My notes on the remake of I Spit On Your Grave
If someone professional with access to a reasonable budget were to remake Plan 9 From Outer Space with a competent script, speakable dialogue, decent actors, good special effects and no attempt to patronise the original material, it might come out as something like The Arrival. But what would be the point? It seems that all the major titles, and many of the minor ones, from the horror backlist now rate remakes: here’s a new mounting of Meir Zarchi’s well-known 1978 rape-revenge picture (listed in the credits of this as Day of the Woman) which improves in every single aspect on the original — with the exception that it’s not as upsetting. The old movie earned some notoriety on the video nasties list and has its defenders, but I’ve never been convinced it was anything more than an inept, exploitative shocker with a hard-to-sit-through gang rape followed by one effective revenge (the bathtub castration) and some muffed action scenes. Its biggest problem is the imbalance which makes it a hard watch – the filmmakers are so much more interested in filming the rape (which goes on forever) than setting up or developing the story (which just goes through the motions) that it’s impossible not to feel the movie’s main attraction is the hour or so of watching a girl get fucked over rather than the mostly cursory sequences in which she gets even.
Director Steven R. Monroe (whose career tracks from the interesting House of 9 through okayish cable perennials like Ogre, It Waits and Sasquatch Mountain) and writer Jeffrey Reddick (of Final Destination, Tamara and the dire Day of the Dead remake) take Zarchi’s script and solve most of its problems: it’s the same story, but it now has a suspenseful build-up, thought-through interplay among the villains, an emphasis on verbal as well as physical abuse which punches up the horror of the violation and takes away the monotony, and new angles which try to fill in plot holes. Though clunkily introduced (‘I’m a novelist, actually’), this Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) is given a bit more grit. She ticks off the louts at the gas station by not responding to a leering pick-up line, which sets minion Andy (Rodney Eastman) to ragging on top dog Johnny (Jeff Branson) in a way which gets under his skin. These two, plus their obsessive videographer tagalong Stanley (Daniel Franzese) and mildly handicapped, easily-influenced handyman Matthew (Chad Lindberg), show up near dawn at the isolated cabin the city woman is renting and start terrorising her, with an emphasis on oral violations (by gun and bottle). Jennifer gets away and runs off – and brings back Sheriff Storch (Andrew Howard), which didn’t happen in the original. It’s a feint, of course, and slightly too similar to a development added to the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the new character there was an evil Sheriff too): the Sheriff finds the butt of a reefer Jennifer has smoked, and starts acting as if this were a bigger crime than the assault, patting her down lasciviously and calling in backup which turns out to be the gang of thugs.
Then, things proceed as in the old movie, as Jennifer is held down and raped first by Matthew, who is egged on by the others and throws up afterwards, then the rest of the vile crew, starting with the Sheriff (‘I’m an ass-man’). Once the point has been made, she blacks out and we mostly skip the last three rapes. Unlike the gang in the first film, these goons aren’t stupid enough not to try to keep Jennifer quiet permanently and the Sheriff aims to shoot her – though she throws herself in the river to escape. At this point, the film switches point of view: Jennifer is gone, and we’re with the thugs, who are bullied by Storch to scout out for her corpse to tie up the loose ends, and when she turns up again, it’s to stalk and punish the creeps one by one. A major problem with the old film is that it has only one strong payback scene: here, all the villains get individual nasty fates, which focus on specific body parts (Andy’s face, Stanley’s eyes, Johnny’s teeth and dick, Storch’s ass) and reward them for specific evil acts. These nasty bits are credibly improvised (Munroe carefully establishes that the tools are at hand in a nearby shed early on) but have a Saw-ish ingenuity: Andy is hogtied over a bathtub full of lye and has a plank pulled out so he has to try not to fall in (he fails); Stanley is taped to a tree and has his eyes pulled open with fishhooks and fish guts smeared on his face so crows come and peck out his eyes (he also gets a rat shoved in his throat); Johnny has his teeth yanked with pliers and his penis snipped with garden shears then shoved in his mouth; and Storch has a shotgun shoved up his rectum, discharged when Matthew wakes up and pulls a cord so that the blast kills him too – the End.
