Well, here it is. The remake of the mother of all rape-revenge films, and one your host had been looking forward to, sure, bu I don’t mind admitting that my eagerness was mixed with more than a little trepidation. Turns out I needn’t have worried — at least not that much.
Our story’s essentially the same — young up-and-coming New York City novelist Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler — don’t ask me why the added an S to the end of the character’s last name here) heads to a quiet cabin in the country in order to find the peace and solitude she needs to write her next book. Along the way, she draws the unwanted attention of some local redneck yokels at a gas station and these guys find out where she’s staying and use the excuse of trying to pop their mentally retarded buddy’s cherry as the pretense for a night (and day) of brutal gang rape. Things get ugly. Damn ugly. They toss her in the river and figure she’s dead (a solid plot derivation from the original wherein they just sent their slow-witted friend in there to finish her off and he, of course, can’t do it, but tells the fellas he did). She’s not, though, and spends te next month or so surviving on her wits in the forest and plotting her revenge.
And what a revenge it is. Frankly, the way remake director Steven R. Monroe (who’s got a very solid knack for visuals and pacing, by the way, and brings out some strong performances in his central cast, particularly on the part of Ms. Butler, who delivers and extraordinary turn in the lead role, and Jeff Branson, who plays leader of the pack Johnny) and screenwriter Stuart Morse structure this new version makes a hell of a lot more sense than Meir Zarchi’s original — the gang-rape sequence is not nearly as drawn out, yet it’s (perhaps paradoxically) even more psychologically disturbing than it was the first time around. And the emphasis is squarely on the revenge aspect of the story, which, while certainly creative, always felt a bit slapped-together in the original (she didn’t even bother to save the ringleader of the gang for her last victim in it, for instance — although admittedly he did suffer the most gruesome fate).
Some of the more visceral horror of the first, though, is frankly missing. Sitting through the entire extended gang-rape in the original is admittedly a very tough proposition, but you really do feel like the bastards had it coming (and then some) when they get theirs. Here, it feels like she’s paying them all back with more than sufficient interest because the (admittedly quite expected, given the day and age we’re living in) Saw-style torture-porn scenarios she concocts to exact her pound of flesh upon her perpetrators (especially the last one) are seriously depraved and feel more thought-out (because they obviously were). This isn’t bad, per se, but the end result is to make Jenny Hill(s) feel more like your standard cinematic calculatingly revenge-obsessed killer and less like an unpredictable force of naturally righteous anger.
On the whole, though, it works, so I’m not complaining, and the decision to add the local sheriff (Andrew Howard in yet another of this film’s terrific performances) into the mix as well adds an extra layer of horror to the proceedings, as does the time the filmmakers spend showing said sheriff’s apparently happy domestic life. It shows that monsters may indeed lurk amongst us and these evil bastards are, in fact, good to other people — something only vaguely hinted at by Zarchi.
The end result is a more mature and sophisticated work of horror cinema, and a more violent one to be sure, but one that lacks a little bit of the sheer visceral energy and power of the original. It’s both more creatively realized and more horrifying in many respects, but lacks some of it’s predecessor’s harrowing, soul-shattering fury. For fans of the original I certainly recommend it without reservation, and it’s a damn site better than almost all of the other horror remakes out there, but dues to the (entirely understandable) shift in emphasis to be weighted more heavily on the revenge side of the equation, and its (again entirely understandable) nod to modern horror conventions, it’s a different viewing experience. Just as shocking, to be sure, maybe even moreso, but on the whole maybe just a touch less powerful than that which came before it.
Given that this flick never made it to my native Twin Cities during its extremely truncated theatrical run, I snapped it up off Netflix the second it became available on DVD, and Anchor Bay has done a really nice job on that front. The wide-screen picture and 5.1 sound mix are great, and the extras include a making-of featurette, the full theatrical trailer as well as a “teaser” trailer, a radio spot that evidently ran in the San Francisco area, and a full-length commentary from director Monroe and producer Lisa Hansen that gets a little bit pretentious at times but on the whole is very involving and well worth a listen.
I Spit On Your Grave (2010) , while taking the story in some directions I approve of and others I’m not so hot on, is a more than worthy heir to its groundbreaking source material and is a gut-wrenching and important entry into the annals of horror cinema. If this kind of thing is, in fact, your kind of thing, you’d be doing yourself a massive disservice if you don’t check it out.