Posts Tagged ‘meir zarchi’

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Hey! It’s October! You know what that means around these parts — yup, we’re going to review horror flicks all month just like, oh, every other movie blog on the entire fucking planet does. So — no points for originality, I guess, but I like to think we do it with a bit more style and attitude here at TFG.

Yeah, I know, everybody else says that, too, so I’m really sounding like one of the herd today. Screw it — let’s get to work anyway.

First up on the docket of 2013’s “Halloween Horrors” is the newly-released-straight-onto-home-video I Spit On Your Grave 2, which is something of an anomaly in that it’s a sequel to a remake of a film that never had a sequel of its own. Which means that the first time director Steven R. Monroe made a movie called I Spit On Your Grave (this would be in 2010) he was treading familiar ground, but the second time, ironically, he’s doing something wholly new Even if he’s not.

Confused yet? Allow me to explain :

There’s really nothing at all original that transpires in I Spit On Your Grave 2, unless you count a complete change of scenery and throwing electric cattle prods into the rape-revenge mix “original,” but still — this isn’t a bona fide remake, per se, as its predecessor was.  And it features entirely different characters than the 2010 film did , so it’s not really a direct sequel, either. And now you’re even more confused than ever, I’m willing to bet.

So it’s a good thing, then, that this is such a simple, straight-forward movie, isn’t it? Beautiful young wanna-be model Katie (Jemma Dallender) takes up some amateur photographers on their “free portfolio shots” offer, gets cold feet when they turn out to be Eastern European creeps who want her to git nekkid (as Joe Bob Briggs would say), and then said low-lifes turn up at her apartment, rape her senseless, drug her even more senseless, and next thing you know she’s chained up in a basement in Bulgaria (where the whole film was actually shot despite its first act purportedly taking place in New York), gets roughed up (sexually speaking) some more (enter the aforementioned electric cattle prod), gets locked in a steamer trunk and left for dead, manages to escape by sheer blind luck, and exacts a gruesome revenge, plus interest, on her captors once she gets her strength and wits back.

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A couple things worth pointing out here : yeah, this is tried-and-true territory, but unlike Monroe’s first crack at Meir Zarchi’s — weird as this is to even say — franchise, the comeuppance these creeps get is actually pretty goddamn satisfying. Dallender ain’t much of an actress, it has to be said (nor are any of the guys playing the heavily-accented greaseballs who work her over, so we won’t even bother crediting the full cast here — sorry, fellas), but she does seem to go about her business in the film’s final third with some real gusto, even if her lines are pretty corny. Simply put, it’s a lot of fun to watch her give these (former) Iron Curtain perverts their due, and for that reason alone this is a far more effective — and worthy — heir to the I Spit On Your Grave title than the first — sorry, second — film was. So that’s the good news.

The bad news is that Monroe and screenwriters Neil Elman and Thomas Fenton try to inject some moralistic “is revenge on those who have wronged you really the best way to ?” sermonizing into the proceedings here by way of a Bulgarian priest and cop who each try to help Katie out in their own way and also attempt — thankfully without success — to steer her off the path she’s chosen.

Look, I get it, I really do — here in the real world, getting even has a way of getting even with you if you do it, and sometimes the psychic toll of knowing that your actions make you no better than those who harmed you really just means that, well, they won by forcing you down to their level. But ya know what? This is a rape-revenge movie, and we’re not here to dwell on complex — or, hell, even simple — ethical conundrums. We just want to see this lady kick some ass and spill some blood. Get the fun police outta the way and let her do her job.

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And it pleases — as well as surprises — me to report that, by and large, I Spit On Your Grave 2 does, in fact, do its job, and does it pretty well. It’s far from the “perfect” rape-revenge story, but it’s got everything you want — it’s unsettling, hard to watch, sadistic as a motherfuck, gruesome, agonizing, and just plain fierce. It’s a reasonably worthy progeny to its truly seminal progenitor (I’m referring here to Zarchi’s original, not the remake), and stands out from most other entrants in this genre of recent vintage in that it seems to actually know the difference between being just plain ol’ mean-spirited  —as anyone can manage without much difficulty — and truly going for the throat (and the testicles), which is considerably more difficult to convey.

On the technical specs front, the widescreen picture and 5.1 surround sound on the Blu-Ray (and, I would suspect, the DVD) are more or less flawless, as you’d expect from any new release, and for extras we’ve got some trailers for other Anchor Bay stablemates as well as a small collection of deleted scenes. Hardly a barn-burner package by any stretch of the imagination, but all in all plenty good enough.

