Wednesday, 6 July 2011

I Spit on Your Grave (2010)

Country: USA

In principal I do not object to the idea of remaking films. Genres are after all founded upon filmmaking elements that are entirely familiar to the audience. Anyone with a love of genre cinema, should by the very definition of a genre, have a very high tolerance for the idea of remakes. The trick of course is to present those familiar elements in a manner which seems fresh and new, that so many genre films fail to do this, and in effect become remakes by any other name seems to be overlooked in favour of outright hostility toward the slew of horror remakes that are helping to keep the genre (commercially at least) alive. American cinema is a cinema of remakes, and if you think it is bad now, spare a thought for the silent era, a time in which the vogue for remaking films was at its height. No, the problem for me is pointless remakes. It is not enough simply to remake a film for commercial reasons, one has to provide something that the original doesn’t. The easiest way might be to take a film and adapt its principal themes to a socio/political concern of relevance. The remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004) manages to achieve this, and it surprises me not, that it is largely considered one of the better remakes. The first thing you need then is a film with the plot potential to do this. The original I Spit on Your Grave (1978) is a witless and moronic film, but this could be forgiven if there was some aspect to it that might be relevant to contemporary society. Instead the remake opts to simply regurgitate the same themes and concerns as the original did in 1978. The result is a film that is utterly and completely pointless.

I won’t spend this review (like the majority of others) rattling on about the moral and ethical debates that surround rape/revenge thrillers. Suffice it to say that Meir Zarchi’s original film is far more interesting when approached from the perspective of its distribution. Especially in the United Kingdom where it became one of the pin up poster boys of the Video Nasties campaign. The films content is as repugnant, odious, and slimy as one would expect. It is a gruelling and punishing exercise in raw and mindless exploitation. It is a film that is both impossible to like and impossible to take seriously. Those that do profess a liking for the film are doing so purely to be confrontational and controversial. The only other alternative is that they are mentally ill. The man responsible for this ‘adaptation’ is Stuart Morse who I’m sure takes great pride in claiming this credit. The only major change that Morse makes is to include a local Sherriff (Andrew Howard) who takes his corruption too an hysterical level of anal rape absurdity. The Sherriff adds nothing to the proceedings, apart from the clichéd device of backwater authority figures being a part of the conspiracy. Some effort is made to contrast the Sherriff’s wonderful family home life with his brutal violation of Jennifer, but apart from make us loathe the despicable character even more this isn’t used interestingly either.

Every antagonist, without exception, is so loathsome and vile that it soon becomes unbelievable. In the original believability was reduced by the amateurish performances, but here the performances are very convincing indeed. It is pretty clear the actors don’t even think of them as human beings. With the exception of the retard, there isn’t even a cursory concession to remorse or guilt. They are totally vindicated in their actions because they believe Jennifer is a rich bitch city dweller who was asking for it. A mentally handicapped individual becomes the only character with fully functioning emotions. Despite the fact that he is coerced into raping Jennifer (it’s fairly clear that he has no choice in this) he still pays with his life. This is one of numerous moments in which the screenplay lacks pathos. But the filmmakers by this point are too intent on making her a killing machine with an imagination for torture that would make Jigsaw proud. Jennifer herself is a fairly unconvincing novelist, but the moment the character moves from victim too aggressor actress Sarah Butler is in her element.

It is a film of two halves; the first half is by some distance the most gruelling and cruel. The verbal humiliation Jennifer suffers, the schoolyard bullying and mockery, the braying laughter of the rednecks is far worse than the hyper-stylised and ridiculous tortures Jennifer cooks up in the second half. The second half rapidly degenerates into the debased juvenilia of ‘torture porn’ and it is here that the cumulative effect of the film lessens considerably. Each torture set piece is an ironic joke. It becomes clear that the cruelty of the rednecks in the home invasion and rape sequences is purely a device with which to set up elaborately stupid tortures that function like the punch line to a sick joke. Nevertheless I Spit on Your Grave is extremely well executed, well performed, and a far more professional proposition than the original. The location work in Louisiana is evocative and beautifully shot by Neil Lisk, and the direction by Steven R. Monroe is taut and impressive. The original film was abysmal, but it had a life beyond its content, a fascinating distribution history and a legendary battle with censorship bodies. It is these extra-textual elements, and these elements only, that make the original film worth considering. Unfortunately this senseless remake doesn’t even have that.

© Shaun Anderson 2011


  1. It always sounded pointless to me. I hated the original so why would I subject myself to more degradation and shit? Good review.

