Who’da thunk it? Meir Zarchi’s lurid-but-staggeringly-effective 1978 rape-revenge thriller I Spit On Your Grave (or Day Of The Woman, if you prefer) was panned as being prurient and offensive trash at the time of its release, but is now widely considered (and rightly, in my view) to be quite possibly the most overtly feminist horror film ever made. Time makes fools of us all, I suppose, and the critics who trashed Zarchi’s flick back in the day are definitely a prime example of this old adage. But the wholesale reconsideration of the original isn’t the surprising wrinkle I’m talking about here.
No, the reason I said “who’da thunk it?” is because nearly 40 years later, I Spit On Your Grave has become a veritable straight-to-video franchise. The 2010 remake had its flaws, to be sure, and the 2013 “thematic” sequel had even more of them (how, exactly, do you transport an unconscious individual from California to fucking Bulgaria without arousing anyone’s suspicion?), but hey, late 2015 saw the Blu-ray and DVD (both of which were issued by Anchor Bay sans extras) release of I Spit On Your Grave 3 : Vengeance Is Mine, a movie which promised to right the ship by bringing back Sarah Butler as Jennifer Hills and having her kick all kinds of rapist ass all over again.
Which, admittedly, she does. And in very creative and cringe-worthy ways. But it still sucks. In fact, it really sucks.
Don’t get me wrong — getting back to the “main” story and pretending that part two never happened is a good call on the part of director R.D. Braunstein and his screenwriter, Daniel Gilboy. As is bringing the production back to the US (Los Angeles, to be specific). And Butler is a treat to watch as she dishes out the hurt. But those are about the only positives this celluloid shitpile has going for it, and they’re not nearly enough to sustain a 90-minute production, or to erase the bad taste its anti-female message will leave in your mouth.
To begin with, I Spit On Your Grave 3 isn’t a “rape-revenge” movie — it’s just a revenge movie. And when characters get their (obviously plastic) dicks bitten off and lead pipes shoved up their assholes, it helps to actually hate them for what they’ve done. And that’s kinda tough to do when the evils of their actions aren’t actually shown to us, only whispered about.
The basic plotline here is that Jennifer (now calling herself “Angela”) and her new friend, Marla (played by Jennifer Landon) have taken it upon themselves to exact a dose of good, old-fashioned “frontier justice” against the men who have violated the women in their rape survivors’ support group. That’s cool. What’s not cool is not showing us what assholes these guys are and why they have it coming. Sure, we’re told in excruciating detail about how these guys are molesting their stepdaughters and shit, but when it comes time to prove what creeps these mortals be, all Braunstein serves up are a few tepid scenes of them behaving like garden-variety sexist pigs. Heck, towards the end of the film Jennifer/Angela suffers some kind of mental break and starts to go after guys who really are nothing but garden-variety sexist pigs. But that’s a problem we’ll return to in a moment.
Braunstein’s aversion to detailing the “rape” part of the “rape-revenge” equation is so pathological that when Marla ends up getting killed by her ex-boyfriend, he doesn’t even show her in danger, She just tells Jennifer good-bye after a meeting one night and isn’t there the next day. Some might say that this is a more respectful way of handling admittedly combustible subject matter, but I have to disagree. I have no desire to see violent rape portrayed in uber-realistic detail by any means, but then I also have no real desire to see guys get killed when I don’t have any concrete proof that they’ve got it coming. I Spit On Your Grave 3 misses its mark by a country fucking mile because it doesn’t get your blood boiling along with Jennifer’s, and as a result you start to wonder if maybe — just maybe — she isn’t taking things a little bit too far.
And then, of course, she does. Look — guys who cat-call after and generally harass women on the streets are assholes who make anyone born with a cock look bad, it’s true, but does anyone other than Andrea Dworkin think they deserve summary execution? When Jennifer/Angela crosses that line, she goes from being a righteous tool of vengeance to being just another dime-a-dozen movie psycho, and the men she’s going after go from being lowlife scum who have it coming to being figures of (and this is the really sick part) sympathy. That’s the most inexcusable perversion of Zarchi’s original premise that I can imagine, to be honest, and when you add in the film’s dismissive and mocking anti-therapy and anti-support group tone a clear and disturbing message comes to the fore : people trying to help rape victims are duplicitous at best and evil at worst, women who retaliate against their attackers themselves are cold-blooded, man-hating killers, and sure, rapists are bad dudes and all, but they definitely don’t deserve anything like the punishment that Jennifer dishes out, and those fellas who sexually harass and physically intimidate women but don’t rape them? Well, they’re just guys having fun and are innocent victims when they find the tables turned on them.
So, yeah, I Spit On Your Grave 3 : Vengeance Is Mine is definitely an offensive flick, but not just on a moral and intellectual level : the lame “is she really doing it or is it all in her head?” subplot that Braunstein and Gilboy try to get going falls totally flat, most of the performances are either pretty bad (it’s a shame to see actresses of the stature of Harley Jane Kozak and Michelle Hurd reduced to lame supporting roles in a production like this) or downright laughable (I’m looking at you, Gabriel Hogan as the “cop who wants to help”), and the film’s production values are absolute shit, particularly the numerous and poorly-realized “empty alleys at night” that seem to spring up out of nowhere and exist in an alternate universe where screams and bludgeoning and murder can’t actually be heard. Oh yeah, and the ending — Christ almighty, that ending. Let’s just call it the final insult to Zarchi’s legacy and leave it at that.
And let’s sincerely hope that the “suits” at CineTel Films and Anchor Bay do the same for this entire franchise, because whatever point it may have once had clearly has been not just lost, but twisted beyond all recognition into something truly ugly. True, not a single woman is shown being raped or otherwise violated in this film — yet it’s hundreds of times more sickening than the original ever was.