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While the same can’t be said of at least one of the inbred ex-commie degenerates Katie exacts her pound (at least) of flesh from by film’s end, I Spit On Your Grave 2 has got balls .It can’t even wuss out when it tries to. It packs a punch, a kick, and a knee to the groin. It might want to force us to think for a few minutes there, but it still has one pretty simple message to communicate : fuck with this bitch and you’re gonna be sooooooooo sorry. Isn’t that all — and exactly — what we want out of  a movie like this?

"I Spit on Your Grave" (2010) Movie Poster

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.

 

"I Spit On Your Grave" movie poster

"I Spit On Your Grave" movie poster

In the storied annals of exploitation cinema, few films have ever stirred as much controversy as Meir Zarchi’s rape-revenge masterpiece “I Spit On Your Grave.” Originally released in 1978 under the title “Day of the Woman,” which is actually much more appropriate to the movie’s content but far less—shall was say—noticeable, the story of Jenny Hill(played by Camille Keaton, veteran of Italian exploitation fare such as “Tragic Ceremony”), sophisticated but mild-mannered Manhattan author who rents a cabin on the Husatonik river in Connecticut for the summer in the hopes of getting some peace and quiet so she can write her first book only to be descended upon savagely by a gang of four local, and absolutely merciless, it must be said, redneck rapists(played by Erin Tabor, who turns in a fairly solid performance as the group’s ringleader, Richard Pace , who features as the dim-witted virgin buddy who the others are trying to  “get laid” that summer by any means necessary, Gunter Kleeman and Anthony Nichols) before pursuing her own brand of justice, came and went from the drive-in and grindhouse circuit pretty quickly while only kicking up a slight bit of outraged dust from the morality police. When Jerry Gross picked it up for wider distribution a couple years later with a new and more provocative title with an ad campaign to match that played up the film’s subject matter in the most prurient way possible, though, audiences took note. And so did the critics.

It wasn’t just the Jerry Folwells of the world who objected to “I Spit On Your Grave”‘s shockingly brutal sexual violence, or the purported film sophisticates like Pauline Kael who jumped on the supposed exploitation of its audiences most base “urges”—even perfectly mainstream critics like Siskel and Ebert were appalled and outraged by what they deemed on “Sneak Previews” (remember that?) as “the most sexist movie ever made.” The passing of time has cast things in a new, and in this case proper, light, though, and I have to say that your friendly neighborhood TFG agrees with B-movie aficionado par excellence Joe Bob Briggs, who, in his superb commentary on Elite Entertainment’s  “Millennium Edition” DVD of the film released in 2002 declared it, rather, to be quite possibly the most FEMINIST movie ever made. Let’s take a quick look at why I think this is the case and explore why it is that this flick retains its power to shock and disturb even now, over 30 years after its original release.

Things start out pleasnatly enough for Jenny---

Things start out pleasantly enough for Jenny---

The standard feminist line, as I understand it, is that rape is not a crime about sex, but about violence—about power, control, and the objectification and dehumanization of its victim. Seems like a fair enough analysis to me. It’s not anything to do with using violence to to obtain sex, it’s about using sex as a tool of violence. Well, there’s no question that “I Spit On Your Grave” absolutely shows that to be the case—a little too absolutely for most audiences, truth be told. There’s no “rape scene” in “I Spit On Your Grave”—there’s a long, harrowing, maliciously brutal SERIES of rape scenes strung together that take up nearly 45 minutes of the film’s 100-minute run time. It’s well and truly excruciating stuff to sit through and there’s nothing even remotely “kinky” about any of the proceedings. Each is more savage and relentless than the last. And you know what? For the purposes of the story being told here, that’s the way it’s got to be. This isn’t a story about the better angels of human nature. It’s not about love and forgiveness. It’s about a brutally violent crime followed by brutally violent revenge. Given what Jenny does later—freeing her attackers from the bonds of this mortal coil with extreme prejudice—the crime perpetrated upon her needs to be shown in all its repulsive barbarity or else the methods by which she chooses to dispatch these guys is going to seem like some serious overkill. “I Spit On Your Grave” is about the deadly consequences of psyche-and spirit-shattering attack. Skimp out on the details and the story itself loses most of its meaning and all of its power.

---but quickly take a turn for the worse---the FAR worse.

---but quickly take a turn for the worse---the FAR worse.

