The Original (1978)
Directed & Written by Meir Zarchi
Starring Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Pace, Anthony Nichols, Gunter Kleemann

The Remake (2010)
Directed by Steven R. Monroe
Written by Stuart Morse
Starring Sarah Butler, Jeff Branson, Daniel Franzese, Rodney Eastman, Chad Lindberg, & Andrew Howard

I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE does for rape what JAWS did for swimming…

OK, ok. That was my only joke. I know rape isn’t a laughing matter. It’s about as disgusting a crime one person can enact upon another. Though some would hop atop their high horse and not even want to talk about a film dealing with such heinous subject matter, the pair of films we are going to look at today, as exploitative as they may be, are horror films.

A young beautiful city girl makes her way to a secluded cabin in the woods for some peace and quiet in order to write her novel. On her way there, she runs into a group of locals at a gas station who at first are flirtatious with the girl, but soon their actions become more lecherous. The men track down the woman to her cabin and proceed to brutalize and rape her and finally, leave her for dead. But the girl doesn’t die. She goes on a revenge-fueled rampage, killing the men with as much savagery as was enacted upon her.

That’s the original I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE in a nutshell and, for the most part, the remake that was released in theaters last fall and was just released on DVD and BluRay this week follows the same storyline. Both are diabolical films. Both are ruthless in both the rape itself and the redemption Jennifer doles out on her attackers. But the films do differ in certain areas, making both of these films somewhat different takes on the same story and worth checking out for these differences.

For the most part, there are two horrific components to this story; the rape and the revenge. The first I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE is a pure exploitation film. Optimal film distribution was not taken into consideration in its making and it shows. This film doesn’t give a shit about who it offends. The original emphasizes on the multiple rapes the central figure endures more so than the revenge she takes. The revenge, as grueling as it is, takes second stage to the original act upon Jennifer, happening much quicker (or maybe it just seemed that way to me given that the rape itself was so hard to watch). The sheer amount of time the camera lingers on the rape scenes lets one know where the emphasis lies with this one. Sitting through it is an uncomfortable experience. The film is an unblinking eye on the multiple violations of a woman. There are no quick cuts. No fades to black. We see it all. And it is brutal and ugly and chillingly real. Because of this unblinking eye, it is undeniably a horror film, offering the viewer a glimpse of something terrifying that they have not seen before, no matter how awful it is.

The remake has the same elements at play, but it is much more of a studio movie than the original. Whereas the original lingered longer on the rape, the remake shows one harrowing scene, then creatively uses fades, blurring, and other camera effects and narrative tricks to speed past the initial crime so it can spend more time on the revenge. Though working with the same subject matter, this distinction makes the remake a skosh more digestible for mass audiences. As brutal and wince-inducing as it is, the rape in the remake isn’t nearly as gratuitous as the original. The remake’s overemphasis and complexity of the revenge Jennifer takes on her rapists is not for the squeamish. I was surprised how gory this film gets toward the end, but somehow, despite that I found the film much less grueling to watch than the original, probably because of this eye towards the revenge over the rape.

Another distinction between the two is that the original plays with the common misguided notion among many rapists that “the girl wanted it” more so than in the remake. After the initial act in the original film, Jennifer lures her victims in sexually, leading the rapists to believe their actions actually appealed to her. The remake doesn’t really want to go there and sheds that theme, making this new Jennifer almost a soulless death machine that hunts down her victims and snarls with every beat of a bat or slice of a hedge clipper. The new Jennifer is pure rage (something modern audiences could understand more), whereas the original used all of the feminine charm that initially attracted the rapists to her in the first place. Again, this distinction makes the remake and the original completely different films.

Both films do a great job of illustrating the shock Jennifer is in shortly after she is raped. There’s a surreal scene in the woods in the original as Jennifer walks beaten and dirty through a forest and finds herself surrounded once again by the men in a forest clearing. The tall trees in the foreground and the thick forest surrounding make for a prison of sorts for the young girl, the creepiness intensified by a soulful harmonica played by one of her rapists. This scene is repeated in the remake almost to the exact same hyper-natural effect. Both directors do a fantastic job of capturing a dream-like fugue of this girl’s world at that particular, horrific moment.

Should I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE have been remade? I don’t know. It’s a cautionary tale of sorts. Possibly a pitch for female empowerment. Possibly an exploitation of female weakness thinly veiled with cautionary messages and notions of empowerment. If anything it functions more as a cautionary tale for men not to rape women in the woods. After talking with both directors and especially hearing director Meir Zarchi’s telling of how this film came to be, I think the film is a bit more complex than your typical rape/revenge exploitation. Both films are grueling glimpses at how horrible people can be. Both were highly effective in that it made me feel uncomfortable for different reasons. But true horror is supposed to make you feel uncomfortable. I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and its remake are films of true horror.