This all works for an audience (who doesn’t like watching a rapist sheriff getting his guts blown out from the inside?) and Butler makes a credibly cracked and righteous angel of vengeance, but doesn’t really add anything to, say, the subplot about the rapist probation officer who gets his comeuppance in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. There are social issues in Jennifer’s status as a living affront to these rural, ignorant, low-class, ugly, insecure, hate-filled men, but the film can’t afford to be complicated about it: the thugs accuse Jennifer of looking down on them as trash, but she pointedly doesn’t express any negative attitude to them on class grounds and even when she comes back for revenge she doesn’t belittle them for their backgrounds but for their actions (which, in this context, makes her almost saintly). The Sheriff has a pregnant wife AND an angelic daughter, and Jennifer poses as a teacher to get close to them. Though Storch assumes she will harm the girl, again she doesn’t: she just points out she was as innocent as the child when she was attacked – what is not forthcoming is any reason why the Sheriff lives a double life as family man and rapist/crook. The villains all say sorry and beg for mercy, but Jennifer’s verdict is ‘sorry isn’t enough’ – though I can’t help but feel we’re being asked to gloat over their sufferings in exactly the way they did over what was done to her but without the Wes Craven-style indictment of the urge to violence. Tracey Walter cameos as the lodge-keeping old-timer, and gets killed in a seemingly tipped-in scene.
Jay Ceballos Kim, I know you’ve spoken in the past about not having watched ISoYG the original in a very long time as it wasn’t worth it. But I do recommend tracking down the dvd with commentary by Joe Bob Briggs. It’s not his usual comedy fare and is actually interesting and credible and did change the movie for me somewhat.
Kim Newman I have listened to that track (and the director’s too) – when, after twenty years, I looked at ISoYG again. I still think it’s a poor film, though I’ve always found Joe Bob/John Bloom to be a smart critic between the lines. I have read defences of the film, by Carol Clover (whose argument about Thelma and Louise would make a lot more sense if she used Jackson County Jail as an exploitation precedent) and others, and I’m just not convinced. It’s not a film I really want to watch again.
Dave McMann I watched the original on Filmfour once. Although I don’t see why all the fuss was made about it, it was rather poor whith just following the formula of crime then revenge, yawn!!
Jack Karswell It’s the same with the recent remake of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. Whilst they add a veneer of polish – and succeed on their own meagre terms – they are ultimately redundant. I have no desire to watch the original ISoYG ever again, but I appreciate its notoriety.
Dave McMann I totally agree. However, as remakes go, I was impressed by Rob Zombie’s Halloween, it added a new dimension, so sometimes a remake can work, not very often I grant you!!
Adrian J. Smith Amazed they remade this one. When I saw the original in the VHS nasties heyday with a bunch of students (male and female) no-one was offended cos it’s such an inept film. Nearly everyone laughed throughout. It was the same with The Beast in Heat and SS Experiment Camp. People just thought they were distasteful bad movies. So much for the evil effects that the BBFC and Tory MPs projected. But then again, we were supposedly ‘intelligent’ students (I dispute that) and James Ferman always banged upon about the effects of sex and violence on the working classes. Here’s him on the original Texas Chainsaw:
“It’s all right for you middle-class cineastes to see this film, but what would happen if a factory worker in Manchester happened to see it?”
Anarchy, chaos and destruction, obviously! But still no need for a remake of I Spit, I’d suggest. I Drink Your Blood or Shivers, maybe I can understand.
Pat Cadigan I’ve given it much thought and I’ve decided: I spit on this movie.
A Manchester factory worker rites: No Shivers remake necessary (although – solid, pertinent raw material if a youngster of individuality can be found (but would you re-title? ‘Suspiria’ is part-and-parcel of what you pay for, but ‘Shivers’ had a number of none-quite-satisfactory monikers. ‘They Came From The 13th Floor’? Dated, corny? ‘Parasite Sex Slugs Orgy in Chic Hi-Rise’ is the pitch (Actually, I’m now sold on a ‘Shivers’ rmk (surely, a micro-budget horror riff on the horror remake trend called ‘rmk’ is already in production), so long as they keep the society-disintegrates-as-a-new-society-is-born/psycho-mutation angles and don’t simply turn it into Alien meets Critters 4))). I cannot in all honesty comment on either version of ISOYG either positively or negatively having never seen them (and am therefore saved from having been depraved or corrupted by the experience (countless other contenders I can pin that rap on)), but Zarchi’s oh-so-sincere defence always struck me as typical Exploito-carny spiel, so brilliantly satirised by Dante and Arkush in Hollywood Boulevard – e.g., ATomic War Brides being ‘a sincere plea for Nuclear temperance in these troubled times’. Henceforth I stay tuned to the Horror Channel awaiting the Forest of Fear or Shriek of the Mutilated remakes.
Reading that Sarah Butler broke down in tears for real filming the rape scenes in the remake made up my mind that it’s pretty much useless at everything it sets out to achieve. There’s even a sequel.