Judge Bill Gibron just can't get behind this exploitation quickie from Wicked Pixel auteur Eric Stanze, even though he's been a Stanze fan for a long time.
Oddball Exploitation with a Repugnant French-Mandated Twist?
Sandy and Kevin have a long history together. Their on again/off again relationship has led to personal conflict and emotional turmoil. When Kevin's brother (and Sandy's ex-boyfriend) rapes and kills a young girl, the effect on both parties is immediate. For Kevin, it means a jail sentence as an accessory. For Sandy, the wound runs much deeper. She is tormented over her companionship choices and how they reflect on who she is inside. After Kevin escapes from prison, the two hook up in the house of a former friend, and it's here where Sandy learns the horrible truth. Kevin blames her, and the three other men he has tied up in the basement, for landing him in the slammer—and he intends to torture and kill each and every one of them for their part in his predicament. Surprisingly, things don't turn out quite the way he planned and, before long, Sandy is taking on the role of avenger. See, she also has a history with the three guys held captive. And somewhere deep inside her, there's a desire to see them suffer. Unless the police can get there in time, our haunted heroine will be exacting her revenge and shouting I Spit on Your Corpse, I Piss on Your Grave.
Eric Stanze definitely deserves better than this. One of the few independent filmmakers who can legitimately claim the title of auteur, he has delivered some startlingly original genre efforts over the last ten years. From the psychological science fiction of Ice from the Sun to the effective Evil Dead mimicry of Savage Harvest, he is one of the most visionary directors in the outsider realm. But low-budget production is a harsh mistress, and a body's gotta pay the bills some way. Entering into a deal with DVD distributor Sub Rosa Extreme and given the standard mandate (make some quick, fly-by-night exploitation titles), he oversaw the completion of over a half-dozen direct-to-digital offerings. With titles like Inbred Redneck Alien Abduction, Bizarre Lusts of a Sexual Deviant, and The Undertow, there was as much creativity as crap present, and very few of these films deserve a second mention. For his part, Stanze found himself writing, directing, and starring in a stereotypical rape/revenge flick with the mouthful moniker I Spit On Your Corpse, I Piss On Your Grave. The name alone should suggest the type of movie this is and, for the most part, your conjecture would be correct. But thanks to some rather odd requests from French financiers and a couple of crazy suggestions from the cast, what we end up with is something far more depraved than Hostel Part II, and about as compelling as Roth-inspired rejects like Turistas.
Again, Stanze is much more talented than this. Even when working in a very similar vein (the rather repugnant Scrapbook), he shows that he is an artist first, a shill second. Unlike others in the realm of homemade heroes, camcorder pretenders who don't do more than point and shoot, this is a man who understands the language of cinema. He recognizes the power in mise-en-scene and strives to bring in elements like thematic resonance and solid symbolism into the mix. He's experimental without being brazen, mainstream without resorting to formulaic Hollywood tricks. Why then is Spit so slight? Why does it have none of the heft that makes previous Stanze efforts so evocative? Well, for starters, the movie is wildly uneven and a tad confusing. We begin with a random conversation that leads to some voiceover narration. Toss in a totally gratuitous sex scene and more talking, and soon the credits are rolling. Before we even understand who's who, a rape has occurred and an off-screen trial has sent a main character to prison. One breakout later and it's back to the booty calling. Of course, we haven't even begun to broach the second half of the film, in which a self-defense killing careens wildly out of control, turning one character into an instant serial killer right before our eyes.
It's at this point where Stanze both wins and loses us. We want our heroine to get her revenge on the men who made her life a living hell (though, frankly, a lot of her issues are clearly self-made and unrealistic), but did it have to involve feces, emasculation, and an obvious bow to Born Innocent? Granted, the torture material is merely gratuitous for gratuity's sake, but the lack of a legitimate lead-up to all the carnage is what makes Spit seem so fractured. Emily Haack's Sandy is nothing more than an available naked chick with lots of disorienting body art. Her performance is not really brave, just baffling. Perhaps she could explain the point behind the broomstick masturbation scene (or the actual penetration we witness)? Even better, why does she hang around long enough to get pinched by the police? Couldn't she have just shot these mooks and been on her way? There are lots of illogical plotpoints presented here, facets that flummox us repeatedly. And the hardest to get a grip on is why Stanze's usual flair fails him here. You can tell this isn't your run of the mill sleaze stuff but, at the same time, it's repetitive and uninspired. It's easy to blame this entire production on its shoot-from-the-hip happenstance (low-budget, eight-day schedule), but talent should trump all that. I Spit on Your Corpse, I Piss On Your Grave is substandard Stanze—and that's saying a lot.
For a film noted for its overkill, it's no surprise that the "Official Director's Version" DVD of the title follows suit, especially when it comes to added content. We are offered four—count 'em, four!—full-length audio commentaries (only one ported over from a previous release), a 60-minute making-of documentary, a single deleted scene, and loads of trailers. In general, they all provide the kind of information that the digital medium is noted for. Stanze in particular likes to use his extras as a teaching device, a way of imparting important information and all manner of war stories onto his fellow filmmakers. Of the four alternate narrative tracks, the two featuring the director himself are probably the best. Stanze sits down solo for one intriguing conversation, and then is joined by actress Emily Haack for another. While occasionally repetitive in the concepts they discuss (nudity, violence, special effects), the results are quite compelling. The other two tracks—one for various cast members, one for the crew—are more anecdotal. They center around the personal perspective of die-hard independent artists, each wanting to express themselves. These discussions are funny and fulfilling, and along with the equally informative featurette, help us understand where this film falls in Stanze's overall oeuvre.
If you really want to know what kind of filmmaker Eric Stanze really is, seek out Savage Harvest, Scrapbook, China White Serpentine, or Ice from the Sun. I Spit on Your Corpse, I Piss on Your Grave is an awkward anomaly in what is an otherwise excellent creative canon. Some may find it fascinating. Few will find it fun. It's guilty, but no pleasure.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Sub Rosa Studios
• Full-Length Audio Commentary with Eric Stanze
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