  2. Nice write up, Shaun. I agree with you on the principle of remakes - I'm not against them either, just fucking fed up with them! I approached this one with a little trepidation, after all, the original - while cheap, nasty and grimy - still packs a weighty punch and had me running for the shower afterwards. I got a bit wound up in the whole 'why remake a film like that? What are the filmmakers trying to say? Will it be relevant?' Blah blah blah.

    Like you said about the original - there's room for improvement, especially on a technical level. And this is where the remake excels - perhaps a bit too much, though it was nowhere near as 'polished' and shiny and stylised as I feared it might be. The first half was all expertly mounted tension and sleaze, and Monroe really delivered. However, the bizarre and abrupt shift in tone in the second half lessens the impact and moves us back into 'safe' territory - the absurdity of the deaths is way OTT. I thought it was still solidly entertaining though.

  3. I have never watched the original because I feel like I might not like it, it looks to me like it will be the same kind of film that the original Last House on the Left was like, a badly made film that horror fans love to worship for some reason.

  4. I never had time for the original, a gory exercise in cinematic pointlessness, your review has convinced me that the remake is much the same. Great work as always shaun!

    (btw thanks for the exam support, done them all now just waiting for results day!)

  5. Awesome write up, Shaun. I did find the two films swapping their points of focus of interest. The original had 45 minutes or more dedicated to the rape while the remake spent more time dwelling on the almost Looney Tunes level of torture methods. Also, the revenge in the original was more believable--Keaton used sex as a means to seduce the men. Butler, on the other hand, seems to become a stone faced terminatrix with a hidden knack for elaborate and resourceful torture contraptions. A similar plot device is also in STORM WARNING (2008), but it's at least explained to not seem quite so outrageous.

    I do own the original film and think it's a competently made piece of raw exploitation, a product of its time and little else. It succeeds in what it sets out to do and for me, was far more successful in getting its audience behind the heroine. I don't think the acting is horrible, but not that good either. It's "one of those 70s movies" with a look about it that adds to its inherent queasiness. There seems to be two camps on this one--those who see it as a powerful example of the ugliness of rape and those who see it as trashy exploitation. I think both sides are right. Zarchi stated he wanted to show the most brutal sequence of the rape of a woman and I think he succeeded "admirably". I put this one in the camp of films like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST wherein their makers proclaim to be making a statement, but ultimately end up creating a few reels of hypocrisy instead.

    Regarding the new film, it was really not much different than any other similar movies that have been made in the last decade, or so. It was far more polished and had a sheen that the original lacked. It was also unnerving in places, too. The bit with the psycho cop and his unknowing family reminded me a lot of the Kurt Russell suspenser BREAKDOWN. Also, despite the humiliation she endures, I didn't connect with Butler's character the way I did with Keaton's in the original and less time was spent with her recuperation as well as seeming less human in seeing her vendetta through. The grueling nature of the original really is painful to watch and sometimes I wonder what the cast must have been thinking and feeling when doing movies like that.

    I do think the makers of this new one attempted (and failed) to recapture some of the notoriety surrounding the original, which, as you pointed out, is one of, if not the main attraction and source of its allure both during and after its theatrical release. Its merits being the controversy as opposed to the actual movie itself. I think the new one succeeds in what it sets out to do and that isn't anything any different from Zarchi's picture and the same subject matter was done much better in MS. 45 (1981) anyways.

  6. Greg Stuart Smith9 July 2011 at 02:47

    Great review. Good comments, too, especially you venoms5. Haven't seen the new one. Totally missed that they even remade the sucker! I can't think of any remakes (maybe other then The Thing -- which was based on the novel "Who Goes There?" and, yes, Dawn Of The Dead ) that ever packed the punch of the original. I mean, sure they look and sound better, and are acted better, but so what? I mean, acting, sure, that helps... just think of all the thousands they spent on acting classes!

    My point is, lavishly produced (by comparison) remakes of indie 70's horror films, is normally just a bad idea. It's ludicrous to me that they spend as much as they do on remaking films that were made on shoes strings with basically all non-actors. Most of the individuals responsible for these films are just trying to cash in on the notoriety of the original. Name cache means everything in the movie business these days... sadly, even in horror.

    But not just in horror. They've remade Straw Dogs... and set it in the South for Christ sake! The South! How's that for a novel concept!!!

    Anyway, good point, Shaun, about how remakes are keeping horror afloat in many respects.

  7. @ Mr Xploit - I cannot fault your impeccable logic sir!

    @ James - I think I’m actually more fed up with films that aren’t remakes but feel like they are. I’m in total agreement about the technical polish of the remake, but its an element which ultimately distances the viewer. The problem is that even very low budget independently produced horror films such as this look great. The original had a certain low grade amateurishness to it that made the effect all the more convincing. I’d be surprised if anybody found the second half of the film challenging or difficult.

