Half rape, half revenge and all repulsive, Steven R. Monroe’s remake of Meir Zarchi’s grisly 1978 exploitation picture, which was made notorious by Robert Ebert’s excoriating review, is far more professionally made than the earlier version. Of course it can’t match the shock value of the original, and given the plentitude of similarly gory fare nowadays it’s unlikely to spur any Ebert-sized outrage. But though this new “I Spit on Your Grave” doesn’t really offer much more than standard-issue torture-porn nastiness, it’s certainly efficiently made for what it is. The problem for many will simply be what it is.
As penned by Stuart Morse, however, the retread does shift the emphasis somewhat. Of course a major element is the rape of writer Jennifer (Sarah Butler), who’s taken up residence in an isolated cabin, by a trio of locals—would-be ladies’ man Johnny (Jeff Branson) and his pals, camera-toting sloth Stanley (Daniel Franzese) and sleazy Andy (Rodney Eastman) with slick-backed hair and a baseball bat—who bring feeble-minded plumber Matthew (Chad Lindberg) along to participate. The assault isn’t muted, to be sure, and its aftermath is particularly ugly, but still it serves basically as prelude to the real meat (dripping with gore as it is) of the meal.
That’s made up of the imaginative reprisals that Jennifer, returned from her wrongly presumed death, inflicts on her attackers. Her carefully-crafted death-traps resemble nothing more than Jigsaw John’s elaborate schemes from the “Saw” franchise, and each of them is, of course, a clever commentary on each man’s particular persona. And her vengeance also extends to the local sheriff (Andrew Howard), whose adherence to the law has proven far less than complete.
There’s certainly a grim intensity to all this, and a strain of gallows humor as well, especially in the revenge sequences in the final half-hour, which the camera lingers over with glee that you can see either as merely sadistic or as just deserts, depending on your point of view. The result is that in the end the movie leaves a distinctly bad taste; you feel in need of a shower after watching it. The acting is pretty rudimentary. Butler actually generates some real power during the rape scene and its immediate aftermath—in contrast to the first forty or so minutes, when she’s stiff and dull, and the revenge conclusion, in which she’s simply shrill—but though all the men all come on too strong, they’re certainly convincing scumbags. (It’s difficult to believe that Eastman is the same fellow who played the handsome young mute student in “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3.” He hasn’t aged well.) A few amusing moments are provided by Tracey Walter as Earl, the toothless Gabby Hayes type who rents Jennifer the cabin.
Technically, the crew has pulled off the trick—not all that easy—of using good equipment to make a film look grubby and grimy. The result contributes powerfully to that sense that the product is so unsavory that you feel guilty about watching it at all.
You can try to justify “I Spit On Your Grave” by arguing that it’s a feminist tract that shows a woman taking justified vengeance on a bunch of soulless brutes. But that’s really a dodge. The real question comes down to this: do you choose to endure this sort of ugly experience or not? This picture has been made, and made expertly, for those who do. You know if you’re among them.