develops stage fright, and only pretends that he killed Jennifer. Bad move. After recovering from her experience, Jennifer realizes that the foursome must pay for their crimes, and pay dearly. First, she asks for forgiveness in advance at a local church, and then sets out to avenge the horrible gang rape. The hunters become the hunted, and thereís no day more terrifying thanÖThe Day of the Woman.
I Spit on Your Grave is quite possibly the most offensive film ever made. And it should be! Rape is certainly not a subject to be taken lightly, as itís one of the most (if not THE most) horrible and humiliating experiences a woman can ever go through. I realize that this may be an outrageous comparison, but I Spit on Your Grave actually reminds me a lot of Schindlerís List! OK, itís certainly not as cinematic or as well acted, but both take events that have actually occurred, and shove them in our face with very little filtering or watering-down. If you find it tough to watch Jenniferís ordeal, just remember that it happens numerous times on a daily basis. Probably even as youíre reading this.
One of the platitudes often expressed by feminists is that "Rape is not a crime of sex, itís a crime of violence." Yet rarely do we see that depicted in film. In fact, I think feminists themselves miss the boat when they call for mandatory castration for rapists. Castration may deter oneís sex drive, but if one has violent tendencies, nothing will change. And I would say that point is brought up rather interestingly during Jenniferís rape scene. When itís time for Stanleyís turn with her, Jennifer pleads for an end. She offers Stanley a different sexual release, and even promises "to make you feel real good". Yet that only infuriates Stanley even more! If he wanted great sex, he could have had it. Instead, he beats her even worse, and then violates her even further. Itís violence that excites him, not sex. This is a powerful scene in I Spit on Your Grave, and only lends an aura of horror and realism that makes this movie so difficult to watch.
How could anyone think that Jennifer deserves even 1% of what happens to her? And yet, to this day, itís often the victims of rape who are put on trial more so than their attackers. Some detractors of this movie have said that this movie appeals to men who see nothing wrong with rape. But is that the movieís fault? If you find Jenniferís ordeal even slightly titillating, youíre already a creep, movie or not. Any man with one iota of decency will be horrified at the rape sequence, and that was Zarchiís intention from square one. Also, another criticism is that this is a "how-to" rape film. Please. Iíve heard better arguments from the Flat Earth Society. Again, if you canít plainly see how horrible the crime of rape is when watching I Spit on Your Grave, then thereís been something wrong with you all along.
Of course, not all of I Spit on Your Grave is Jennifer as the victim. As everyone knows (and the cover boasts), this woman is about to chop, break, and mutilate four men beyond recognition. Most importantly, pay attention to the way she stalks and kills her first two victims (the last two victims are not as detailed). Both times she watches silently from afar, like a cat, knowing just how and when to strike. Jennifer is a cunning warrior, not one to be trifled with. Compare that to the way the men loudly chase her through the woods when she is raped. Clearly Jennifer is the intelligent hero of the film, not the dim-witted animalistic men. And also, she uses her sexuality to lure her victims into deadly traps. Some may decry that sheíd actually attempt to seduce (even falsely seduce) her former rapists, but to me it shows how she and the men view sex. The men need to be in control at all times, but theyíre so insecure in her femininity that when she even briefly becomes interested in sex, they lose any and all survival instincts. And yet others despise Jenniferís seducing of her rapists as an indication that Zarchi is telling us she actually enjoyed the rape. Hello? Sheís not trying to start a relationship with the guys, sheís trying to KILL them! She knows that there is only one language these creeps speak, and only one way to get them off guard. Plus, it even goes to imply a sort of sexual assault of the men in the film, essentially a perfect (and poetic) revenge for Jennifer. Zarchi called his movie Day of the Woman, and for good reason; opposite of what so many critics have said, itís really a film that exalts the female and debases the males.
