Judge Bill Gibron actually liked this update of the controversial cult..."classic?"
Our reviews of I Spit On Your Grave (1978) (published January 16th, 2003), I Spit On Your Grave (1978) (published February 4th, 2011), I Spit On Your Grave (1978) (Blu-ray) (published February 7th, 2011), and I Spit On Your Grave (2010) (Blu-Ray) (published February 4th, 2011) are also available.
I respect your remake!
The original became a notorious video nasty, a banned and panned piece of exploitation trash that left pundits pale and advocates scrambling for any reasonable means of aesthetic support. It was called misogynistic, disgusting, and perhaps more importantly, irredeemable. Siskel and Ebert even lambasted its anti-feminist "rape fantasy" elements (and those in the audience who'd cheer them) on their late lamented TV show. So, of course, I Spit on Your Grave deserved a 2010 remake, right? Who didn't want to revisit the tale of a isolated writer sexually savaged by a group of perverted rednecks, only to have the tables turned in the end when the victim became the victimizer? Well, writer Stuart Morse and director Steven Monroe have done just that—and their adaptation is one of the better horror updates of the last few years.
Facts of the Case
Hot off the success of her latest novel, Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) rents a secluded cabin in the middle of a nondescript Southern nowhere. Getting lost along the way, she stops off at a gas station to fill up and ask for directions. There, she is hit on by skuzzy attendant Johnny (Jeff Branson, The Young and the Restless) and his dipstick buddies Stanley (Daniel Franzese, Killer Pad) and Andy (Rodney Eastman, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3). Rejected, they vow to get back at the uppity city "bitch." They get their chance after handicapped handyman Matthew (Chad Lindberg, Push) is called in to fix the place's plumbing. After a night of horror, Jennifer seeks help from the local sheriff, Storch (Andrew Howard, Shooters). Little does she know that the close-knit town is conspiring against her and, if she plans on surviving, she must take such horrific outlaw justice into her own bloody hands.
Along with revamps of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Last House on the Left, Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street, the 2010 take on I Spit on Your Grave proves that even the most misguided, miscreant idea can be given a breath of new (and not quite so nauseating) air. While the plot remains basically the same, the tone and temperament of this adaptation are light years away from the 1978/1980 version. While Day of the Woman (as the production was originally called) had a sleazy, seedy drive-in indecency about it, our current cast and crew want to treat the tawdry material with a small amount of respect. Yes, the motives of the men are still as suspect as a 13 year old teen's moustache and the conclusion is all about gory revenge vs. any manner of redemption, but 30 years of hindsight—and audience expectations—have upped the precarious playing field the filmmakers must trudge through, and they get by admirably.
This is a better film than the original, a more complete experience that provides more backstory into Jennifer Hills' situation (accomplished author, borderline alcoholic) and more characteristics for the criminals. Yes, we still have the mentally challenged man, the guy whose ego is too easily bruised by a city gal's brush off, but we also have a budding porn producer who never leaves home without his portable video camera and a countrified dandy who spends "two hours" on his hair. Add in a new accomplice—a slick, sick sheriff—and a far less slam-bang approach and you've got a semi-serious take on what is, otherwise, all gratuity and grunge. Make no mistake about it—I Spit on Your Grave 2010 does not try to excuse the actions of these horrific rapists. But instead of going for the gonzo spirit of the original, Monroe channels as much Straw Dogs as slime into his intentions.
The initial assault is handled in a much less graphic manner. Most of the gang element is shown via unsure hand held camerawork or simply remains off screen. While that might sound like a suggestion that the rape now is more "acceptable," it's actually a statement of our specific 2011 mindset. Unless you prolong the pain a la the new Last House on the Left (the unrated cut is almost unwatchable) we have become partially desensitized (read: PARTIALLY) to these kinds of attacks. They seem to happen all the time in films, and it is here for the clear and incontrovertible narrative manipulation it brings. We want Jennifer Hills to kick ass the minute we witness her defilement. While uncomfortable to experience, this attack allows for a more thorough destruction of the aggressors. It removes an element of enticement, and turns everything in a series of slasher intentions.
The killings are the best part about this update. Allowed the leniency of an unrated release (and three decades of perfected F/X), we get the kind of clever deaths more closely associated with a Saw-style effort. Jennifer has time to wallow in the excesses of her future crimes (the movie suggests she spends more than a month living off the land in premeditated exile) and the care and consideration (*wink*) shows. Each aspect of the revenge is a shout back to the film's set-up, from the acid facial given one good ol' boy to the shotgun poop chute injection. Like a Freddy or a Jason, we delight in the devious nature of the settlement. While no one would morally champion what Jennifer does (in a month, she could have had the FBI and a crew from Dateline down to really screw these scumbags), it's the kind of retribution this sort of cinema demands. We wouldn't be happy without it.
Of course, some will still kvetch about the movie's dark and disturbed tone, question every element of the set-up (why does a writer need to drink herself silly in the middle of hillbilly nowhere to capture her muse?), and squirm at the still-extreme exploitative nature of it all. But I Spit on Your Grave is that special kind of update that takes the best bits of the original without also mimicking its malfeasance. While experts such as Joe Bob Briggs make it clear that the original Day of the Woman has a more modern sensibility (he will argue its feminist slant all day long), it still feels like hardcore without the graphic humping. In its 2010 adaptation, I Spit on Your Grave returns to its horror roots, becoming as much about the dread as it is the disturbing sexual abuse. It will still rub numerous people the wrong way, but for those who always wondered about the dedication to the original, this remake provides an important bit of cinematic insight.
The DVD version of I Spit on Your Grave looks great, the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image delivering the desaturated image with clarity and a depth of detail. You can see the bristles in Johnny's buzzcut, the lack of teeth in an ancillary character's chattering mouth. While certainly not as crisp and clear as what Blu-ray could offer, this unrated edit looks amazing. On the sound side of things, the Dolby Digital Stereo 5.1 surround mix makes good use of the back channels, especially during events that occur in the lonely, seemingly limitless woods. We also get a nice sense of direction and space in the interior moments. The musical score also adds to the atmosphere, avoiding many of the more genre-like sonic steps to be evocative without going overboard.
As for bonus features, we get a great commentary (lots of insight and a welcome female perspective) from director Monroe and producer Lisa Hansen. There is also a collection of deleted scenes which comprise nothing more than snipped moments of unnecessary asides. The making-of featurette is short and lacking real depth, and the trailers and radio spots promise a prurience the movie will never deliver. All in all, a decent set of extras.
The original I Spit on Your Grave was never going to win any awards—never. Even acknowledgements for "Worst Of" seemed to avoid its dirty, despicable designs. On the other hand, one can easily see the update embraced by a courageous horror contingent. It plays directly into the designs of the contemporary genre geek without going too far into the insidious. The result remains a compelling, inventive variation on the standard "woman in peril" theme, not as completely corrupt as the first go round, but not too far from it. Many fans love to argue about the useless nature of the entire remake notion, and for the most part, they are right. Nothing truly matches the original fright fest for impact and staying power—that's why it's being recast for a contemporary crowd. I Spit on Your Grave actually benefits from the redux business model. It's a much better movie because of it.
Not Guilty, though it often feels like it should be.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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