Some movies are so shocking and visceral the aftereffects are felt for years - even decades. When I Spit On Your Grave aka Day of the Woman was released in theaters it sparked an avalanche of passionately negative and positive reactions. In the years since this 1978 shocker smashed its way into theaters, it still sparks heated debate about the veracity of its status as a pro-feminism film. Ronin Flix gives this genre-defining film a stunning new Blu-ray release with a gorgeous new 4K transfer, tons of excellent bonus features. This set also includes the less-than-amazing direct sequel I Spit On Your Grave Deja Vu and the feature-length documentary Growing Up With I Spit On Your Grave by Terry Zarchi. For fans of this gnarly horror icon or genre completionists, it doesn't get better than this set from Ronin Flix - Highly Recommended.
Some movies inspire instant praise for their bravado and cunning cinematic enthusiasm to capture an audience's attention. Other films are slapped with instant vitriolic condemnations. Then there are the few films that inspire both reactions from a rather erratic swath of the movie-going audience. I Spit On Your Grave AKA Day of the Woman is one such movie. When it was released it was brutally reviewed by iconic critics Siskel and Ebert and dismissed as one of the worst anti-feminism films they'd ever seen. Conversely, the film was praised by a variety of feminist critics for the stance of giving the victim the power to exact their own brand of justice in an era where rape was so often ignored or under-prosecuted. It's important to note - no matter how you feel about it - the film was inspired by a real-life instance where writer/director Meir Zarchi helped rescue a rape victim and was horrified by the treatment she received when he took her to the police.
And now forty-odd-some years from its initial release, I Spit On Your Grave still sparks some fierce debate. When I was in school two of my professors debated the merits of the film - one fiercely opposed and one staunchly supporting its position as a true feminist film. What was interesting to watch was the professor that was for it was a woman and the one against it was a man. They each made a variety of thoroughly detailed points to hold their case. It's because of this fierce debate that this film remains such a controversial icon of the exploitation genre. While I appreciate and applaud the pro-feminism stance of it, the sad result of this movie is the litany of knock offs of the rape/revenge sub-genre that didn't have the tact or the wherewithal to treat the material with respect. Or they cheat like Clint Eastwood's odd entry in the Dirty Harry franchise Sudden Impact where the woman/vigilante played by Sondra Locke is suddenly no longer the hero and Clint himself gets to "save the day" in the final act complete with his infamous "Go ahead, make my day" quip.
For myself - this is one of the toughest movies for me to watch. I don't think I even need five fingers to count how many times I've seen it. And even then, I've only made it through the extensively brutal rape sequences once. I just can't. I saw this film for only the second or third time in that screening room in college ahead of the debate and that was enough. It's one thing to see it in the safety of an audience experiencing the same thing but to sit at home alone on my couch… I had to skip past it. Just knowing it's there is enough motivation for me as a viewer to be ready for Jennifer's revenge. Similar to the actions of the parents The Last House on the Left - I want to see these characters punished and I want to enjoy that more than justified violence.
And what I love about how Camilla Keaton's Jennifer is how she goes about it. Shein spends the aftermath of her horrible experience piecing together her novel, writing her experiences, and preparing. She stalks the men that assaulted her and learn their patterns. At first, with the simple-minded grocery deliveryman, it was simple and quick. By the time she gets to Eron Tabor's Johnny and has to listen to him victim-blame that what happened to her was her fault, it's like she's given permission to enjoy her vengeance as much as they enjoyed their crime. And I'm all for it! It's still shocking, it's still horrifying, but in the aftermath when she burns his clothes you're proud of her - and ready to see what she does next.
It's here where I want to switch things up a bit and bring in another perspective. When I got this new boxset of I Spit On Your Grave from Ronin Flix to review I didn't want to be the only voice covering this portion. I asked my friend, Gracie Jarvis, co-host of the excellent and very entertaining Horror Podcast Good Mourning, Nancy to offer her thoughts about Meir Zarchi's little opus:
When I first watched I Spit On Your Grave (1978) I realized that I had completely underestimated how brutal the film would actually be. It was shocking, heartbreaking, and most importantly: real. Almost too real. With all of that said, I still loved it, mostly because the ending is beyond satisfying. I never felt like it glorified rape like many did when it was first released in the late 1970s (during the second wave of feminism in the United States). It received a lot of negative press from both feminists and film critics alike back then, and I think that train of thought has crept its way into the 2000s. But if you ask horror fans, especially female and non-binary horror fans, what they think of the film, like I did, the majority will tell you exactly what I think: it’s brutal, yes, but it’s cathartic.
The character of Jennifer is quite amazing. She’s a single, feminist writer from New York City who rents a house in the country so that she can work on her next book in peace. Like all women, she simply just wants to exist. But the men in the film don’t like it. They hate her confidence, her chosen solidarity, her beliefs. They hate her because she is a woman. They taunt her, rape her, humiliate her, and then they try to kill her. How many women, POC, and Trans-people have experienced some form of sexual assault? Have been killed for just existing? Far too many. I Spit On Your Grave’s ending, in which Jennifer murders her abusers, is so gratifying because it gives many survivors a revenge fantasy that they would never be able to enact in real life. In reality, many abusers, if they are even caught, are given minimal sentences and a second chance at life, while the survivor is made to live with this traumatic event forever, without any sort of real closure. I Spit On Your Grave gives us that closure we all desire.