    @ Franco - I personally think the original film was designed to be a wholly loathsome viewing experience. If there are people out there who like it, they are mentally ill, and have missed the point the filmmaker was trying to make. Yes, certain horror fans do seem to worship films like this, and those that populate the more extreme end of the genre. I’m not sure who they are trying too impress.

    @ Cal - I wouldn’t say the original is entirely pointless. If anything it did create an important debate in the UK about sexual violence and censorship. I’ve always felt that the most interesting thing about the original are the events and debates it inspired. I’m sure you’ll do just fine come results day…be sure to let me know how you got on.

    @ Brian - I couldn’t agree more about the different interpretations of the Jennifer character. In the original she is also seen entering a church, asking for forgiveness for the havoc she is about to wreak. Without a doubt the original Jennifer is a more carefully constructed character. I think Keaton had a certain worldliness to her, for a start she actually convinces as a novelist. She has a bookish and artistic sensibility about her. Which makes their mockery of her work all the more devastating. In the original I found the moment in which they tear up her manuscript and laugh at her writing one of the worst aspects of the home invasion humiliation.

    @ Greg - The interesting thing about this remake is that it was very cheaply produced. The budget was a mere $1,500,000. But even a trifling budget like that can result in beautiful looking technically sound films. I’m open to a remake of STRAW DOGS, I can imagine that working out quite well if it was handled intelligently.

    Thanks to all of you for commenting, always appreciated :-)

  8. Greg Stuart Smith10 July 2011 at 04:46

    Wow. Only 1.5 million. That is very low for a film like this. I guess I should educate myself on a subject before I rant. I was speaking more to the Michael Bay produced Chainsaw remakes and prequels, those sorts of films, reboots, re-reboots, or what-have-yous...

    I find that dollar amount interesting, too, because it shows that in today's age, it is possible to make a film for that amount of money and still make it look slick. You wrote above: "The problem is that even very low budget independently produced horror films such as this look great." Right! It's a big dilemma. Do horror films begin to stray to far from their nightmarish origins/roots when they look too "slick" or "great?" For me, the answer is: most of the time, yes.

    Maybe that's just because I'm thirty-four, but I don't think it's just that. I do believe that films are beginning to look so good, that it actually makes it harder to buy into what's happening on the screen, to totally suspend disbelief. I think this is especially true in horror. I think it's one of the main reasons why the docu-horror sub-genre is as popular as it is: because the low-fi production qualities (which even that is becoming debatable) of these films more closely approximate themselves to that part of the brain where horror resonates.

    This is just a theory, of course, but I think the same thing can be said about sound, too -- and this goes for all movies. Less is more. Form follow function, etc.

    Funny, too, how at the bottom of the one sheet, they included the tag: "Day Of The Woman." I hope they were being ironic.

    My two cents.

  9. Great review Shaun! Although this film is easier on the eye than the Original it neither improves or revamps the original story. As you alluded to a film of two halves, the film fleets from psychological torture and rape, to a woman re-born with new powers & skills in creative torture. (Maybe she took Jigsaws idiots guide to torture course) That said the acting was palatable throughout & for a budget of 1.5 million a snip on most of the American remakes of today. I see they still kept the amputation of the penis scene in. Although the Originals scene for me is far more horrifying! Even now 10yrs after first seeing I Spit on Your Grave, I still cannot shake the moment when Jennifer lures one of her attackers into a bath with the promise of consenting sex, when part the way into be pleasured by her he say's "oh that feels so good it hurts" and then the blood starts to fill the bath. That's not say I felt sorry for him in that moment. It was more that feeling of realism which is why a shiver still goes down my spine when re-visiting the film. I guess that feeling of realism that the original holds is why is makes it more believable albeit only just than the 2010 remake. I also agree that the majority of so called fans of the Original only say this to seem non-conformist, almost with a sad belief that enjoying something that should leave a bad taste in your mouth makes you cool. I am also keen to see the Straw Dogs remake!

  10. Cheers mate! Yes the shift in the second half is not particularly believable within the context of the narrative. As I point out in my review, the humiliation and degredation of the first half, is entirely set up for the purposes of ironic torture sequence punchlines. The castration is a shock moment, but as I mentioned to a previous commenter, for me the worst part in the original is when they are cruelly mocking her writing. I'm surprised that the original has any 'fans'. It has its place in film history, it generates debate about sexual violence, censorship, and has an interesting feminist angle, but there is nothing too enjoy.


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