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Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) leaves New York to a remote riverside cottage to work on her novel. When she fills up with petrol at the local garage, she attracts the attention of Johnny (Eron Tabor) and his friends Stanley (Anthony Nichols), Andy (Gunter Kleeman) and the slightly retarded Matthew (Richard Pace). They begin by taunting her, but it soon escalates into rape and bashing. When they leave her bloodied and unconscious, they persuade Matthew to go back and kill her to ensure the secret of their actions die with her. But Jennifer survives, recovers - and begins to take her bloody revenge.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I Spit On Your Grave was refused classification (ie banned) several times in Australia, the first in 1979, the last in 1997. But in June 2004, it was resubmitted and was given its R rating for DVD and video release. It's not the (uncut) film that's changed, it's community standards - and the OFLC's interpretation of the guidelines. Reviled and applauded in roughly equal measure on its debut, I Spit On Your Grave is simply a rape revenge film. But in the late 70s, with feminism the new social force, the film was seen by some - including its maker Meir Zarchi and its star Camille Keaton - as a film that showed the ugliness of rape, the mysoginistic mindset of the men who perpetrated it and proposed the empowerment of women, through the heroine's brutal revenge. Indeed, it still has its second, or alternative title displayed on marketing materials: Day of the Woman.

Roger Ebert was disgusted and lobbied to have it banned in the US; in the UK, it was lumped in with other so called 'video nasties'. Others have defended the film, and both sides of the argument get a say on this DVD, which even has a special Australia & New Zealand sub-menu to provide an outlet for the outrage and the praise.

Meir Zarchi still clings to his moral high ground, and with some justification. A film about rape is not - or should not - be entertaining and easy to watch. But if that's the tone and ambition of this film, to portray the ugliness of misogyny, then why, oh why, make such a false visual statement on the poster and flyer? The well proportioned woman, photographed from behind, is bruised and scratched, her flimsy underwear is torn, and her right hand is clutching a bloodied knife. Her buttocks are half exposed in a raunchy sort of way by her half torn panties. And to make things worse, she's not Camille Keaton, but a model chosen for her feminine curves. This image contradicts Zarchi, and since he was closely involved in the DVD release, he can't blame anyone else.

The imagery here is important, partly because it sets up certain expectations, but more because it triggers all the gender political arguments the film relies on to crave our forgiveness for its various flaws and shortcomings.

Perhaps biggest amongst these is the film's resolution, in which the brutalised young woman turns the tables on her attackers and brutally murders them one by one. And perhaps even in even more cold blood.... If this is supposed to empower women, I am not surprised there is so much confusion about feminism. At best, it's a case of vigilante justice, but at worst it's moving in the direction of condoning her actions in a moral sense. By Jennifer being even more violent and cold bloodied than the men, she regresses not advances any humanistic argument the film could mount. Which explains why the gang rape sequence lasts 25 minutes, providing us with the moral ammunition to forgive her.

Just on its own terms and in the context of low budget filmmaking, I Spit On Your Grave is notable for solid craft skills - as well as for its treatment of a subject matter that never goes away. (See Irreversible or Baise Moi for recent examples.) But it is still only likely to be of interest to film buffs and to those who enjoy exploitation films. And to academics debating the film's feminist credentials - or lack of them. It's certainly worth a look, and the commentaries - director Zarchi's thick Yiddish accent and flat delivery notwitshtanding - are both fascinating for different reasons. Zarchi is clearly proud of the film and is convinced of its rightfulness. He also adds some insights that are worth hearing.

But it's the dry and upbeat Joe Bob Briggs who brings energy, and an informed scepticism to his commentary, a sort of running review, filling our minds with all kinds of ideas that bounce off the screen as we watch the film with him. He's convincing and entertaining ... best thing on the disc.

September 30, 2004

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(US, 1978)

(aka Day of the Woman)

CAST: Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Pace, Anthony Nichols, Gunter Kleemann

DIRECTOR: Meir Zarchi

SCRIPT: Meir Zarchi

RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary by director Meir Zarchi; audio commentary by film critic Joe Bob Briggs; Australia & New Zealand reviews & articles; US & UK reviews & articles; stills, posters, radio spots, trailers.


DVD RELEASE: September 13, 2004

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