Camille Keaton. What more is there to say about this woman? She’s so gorgeous, that I bet her feces smells like roses on freshly cut grass during the Spring. The statuesque and awfully beautiful Keaton is one of the highlights of the awfully gruesome “I Spit on Your Grave.” A film generally reviled, and yet so beloved among the great portion of movie lovers, this B revenge flick is a man hating saga before a slew of unofficial remakes stormed theaters in the 80’s. You have to appreciate a movie so reviled for doing what it set out to do, which is likely why many audiences are still offended by its cinematic offerings of a simplistic story of a woman being victimized and seeking vengeance, even to this day.
We sit there watching this woman be victimized almost endlessly, and after a while we want to seek pure revenge. That seems to be the general intent from director Zarchi. He draws out the pure horror for this character and brings the audience in at eye level. Hill is victimized and harassed, and chased, and raped, and raped, and raped some more. And it becomes utterly grueling to sit through. What did she do to deserve it? Nothing. She’s merely a victim of a series of senseless crimes, and she’s alone in this town. Why should you watch this? Curiosity, perhaps, experimentation, and experiencing what is, whether some like it or not, a cinematic zeitgeist of grind house filmmaking, and pure filmmaking in general. There’s simply nothing more to the plot than what can be described in two sentences.
An author vacationing at a local friend’s house to work on her book is attacked and raped by five men. Surviving, she appears two weeks later, and proceeds to kill them in a fit of bloody revenge. There’s simply nothing more to it. But what Marchi offers in this film is much more than dialogue or complexities can offer. It just visits a heinous and utterly senseless crime that seemed to almost be a sub-conscious word of warning to sexual freedom. This is a film that appeared subsequent to the feminist movement, and the free love era, and Hill seems to embody this attitude while being ravaged by the small town psychos who simply take that to their advantage.
Hill lies wide open, swims, and even lies on a boat in the river, and the group of men that watch and wait, make her pay for it. And many will say “She didn’t deserve this attack,” but Marchi seems to offer the notion that Hill may not have deserved it, but she sure was offering meat to the lions, whether she knew it or not. And she shows a woman’s wrath in ways that are still shocking. I mean, I guarantee you’ll re-consider getting into a hot bath with a woman after seeing what happens to the group leader Johnny. You really will. Women will cringe, men will cringe and instinctively cup their better half. Even decades later, the film still retains its shock factor and sheer gasp inducing imagery, and that’s an accomplishment. Keaton’s performance is rather fantastic and I stick to that notion.
Her rape is something that will be remembered for days on end, after viewing this. She screams, she suffers, and in one scene shambles home holding her arms up in sheer disgust at her violated, torn body. And once she seeks revenge, she hits the deep end and never comes back from it. “I Spit on You Grave” is not a film I’d normally enjoy: Man-hating cinema. But, it offers something that was genuine in its time, and it’s a classic that should be seen. In spite of the repetitiveness it gets caught in the halfway mark, “I Spit on Your Grave” is still an effective and shocking bit of revenge cinema with Camille Keaton burning herself into my brain as this gorgeous woman who becomes a stone cold punisher on the monsters who ravaged her.
In 1980 Roger Ebert described this as “A movie so sick, reprehensible and contemptible that I can hardly believe it’s playing in respectable theaters,” along with an obvious mortified declaration of: “There is no reason to see this movie except to be entertained by the sight of sadism and suffering.” It’s not surprising many folks consider this utter putrid, but “I Spit on Your Grave” should be looked on as a completely different sort of revenge film. It’s one that not only inspires such hatred from its heroine/victim Jennifer Hill, but it manages to inspire pure hatred from its audience. And it’s not surprising that many who defend it seem to suffer a harsh scrutiny, because I’ve found many seem to share Ebert’s thought process.
You can argue the film is sick, but you also have to admit it’s a very powerful rape and revenge thriller that set the standard and still compels, whether it’s through offending or mesmerizing its audience.