Last night, I attended a sneak preview screening of the remake of the 1978 rape revenge classic, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. I saw the original film only once when I was 12 years old in my friend’s basement on an old pop up loading VCR. The grimy little exploitation flick disturbed me on such a visceral level, that to this day I have been unable to even attempt to try to watch it again.
When I walked into the New Beverly Cinema to see the updated version, my stomach was filled with knots. Everything that I had heard had told me to expect this to be even more brutal than the first. I can remember only certain details about the original. The rape scene in particular was absolutely gut wrenching to watch and the bathtub castration made me wince for about a month afterwards. I was prepared to be completely and utterly disturbed, and I was, but in a manner I didn’t think I would be.
The story is a simple one. Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) is an attractive young writer from the big city who has rented a remote cabin in the woods to work on her new novel. One stop at a local gas station attracts the attention of a depraved group of country bumpkins, led by a lascivious gas attendant named Johnny (Jeff Branson).
There is a really well structured build up to what we all know is going to inevitably happen to her. The movie takes its time in creating an atmosphere of tension and then it unleashes its violence at you in such an overwhelming way, I almost couldn’t bare it. The rape scene is horrifying, disgusting and grueling to watch, but what happens to Jennifer afterwards is even more unsettling than I could have imagined.
The bumpkins are all perfectly played monsters. Jeff Branson and Daniel (MEAN GIRLS, BULLY) Franzese are excellent at making the audience wish them the most violent retaliation possible. But it’s the performance of Andrew Howard as Sheriff Storch that really makes the film enter into another realm of unease. He appears at first as a savior when Jennifer manages to momentarily escape her attackers, only to become the spider that has recaptured her in his web for the other insects to feed on. The performance is nuanced in such a way as to actually make you think the guy is a decent family man who truly loves his wife and daughter. There is a brilliantly written moment where he answers a call from his child while the rape plays on in the background that sent chills down my spine. His character is one of pure evil disguised as the protective guardian and doting family man. What makes it even more fucked up is that we actually believe he’s a great dad and husband to two women while savagely destroying another.
After she is beaten and gang raped, Jennifer escapes her attackers by plunging herself into the lake below. There is a great deal of tension among the perpetrators as to whether or not she’s still alive, followed by the tying up of loose ends (that includes the murder of the only nice hick represented on the screen – character actor Tracey Walters as Earl). Then the men continue on with their mundane backwoods lives, but this a revenge film and these bastards have a lot to answer for. And they do.
The character of Jennifer Hills and the intense performance by Sarah Butler is what really sets this film apart from the ’78 film and other subsequent tales of rape and revenge like THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. Even Ms. 45 would give her pause when she starts to take these guys out in absolutely the most sickening and depraved ways imaginable. I couldn’t help but think that she herself has become as big a monster as they were. The murders of these scumbags is deserved, but the ferocity and incredibly intricate designs of torture and death she devises makes you think that this woman has taken all the violence she’s experienced and turned it into something beyond mere retaliation. She goes through a transformation that leaves the audience not so much rooting for her, as stunned by her own lack of morality in her hunger for vengeance. She’s been damaged so severely, that she herself has become one of them and this as unsettling as anything else in this bleak, yet powerful film. It will be released unrated on October 8th. Don’t bring a date.