Another point often discussed and debated is when Jennifer goes to a church to ask for forgiveness PRIOR to her horrible deeds. Itís unsettling, even if it implies a biblical "eye for an eye" connotation. But I think that what makes it such an interesting idea is that it indicates that Jennifer is 100% sane and aware of exactly what sheís doing. I sometimes wonder what would happen if the events of the film resulted in a trial (I know, I know, no jury in America would ever convict her). Certainly an attorney might try the "temporary insanity" defense, but I donít think Jennifer is even slightly insane, not for one second. Even after the notorious castration scene, she looks for civility by turning on some opera music to drown out her victimís screams. She knows exactly what sheís done. Itís not pleasant, she does not enjoy it. It is just something that HAD to be done, and she had to be the one to do it.
Aside from the subject matter, the film itself needs a little discussion. Zarchi does let some scenes go on way too long (youíll hear about this in the commentary), some of the charactersí motivations seem a little off (why would the creeps have the unreliable Matthew kill Jennifer?), and a late scene in a diner seems misplaced. Not to mention that the order of the revenge is not what youíd expect. But the most notable technical aspect of I Spit on Your Grave is the total lack of music! No score, no pop music, nothing. Only a harmonica (played by one of the attackers) during the rape sequence, and the above-mentioned opera music. This total lack of music is very uncommon for film, and thus creates a dark ominous feel pretty much from the first frame. Weíre just not used to seeing a film this way, and Meir Zarchi has us off guard the entire time. Again, more proof that this is an attempt to show the realities of rape and violence, rather than the cinematic versions weíre used to. Real life doesnít have a soundtrack, and neither does I Spit on Your Grave.
I Spit on Your Grave is certainly not a "fun" picture to watch, but of course it was never meant to be. My comparison to Schindlerís List may be far from a perfect analogy, although both films present utter and unflinching brutality when a large segment of the population wants to pretend that these crimes donít exist. Iíve always felt itís a well-made film that tackles a subject head-on, and the numerous bad reviews indicate that itís still a subject that few really want to discuss.
I Spit on Your Grave is presented in a well-done anamorphic transfer, at its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Now, the previous Elite edition didnít look terrible, but the anamorphic enhancement adds a lot more here. The scenes in Jenniferís house (especially that crazy carpet!) looked quite digitized on the older disc, but everything looks a lot smoother and much more natural with the Millennium Edition. The detail is better, though the colors seem a little faded. Itís not a fabulous transfer, as some of the grain and murkiness still persists. But most of the movie takes place in daylight, so itís not too noticeable. I doubt that this film can possibly look any better.
If you had ever told me that I Spit on Your Grave would one day be available with a THX-approved DTS sound mix, thereís no way Iíd believe it. Meir Zarchi probably wouldnít either, as the sound was originally done on a simple mono recorder, often after the footage was shot. While Iím a big fan of DTS, here it seems like a bit of a waste. As mentioned above, there is no music at all in this film, and very few needs for surround or effects tracks. About the only time I noticed any directionality with the sound was early on as Jennifer walks through the woods, the chirping crickets seem to be all around. Thatís a nice effect, but not really necessary. Most of the film is dialogue (and even then, there are long periods of silence), and no amount of DTS processing would make it sound any better; the original recordings were probably always a little distorted A Dolby Digital 5.1 track is available, along with the original Mono track. To be honest, all three audio options are pretty much interchangeable.
This is the third in the Eliteís Millennium line. Their previous entries, Night of the Living Dead and Re-Animator offered nice improvements in sound and picture (just like this disc), but were really light in adding new supplemental features. Those discs had a couple of new interviews, but recycled old commentaries and other features that were previously available only on laserdisc. Nice discs, but hardly groundbreaking new versions.
Well, throw that all out the window when you see the added features on the I Spit on Your Grave Millennium Edition. While in the past it was questionable whether or not it was necessary to upgrade previous Elite discs for their Millennium counterparts, there is no doubt that anyone with even a remote interest in this film will find the new edition to be far superior.
Meir Zarchi breaks a long self-imposed silence for an audio commentary. This is quite possibly the most important commentary ever recorded, due to the filmís infamous reputation. Itís also an extremely well prepared commentary. Most directors are full of themselves, and talk just for the sake of talking. That, or itís been so long since the movie was filmed, itís almost erased from their memory.
