Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton), a writer working on a new novel rents a riverside cabin in upstate New York. Upon arrival she inadvertently attracts the wrong kind of attention from four deadbeat locals who harass her. They eventually attack Jennifer in the woods and strip her naked for the village idiot, Matthew (Richard Pace) to rape her. She is then repeatedly attacked and raped a further two times and left for dead. As an afterthought they send Matthew back to kill her but he’s unable to do it; he tells the guys that she’s dead and they believe him. Jennifer recovers and sets about her bloody revenge, ensuring that the punishment fits the crime…
This was one of the movies I first saw in the early 80’s because it was banned as one of the ‘video nasties’ on the BBFC hit list. Described in less than glowing terms by Roger Ebert as “A vile bag of garbage” and “The worst film ever made” it has a reputation that is warranted. It isn’t the worst movie ever made; it is vile, repulsive and shocking, not necessarily negative terms when used to describe a movie intended to shock.
The subject matter, a violent rape and revenge has been done many times before, most notoriously in ‘Last House on the Left’ and ‘Straw Dogs’ (both 1972) although the revenge in the latter is not a reaction to the rape. The difference with ‘I Spit on Your Grave’ (1978) is in writer/director Meir Zarchi’s refusal to cut away from the rapes, show them in locked shots without any score (taken to its natural conclusion in Gaspar Noe’s ‘Irreversible’). He then made the punishments ‘fit the crime’ so to speak. Zarchi himself has staunchly defended the film as a feminist work, and to his credit, the character of Jennifer is not a weak victim, she’s a fighter.
I watched the original again only recently after I’d seen the remake. I didn’t particularly enjoy it the first time I saw it and was curious to see if it still warranted its reputation. It is not particularly well made, the direction is weak, the editing sloppy and Keaton apart, the acting is poor. The violence is well choreographed and although the rapes are graphic, shocking and unpleasant viewing, the revenge attacks are bloody and should satisfy most gorehounds.
The movie has its critics and its defenders. I neither love nor loathe it. It is what it is, a nasty rape/revenge flick and that’s never going to please everyone. It features an incredibly powerful poster/cover that the sequel wisely replicated.
Quality: 2 out of 5 stars
Any good: 2 out of 5 stars