FEBRUARY 9, 2011
I watched the original I Spit On Your Grave sometime last summer, but didn’t review it. Partly because I was busy at the time (forget why) and didn’t have time to go through the extras on the Millennium DVD I owned, and partly because I really didn’t care much for the movie and thus didn’t have the interest (I watched it on a day I had already watched something else for HMAD). But to celebrate their remake, Anchor Bay has picked up the rights to the original and released it on Blu-ray, and I got them both to review, so here we go!
Well, as I mentioned in my review for the remake (from Frightfest), I prefer it to the original. One of the reasons I didn’t care for the 1978 version is because the bad guys were so damn cartoonish and stupid, I just lost all connection to the movie. Few would argue that it was a poorly paced and oddly structured film (why does she kill Johnny before the other two guys?), but for a movie that so graphically depicted a rape, it sure as hell wasn’t interested in having anything else be realistic. While any rapist can be easily categorized as a moron, having a guy grab onto a boat’s motor is just inane, borderline ZAZ level silliness. Their plan also made zero sense, waiting around outside and trusting Matthew, a dimwit who couldn’t even bring himself to rape her, to kill her in cold blood instead of doing it themselves (hell Johnny actually STOPS one guy from attacking her – if he wanted her dead why not just let the guy continue beating her to a pulp?). I suppose there’s some sort of idea here that all men are scum AND stupid, but it doesn’t really come across that way – it just feels like bad writing.
And, yes, it’s simply uncomfortable to watch at times, and at other times just plain sloppy. They rape this poor woman over and over, and when we’re not watching that (or her revenge), we’re watching endless shots of people walking around or staring off into space. Even the “action” scenes go on forever – count how many times we see a motorboat circling around someone in this movie. In short - Meir Zarchi’s editing of his own direction leaves much to be desired. And again, it’s probably the intent, to sort of lull us into some sort of complacency at times and then juxtapose it with ugliness, but I’m just not into that sort of thing unless there’s some sort of stylistic creativity to the story as well. Irreversible, for example, is just as uncomfortable, but there’s a mystery to the film and a real sock to the gut at the end that sort of turns the whole affair on its end, making you rethink what you just saw. Hell, even a film like Red, White and Blue, which I wasn’t a big fan of, at least had some great performances and again, a knockout ending that almost made up for the film’s shortcomings.
By contrast, the remake manages to improve on a lot of these areas simply by being a better made film. While it’s possibly counterproductive to make this story look “slick”, there’s no denying that by adding suspense, some actual production value, and even a slightly more complex story, the film is much easier to enjoy as a piece of entertainment, but without really sacrificing the ugliness of what happens to Jennifer. The rape scene is still very brutal and upsetting, and male audience members will still cringe at the scenes of her revenge (if not more so) in the 3rd act.
They also made up for one of the ‘issues’ with the first film – its tagline promised five men, but the movie only had four. Here we get a fifth (Andrew Howard), who like Johnny in the original has a family but unlike that one they actually play a part in the proceedings. The revenge sequence is also improved, so that the end of the film focuses on her getting back at the two most vile of the bunch, and using her more creative “traps” (she’s sort of a Jigsaw-esque trap-builder in this one) instead of just waving an axe around like Jennifer in the original. I also loved the performance of Sarah Butler here – she feels much more natural as both a “babe in the woods” and as a revenge-driven femme fatale than the original’s Camille Keaton, who sort of had a dazed, slightly “out of it” demeanor even before she arrived at the house. Butler really shows the effect that these events had on her, and thus it makes her revenge easier to cheer on, in a way. She also gets back at her attackers without disrobing and letting them fool around with her again, another issue with the original film that never made any damn sense to me.
Both discs come with a nice array of extras. The most essential is Joe Bob Briggs’ commentary track on the original, in which he (rightfully) dismisses the idea that the film glorifies rape and/or sides with the men in any way, taking some of its harshest critics (Siskel and Ebert in particular) to task for their inaccurate depiction of the movie (and as I myself was misread and made to look somewhat stupid by Ebert in his Last House remake review, it was pretty easy to side with Briggs on this “argument” – Ebert’s a legend but for some reason he never seems to “get” these kind of movies, or their defenders). But he also makes it fun, pointing out a few of the rather silly moments and having a grand old time mocking the Matthew character. I will admit his commentary actually made me appreciate the film a little bit more, which is more than I can say for Meir Zarchi, whose track is as dry as they come. Not only does he read everything from prepared notes, but he also spends too much time telling the story (and I mean STORY – it sounds like it came from a book) of the real life incident that inspired the making of the film, and he even reads the script at one point. Plus he reads reviews and other stuff, leaving almost no time to offer any insight on the film’s production, casting, etc. He does tell a few such anecdotes, but keep your remote handy to find them amidst all of the endless yammer that sounds more like one of those Tim Lucas commentaries on a Mario Bava DVD than a commentary by the guy who wrote and directed the movie.
New to this Blu-ray (the commentaries are carried over from the previous release) is a “29 minute” interview with Zarchi. I put that in quotes because the thing sports what has to be a record FOUR minutes of ugly titles rattling off the (few) names that worked on the piece. I mean, it’s a static shot of a guy in his house, cut in with some clips – hardly the most creative interview setup. Do we really need four minutes dedicated to its crew? A single card with all of their names, taking 12 seconds of screentime, would have sufficed. Add in the fact that he’s a slow talker, and there’s really only like 15 minutes of material here. Most of it is just about the film’s distribution problems (the MPAA, shady producers, etc), which is kind of interesting but again, he offers precious little insight to the actual production. Perhaps having Keaton or one of the male actors join him to reminisce would have been a better idea. The trailers are also included, and its interesting to note the difference in marketing; the 1978 “Day of the Woman” trailer is much more abstract and “arty”, whereas the re-release (with the I Spit On Your Grave title) pretty much looks like every Grindhouse trailer ever made – lot of out of context shots of violence and nudity aided by an enthusiastic voiceover. It’s also a good way to gauge how much effort went into the film transfer – the trailers look like shit whereas the movie (barring some issues that are the result of the film’s low budget/small crew production) looks phenomenal.
Unfortunately, while the movie itself is better, the bonus features on the remake leave much to be desired. The commentary track with director Steven Monroe and producer Lisa Hansen is a typically dull affair where they tell brief on-set anecdotes about the generator losing power or actors really being hit in violent scenes, and nothing about, for example, why they wanted to remake the movie in the first place. I was also somewhat taken aback by the fact that it’s not until the end credits that they mention that the DP died about a month before the film’s release, and then as soon as they do, go back to giving shoutouts to crew members and themselves. Just feels very mercenary. The making of featurette is pretty generic and overly clip heavy, but it’s almost worth a look just to hear one of the actors claim he saw the 1978 original on Joe Bob Briggs’ TV show, since Briggs points out on HIS commentary that the film never aired on television at all, let alone on his own show (despite much begging on his part). There are also a few deleted scenes, most of which deal with the bad guys yelling at each other, but there is a good moment that should have been left in dealing with Jennifer’s first meeting with Matthew, as well as a small callback to the original’s religious references.
Ultimately, neither film will ever be something I want to watch over and over (or even ever again), but both deserve at least one look. I personally prefer the remake but only because it improved some of the things I didn’t like about the original, despite being beat for beat pretty much the exact same movie. Which film you prefer will probably depend on your sensibilities and how long you can stomach watching a woman be raped (while just as brutal, the remake’s version is thankfully shorter). However, Briggs’ commentary on the original is a must listen, so both discs are of equal value in my eyes.
What say you?