Unlike the film, though, your humble critic is going to spare you the details of both the attack on Ms. Hill and her vengeance in case you, dear reader, haven’t seen this movie yet and would like to.  Suffice to say neither are pretty, but if you’re a properly-morally-hardwired human being, one will leave you disgusted beyond words while the other will have you high-fiving whoever you’re watching the movie with (assuming they, too, have standard human moral codes—if not, get some new friends. Fast.). Which is where the shock and disgust of the Siskels and Eberts of the world once again come into play. Apparently they stated that when they went to see the movie in the theater, some audience members were literally cheering during the midst of Jenny’s ordeal. I have to admit, that’s sick—really sick. I just don’t see how any honest analysis of the film can lead a person to conclude that was the reaction Zarchi was aiming for in any way, shape, or form, and a director really I can’t help who buys a ticket to see his or her work.  I’m also willing to bet those some assholes were probably sitting there in stunned silence, clutching at their balls to make sure they were still there, when the animals they were whooping and hollering for get their comeuppance. Let’s just say guys out for payment in blood for the wrongs done to them or their families like Charles Bronson (no disrespect to Chuck, TFG loves the guy) could learn a lesson or two from our girl Jenny(apart from her one mistake—she kills the group’s head honcho— a guy, by the way, shown as having a wife and kids, therefore destroying another myth of rape, that it’s perpetrated by masked intruders and not “decent family men,” therefore making another very feminist, and sadly accurate, argument about sexual violence, namely that it can be perpetrated by people in all walks of life for any reason or no reason at all— second, rather than saving him for last—but hey, it’s understandable, you gotta kill these guys in the order you come across them, you may not get a second chance).

Revenge is a dish best served cold---

Revenge is a dish best served cold, even if it's not at the table---

Your host isn’t terribly fond of the idea that cinema, literature, or music can somehow “influence” somebody to do something they wouldn’t have done otherwise, and frankly I find the idea that critics of “I Spit On Your Grave” advanced at the time that this film would somehow “inspire” anyone to go out and rape somebody is absurd. Those buffoons that Siskel and Ebert heard cheering obviously had problems to begin with. But in truth this film does nothing to “encourage” them, rather it shows the unbearable ugliness of rape in the coldest and most clinical light possible and shows the rapists themselves as being mindless thugs who get exactly what they deserve. This is movie isn’t told from their point of view, it’s told from hers — it’s quite apparent that in no uncertain terms, as far as Zarchi is concerned, these guys are inhuman monsters.

---just be prepared to clean up the mess afterwards. And don't be afraid to get your hands dirty.

---just be prepared to clean up the mess afterwards. And don't be afraid to get your hands dirty.

The critical reevaluation this film has seen over the years is finally waking some folks up to the fact that they had it wrong the first time around and what we’ve got here is not a prurient piece of irredeemable garbage but, in truth, probably the best entry into the “rape-revenge” subgenre of all time. Sure, classics like “The Last House on the Left” still stand out in this tiny cinematic ouevre, but the crime itself and its aftermath are much more personal, and therefore immediate, in “I Spit On Your Grave.” No family members getting even for what was done to their daughter or wife here. This is a woman settling the score for what was done to HER, personally. It’s not flashy or stylized or in any way “glamorous”(another great point Briggs makes in his DVD commentary is that, sure, there’s some gratuitous nudity early on—it’s an exploitation film, for Christ’s sake—but Zarchi doesn’t dwell on extreme close-ups of Keaton’s naked breasts as one would expect, rather it’s all shown from quite a considerable distance). It’s raw, authentic, and unvarnished. And yeah, that makes it ugly, but it’s an ugly crime — is it even right to portray it in any other way?

Elite Entertainment's "Millennium Edition" DVD Release of "I Spit On Your Grave"

Elite Entertainment's "Millennium Edition" DVD Release of "I Spit On Your Grave"

There have been a few different DVD editions of “I Spit On Your Grave” over the years (and incidentally, this was one of the films on Britain’s infamous “video nasties” list, movies which were literally BANNED by the UK government during the early-80s VHS boom), but the “Millennium Edition” from Elite Entertainment is the way to go here. In addition to the fantastic commentary from Briggs referenced a time or two above, there’s also an insightful commentary track from writer-director Meir Zarchi (who would go on to to make one other film, “Don’t Mess With My Sister,” which also centers on a revenge them—guess he wasn’t too terribly interested in other types of stories. Oh, and he married his leading lady from “I Spit On Your Grave,” Camille Keaton, so I guess she wasn’t too convinced herself that he’d made some “pro-rape” movie here),  a selection of outraged (and outrageous) text reviews from newspapers and magazines from around the time of the film’s release,  and the theatrical trailer and a sampling of TV spots are thrown in for good measure, as well. The digitally-remastered picture and THX sound are great. An essential addition to the home video library of exploitation film fans everywhere.