AUGUST 28, 2010
I actually just watched the original I Spit On Your Grave for the first time a few days ago, as I knew I'd be seeing the remake at Frightfest and wanted to see them "in order". As you can probably tell by the frequency of reviews with the rape-revenge tag here at HMAD, I'm not exactly a big fan of the rather limited sub-genre, and I knew enough about it to know that I had seen pretty much everything the movie had to offer in its trailer. But I have been hearing good things about the remake, and I am happy to report that I agree: this is a superior film to the 1978 one in just about every way.
Much like the (also superior) Last House On The Left remake, it's essentially the same movie, just better (at least for the most part, more on the changes later). It looks nicer, it's shot better, the actors aren't lousy, and the villains aren't complete idiots. I mean, yes, they're still morons who think it's a good idea to rape someone, but when she gets to her revenge portion, they don't all just assume she's OK with them and willingly go along with her into bathtubs and such. We have to suspend our disbelief a bit (OK, kind of a lot) to buy that she can lift these dudes into suspended traps and drag them around, but at least it otherwise doesn't come across as a cartoon, as it did in the original (seriously, one guy actually grabbed onto the boat motor in the 1978 one!).
The film also has some genuine suspense throughout the film, on both sides of the equation. EVerything in the original was just so matter of factly presented; there was no buildup to either her attack or her revenge. But here, director Steven Monroe (yes, the one who directed Sasquatch Mountain. He's improved.) effectively builds suspense from her original isolation and her eventual attack (she even manages to escape from them before anything bad happens, only to make things worse for herself). And then when it comes time for her to get her payback, she fucks with them for a bit. One of the rapists has a family, and thus she sends them a tape of her attack, befriends the wife, and eventually "kidnaps" the daughter, driving the guy insane. It's a lot more interesting than watching her strip and get into a tub with one of them, anyway (not that I am opposed to Sarah Butler showing skin - this is one insanely beautiful woman).
That particular rapist is played by Andrew Howard, who makes his second Frightfest appearance (he's also the main villain in the non-horror Isle of Dogs), and his character is not in the original. Perhaps it was inspired by the oft-mistaken tagline from the original film that promised FIVE men instead of four, but it's probably the biggest change in terms of structure. Since he is the sheriff, she goes to him for help, unaware that he's the worst of the lot, and it's his paranoia that drives much of the group's actions once they realize she might still be alive. I just wish they hadn't cast Howard in the role - he's a good actor, but as soon as he appeared I knew he was bad, rendering the next 10 minutes weightless, as they are trying to make you think he's on her side. It's like, just get on with it, there's no way he's a good guy.
Another improvement is that she kills them in "movie satisfaction" order, saving Howard for last. In the original, she killed the worst of the lot 2nd, rendering the climax a bit unsatisfying, as she was taking on two borderline anonymous folks. It'd be like killing Hans Gruber in the first reel and having the final showdown be against Tony or Franco. And she gets ironic payback against all of them - the guy with the video camera (he likes to "watch") gets his eyes plucked out by crows, the one who sodomized her gets a shotgun up the ass, etc. How she became such a torture maven is a bit unclear (someone with these survival instincts should have been able to get away in the first place, no?); more than one person I spoke to after the screening said that she should have been a horror novelist or screenwriter, which would have been enough to justify this particular aspect of the plot (I countered that maybe she just liked to watch the Saw films).
Another minor blunder is that she is characterized as a complete klutz. She spills wine all over herself, gets lost trying to find the place, drops her phone in the toilet, etc. - how is it she can manage to set up a wired shotgun trap without blowing herself away in the process? But this is where Butler's casting pays off - she's so personable and cute, you just go along with it. Or at least, I did.
And even though this was an edited (albeit only slightly) version, it's still pretty messy. They don't do as much damage to her face this time (woo!), but she does a number on the five guys - I don't think I've ever seen so many shots of drool/blood pouring out of people's mouths in a single movie, all the result of her taking bats, pliers, needles, and yes, acid to their faces. And while it's actually less disturbing than the geyser of blood coming from under the water in the original, the obligatory castration features a mangled prosthetic (and then some), which of course got a huge round of applause (as did just about all of her revenge actions).
Speaking of the applause, the movie is a bit morally questionable. We cheer for her torturing these guys, even though she's actually being tougher on them than they were on her. You never really feel BAD for these assholes, but at the same time, I couldn't help but wonder how the film would be received had the sexes been reversed. So it's sort of a "crowd-pleasing rape movie", which is just odd. I myself don't really care - the fest has been a bit short on "stand up and cheer" movies. Plus I wasn't really expecting anything too upsetting; as soon as I saw the film's tagline ("It's date night"), I knew that they weren't going for the same sort of "serious" approach as the original, and the rape scene is much less painful to watch (it's shorter and partially off-screen). But I'm not sure if others will find it as acceptable. I guess we'll find out soon enough; Anchor Bay is releasing the film Stateside very soon. Perfect date film?
What say you?