With the recent remake of The Last House On The Left and an upcoming remake of Straw Dogs, you knew it was just a matter of time before someone decided to remake Meir Zarchi’s I Spit On Your Grave. Is it a film that needs to be remade? Questionable. Is it a film that needed to be made in the first place? Well, that’s even more questionable. The original I Spit On Your Grave, which came out back in 1978, is a notorious film, at least for film buffs and horror fans. Since its release, the film has been universally condemned for its depictions of rape, torture and violence. The original was extreme exploitation cinema at its best. It was brutal, relentless, unforgiving and remains as one of the most controversial films in history. It was going to take a brave man to attempt to remake it, but luckily, the studio found Steven Monroe and so now we have a remake. The question is, is it any good?
Story wise, this version doesn’t stray too far from the original, in fact, it’s more or less identical. Novelist Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) rents a mountain cabin for a few months while she attempts to work on her latest story. While she hopes for a peaceful and quiet retreat, her trip turns into anything but. A trio of local country boys take a liking to her and proceed to brutally assault and rape her. Thinking they’re in the clear, they leave her for dead. Unknown to them though, Jennifer has a bit of fight left in her and as they proceed with their lives, thinking the incident is behind them, Jennifer plots her ferocious tour of revenge.
It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enough to fill the movie and overall, it’s an entertaining experience. Perhaps the main issue I take with the film is the same issue that many critics before me have pointed out. It’s wildly uneven. The first half of the film, starting with Jennifer arriving at the cabin and ending with her brutal rape, is quite strong. It’s intense, gripping and definitely chilling. The rape and abuse are pretty tough to sit through, as expected, which helps draw the audience in and encourage them to sympathize with Jennifer.
It’s the second half of the film that really suffers. The first half of the film is harsh and gritty and feels like something that could happen very easily to anyone. Once the film switches points of view, and Jennifer becomes the hunter and the boys become the hunted, it all gets a bit silly. The ways in which she extracts her revenge draw similarities to the killings of Jigsaw, from the Saw films. Let’s just say, Jennifer is no criminal mastermind and a lot of the meticulous planning and execution for her revenge plans seems wildly implausible for someone like her. She also uses the same method for each kill so there is little suspense. She isolates her victim, knocks them out and then they awake in some twisted, sick trap that we’re supposed to believe was constructed by Jennifer.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some pretty creative and brutal deaths here but they are so over the top, complex, extravagant and unbelievable that it just kind of seems laughable, which takes away from the film since clearly that’s not what they were going for. The harsh brutality found in the original seems to be lost here. Also, a woman this hell bent on revenge really wouldn’t care to create these elaborate and well thought out death scenes, she’d just kill her targets, in any way possible. Like I said, the gore and special effects mixed with the unique ways Jennifer has thought of to kill her attackers make for some pretty creative and entertaining deaths, it just feels a bit out of place with the tone of the film.
I should also mention that the film lets us know Jennifer waits a month to extract her revenge, meaning we’re supposed to believe that she was able to survive in the woods, alone, for a month. I have a few problems with this. Aside from the fact that it’s just not possible, the film depicts Jennifer as clumsy and somewhat incompetent earlier in the film, are we supposed to believe that she can survive in the woods, for a month, alone, after being brutally raped and abused? And why would she stick around for a month? Doesn’t she have anyone to go home to, what about doctors to see or law enforcement to alert? Oh, and why does she still look so damn good if she spent a month in the woods? Like I said, the second half of the film gets pretty silly.
On a more positive note, production values are eons ahead of the original and acting is pretty solid. Sarah Butler offers a genuine performance that makes it easy for us to connect with her, she’s also likeable and we can easily root for her when she goes out to get her revenge. It must have been hard for Sarah to go that dark and deep as an actress but she pulls it off perfectly. I think she has a bright future ahead of her. While talking to her, she told me that she still hasn’t chosen her next project, which is unfortunate as I’m looking forward to seeing more of her work. Supporting cast members pull their weight also. Special mentions should go out to Chad Lindberg who offers a convincing performance as the mentally challenged Matthew and Andrew Howard who is genuinely terrifying as Sheriff Storch.
For those wondering, the remake is definitely not as hardcore as the original and not as effective or horrifying. Monroe’s rape scene is a lot tamer and far less exploitive. It’s not a walk in the park to sit through but it’s no where near what Meir Zarchi did in the original. Monroe tames down his version quite a bit, it’s still pretty rough at times but nothing compared to Zarchi’s film. What Monroe does do better is create tension and unease, which there is a lot of in the lead up to the rape scene.
As for its promise on being shocking and extreme, to be honest, I don’t remember the last time I was shocked or appalled in a film. Nothing gets to me anymore. I’ve seen it all and I think I can speak for most movieogers out there when I say that we’re all so desensitised that nothing comes across as shocking anymore. The violence itself is shown in more detail than in the original but the rape scene is a lot less shocking this time around, so it kind of balances out. Either way though, nothing shown here is terribly shocking and if you’ve seen your fair share of violent films, you should be fine.
In the end, I Spit On Your Grave isn’t a terrible film, but the financial motivations behind it are easy to spot. My head has been full of nothing but I Spit On You Grave lately, between watching both versions back to back (for review purposes, I swear), and preparing and carrying out interviews with the stars of the film, I’ve become pretty familiar with I Spit On Your Grave and its history lately. Did the original need to be remade? Probably not, but does the remake do it justice? For the most part yes. It definitely has a stronger first half than second but as a whole, it’s a pretty good horror movie. Some strong performances and unsettling levels of tension and unease make it fairly entertaining and you’ll surely be talking about one death scene in particular for at least a few weeks. As many critics have said before me, ‘if you can stomach it, see it!’
When it comes to the disc, the film’s nice production values shine through well. It has a nice glossy look to it and the superb detail is apparent throughout. The picture is clean and black levels come in at just about perfect. There are no signs of artifcating or edge enhancement and the transfer accurately conveys the film’s gritty look. Skin tones could have been better and there are a couple iffy moments along the way, but overall, it’s a very nice transfer and looks good on all counts. Dialogue comes through with nice clarity and the few sound effects that are scattered throughout all sound great. Atmospherics act appropriately and help enhance the tone and mood of the film. As I said before, a nice strong transfer.
Special features include:
- Audio Commentary
- The Revenge of Jennifer Hills: Remaking a Cult Icon
- Deleted Scenes
- Radio Spot
- Digital Copy
Starting things off is the commentary with Director Steven R. Monroe and Producer Lisa Hansen. We hear about their battles with the MPAA, differences between their film and the original, some of the challenges they faced etc. Overall a pretty good listen and worthwhile if you liked the film.
The Revenge of Jennifer Hills is a fairly short behind the scenes documentary, running for about 16 minutes. Nothing special. It has the cast talking about what it was like making the movie, about the original film, about their time spent on the set etc. Watch it if you liked the film, or not. You won’t miss much. Aside from the documentary and commentary, there’s nothing else worth checking out here.
So in conclusion, what does it all amount to? I Spit On Your Grave is a pretty good horror flick. It gets a bit silly in the second half but the death scenes are still pretty wild, and the first half provides enough tension and unease to keep you pinned to your seat. Overall, I’d say it’s worth a watch. It’s a fairly entertaining ride that looks pretty solid on Blu-Ray. The lame special features and a few hiccups on the transfer keep this one from being great but in the end, it’s still worth your attention.
Solid performances, awesome death scenes and an intense and gripping first half make this one worth a watch.