Not so with Zarchi and I Spit on Your Grave (or Day of the Woman, his much preferred title). In fact, itís not a typical running commentary at all, but rather a series of Meir Zarchi essays read aloud. Some times, it doesnít even seem he was actually watching the movie while recording this. But that doesnít really matter, since heís obviously just reading pre-written text. Now, while this will of course lack spontaneity, it makes up for it in depth, as well as colorful and descriptive language. Itís almost poetic in spots.
Various aspects of the film such as the content, the making of the film, itís eventual distribution, and notorious reputation are discussed. We get to find out about the technical aspects, like the sound synchronization, location selection, editing, and much much more. Zarchi also tells the chilling tale that inspired him to make the movie. Some minor anecdotes from the filming, like the negative reaction of the reverend whose church was used, and Richard Paceís near fatal stunt sequence, break up the harsh discussions of rape. Finally, Zarchi answers his many critics, especially Siskel and Ebert. He even invites Roger Ebert to record a commentary himself. Needless to say, that probably will never happen. I could really go on for pages and pages about this fascinating discussion, but itís easier to just buy a copy of this disc and let Meir Zarchi do it himself. This commentary is so good, I honestly think it could be edited together and printed in book form.
But wait, thereís more. If thereís anything that horror fans have anticipated more than a Meir Zarchi audio track, itís a commentary (on any film, not just this one) by legendary film critic and television horror host Joe Bob Briggs. And we finally have one, with all of the fun things we expect from good olí Joe Bob (except the famous "Drive-In Totals"). But Joe Bob (real name: John Bloom) is not just a comedian. He clearly knows a lot about film, and discusses many of the famous rape-revenge movies, from Bergmanís The Virgin Spring all the way to the graphic French film Baise Moi. The comedy tones down a bit during the extended rape sequence, but even then, Joe Bob discusses point-of-view, enough to show he understands this film (and film in general) better than most critics that are out there. He really gets cooking about the time Jennifer is on her revenge. I honestly had to stop the disc and go back a few minutes several times, as I was laughing too hard. Combined, these two audio tracks will long be considered some of the best commentaries ever recorded.
While the commentaries are easily the pearl of the supplemental section, a few other extras that werenít on any previous release have been included as well. We have four theatrical trailers, two each for the different titles (Day of the Woman and I Spit on Your Grave). These trailers are entirely too long and with little variation. The three television spots flow much better. You also get three Day of the Woman radio spots.
The stills gallery is mostly video covers from around the world. Nothing too spectacular except maybe the South Korean VHS cover which actually shows a scene from Friday the 13 Part 5 on the back. Elite even pats themselves on the back and includes their own previous DVD release. Whatís missing, though, is the old large American VHS cover, the one I checked out of the video store nearly 20 years ago. Pressbook material includes the original Day of the Woman artwork, and I wish that the insert had included a small reprint of that poster. If you look around the disc, you can also find some on-set stills as well as a current picture of Meir Zarchi. And closing out the bonus features is a filmography, which is rather pointless since most of the cast only made this one film. Still, with the Meir Zarchi and Joe Bob Briggs commentaries, this is among my favorite DVDs in terms of extra content.
Hands down, the best DVD of 2002. This is a case of a DVD company taking a film that has a loyal cult following, and giving that cult something theyíve been waiting a long time for. Precious little has been said from the makers of this movie, but when we finally hear from Meir Zarchi, we realize that this was not the cheap exploitation flick itís so often considered. And for a drive-in film, the king of the drive-in has opened the door for even more quality audio commentary (Joe Bob will be doing more commentaries for Elite in the near future). I Spit on Your Grave (or, Day of the Woman) is an uncomfortable but important film, and Elite has given it utmost respect when many of Americaís most influential film critics wish it would just disappear from the Earth. Thatís not gonna happen. Good work, Elite.
Movie - A-
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B
Supplements - A++
- Running Time - 1 hour 40 minutes
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- DTS 5.1 Surround Sound
- Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
- Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
- Commentary by director Meir Zarchi
- Commentary by Joe Bob Briggs
- Theatrical Trailers
- TV Spots
- Still Photo Gallery
- Foreign and Domestic Art