I Spit On Your Grave (1978): Movie Review

I Spit On Your Grave 1978 Review
I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (Meir Zarchi, 1978)

Review by Jason Lees, MoreHorror.com

Few films in horror history have divided audiences as much as Zarchi’s I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. Shot as DAY OF THE WOMAN, it’s the incredibly unforgiving story of the rape of Jennifer Hills, a young novelist up in the woods to get away from it all. While working on her new book, she runs into a group of locals who don’t take kindly to her big city ways. What follows is ugly, intentionally ugly, and as disturbing a film as you’re likely to ever see. There’s not a frame of Zarchi’s film that is meant to be enjoyed as entertainment. This is cinema as warning, what not to do and what to expect from a world when you don’t watch your step or when you step out of line.

There have been other films that dip into this landscape (Wes Craven’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT comes to mind) but few have the legs that I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE has. While it gets lumped in with 70’s exploitation fare, this really does stand out as being more. Rape can be made as a plot point, and many times it’s the entire premise of seedier films, but here it’s never meant to titillate or arouse. The attack on Hill (played with uber-realism by Camille Keaton) last over twenty minutes and is easily the most unsettling and unyielding footage I’ve ever seen. It’s not something you want to see more than once, but if you can last the sequence, then you can get more out of the experience than just being made to feel dirty.

And watching it more than once is the only way to appreciate I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. On the first viewing, you feel just wrong, questioning not only the filmmakers motives for making it, but your own for having watched it. It’s when you watch it again (usually months or years later) that you begin to see it for what it is: intentionally upsetting. Zarchi set out to make rape ugly, and to make those who want to watch to feel what it’s like to be attacked.

Zarchi took lots of flack on its initial release for being just this side of a pornographer, but there truly is art in the film’s execution. We get no score, no musical accompaniment to make the film more palatable. Most of the film is shot in wide masters, making us feel like the voyeurs we actually are. When the film turns to the revenge side, we are left out of Hill’s plans as much as her victims are. We see what is coming, and expect it, but not to the level that she goes.

When it’s over, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, like other divisive films such as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, is something that all horror fans need to see. Think of it as required viewing for a degree in Horror Filmdom. It’s not a film to be enjoyed, but it needs to be seen and experienced. Knowledge of it and its impact on the genre form the basis of almost all discussions into the art of horror. It’s these films, the ones that push the boundaries to the extreme that paved the way for others to follow. If I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE hadn’t done its job, we wouldn’t have been treated to other films like THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS years later. A movie about a serial killer targeting young women would never be seen as mass entertainment if earlier the borders of good taste hadn’t been established.

I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE is like getting an inoculation from your doctor. You know you need it, you know you have to endure it, you just don’t have to like it. And hopefully when it’s done, you won’t have to go back and experience it again.

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