Rape-Revenge films are truly not everyone’s cup of coffee and this is understandable. They can have the opposite effect on survivors and be immensely triggering. They are also quite often accused of being pseudo-empowering by objectifying the female lead or showing that the only way a woman can enact revenge is to be violent in return. Fighting fire with fire, if you will. The female lead is usually always thin and white, too.
Like most horror sub-genres, the revenge film has some work to do, but I Spit On Your Grave is a great starting point and until justice prevails in reality, we all deserve a fantasy in which we are able to avenge ourselves.
Good Mourning, Nancy can be found on Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, Apple, and where ever fine podcasts can be heard. Check 'em out, it's a fun show!
I Spit On Your Grave Deja Vu
I won't be spending a lot of time breaking this one down - in all honesty, it's not great and that's being rather generous with it. Taking a page from Halloween (2018), Deja Vu picks up 40 years after the events of the original. Jennifer (Camille Keaton) has now become a famous author after her book about the events she endured, her revenge, and subsequent acquittal at trial is a smash hit. But the family of the men she murdered in revenge has not forgotten or forgiven. Lead by Johnny's vengeful widow Becky (Maria Olsen), Jennifer and her supermodel daughter Christy (Jamie Bernadette) are kidnapped and the cycle of terror begins again.
When this project was announced I was intrigued. I wasn't a fan of the remake or its spawn so I thought a return to the original could be worth checking out. I'll give props to Meir Zarchi for approaching the material with an eye for the psychological aftermath of violent tragedy - but it just doesn't work. Truly playing from the Halloween playbook it tries to be psychological and meditative but my god is it boring! At two-and-a-half hours, it's easily an hour too long as dialogue sequences prattle on long past any exposition value has been established. I'll credit the cast - specifically Jamie Bernadette for giving it her all but the script just isn't there to support a movie of this length. A few more rewrites and a much tighter final edit probably could have salvaged this one. But hey - the Joe Bob Briggs commentary is a hoot and makes slogging through this movie actually worth it.
Growing Up with I Spit On Your Grave
Filmmaker Terry Zarchi - Meir's son - produces and directs this in-depth look at I Spit On Your Grave. Made over a five-year period Terry gathers a variety of interviews from cast and crew to family members who worked on the film. Terry's narration may be a bit dry, but there's a lot of interesting material here and it's interesting to see the cast again reflecting on the material. The Juxtaposition of Camille Keaton's positive outlook to how her male cast members like Eron Tabor and Gunter Kleemann and how they're proud to have been apart of the movie but are much more reserved when they come to their performances. It's a nice retrospective piece - it may not be a slickly produced show but it's put together smartly and there's a lot of worthwhile material to glean here that's not on any of the commentaries.
Taken as a whole this really is the complete true I Spit On Your Grave experience. You get one of the most notorious exploitation horror films ever made, the less than amazing direct sequel, and the feature-length documentary. Covering all of this has been exhausting, to say the least - but if you're a fan of the film or are just someone who understands the purpose of this movie and revere its place as an exploitation masterpiece, this three-disc set from Ronin Flix is as good as it gets. Sure, maybe they could have included the remake and those sequels but I've never been a fan of them so in my opinion, this set is better without them.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
I Spit On Your Grave gets a new life on Blu-ray with a beautiful new three-disc set from Ronin Flix. Each disc gets it's own sturdy standard clear Blu-ray case and all three are housed in a sturdy card slipcase and includes a 44-page booklet with production images and essays. I Spit On Your Grave, I Spit On Your Grave Deja Vu, and Growing Up With I Spit On Your Grave are all pressed on Region A locked BD-50 discs. The first two films load to animated main menus with traditional navigation options. Growing Up With I Spit On Your Grave loads to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
I Spit On Your Grave arrives on Blu-ray for the second time with a stunning - and often shockingly so - beautiful new 1080p transfer sourced from a new 4K restoration. The amount of detail, color depth, natural film grain, and balance in black levels and contrast is striking. Simply without a full native 4K UHD Blu-ray with HDR release, this is simply the best this movie will likely ever look on home video. What's terrific about it - as clean and crisp as it looks, it doesn't lose that independent feature look. There's no sign of any DNR, fine film grain is intact and present with a natural organic quality to it giving a true film-like presentation. There's a sequence about 20-minutes in where the guys are out late at night plotting what they want to do that is still rough. It's always looked rough and this is where the grain is much heavier and there's some apparent speckling - but all of those issues are limited to this sequence.
Colors are lively and lifelike giving the actors natural skin tones while primaries offer a lot of pop - especially reds. Red on white is a reoccurring motif in the visual design and the crisp whites with deep crimson reds is very effective. Blues and yellows get their moments but they're not as prominent. Black levels are spot on. Aside from that early moment previously mentioned blacks are deep and inky giving the image a terrific sense of three-dimensional depth. Whites are luminous without blooming - Jennifer's "death shroud" she wears as she takes out a couple of victims is especially crisp and natural.
Again, this is as about as close to perfect as this title is likely to ever see on home video.
I Spit On Your Grave Deja Vu
As a recent film shot digitally, the visual quality maintains that digitally shot aesthetic without any post manipulation to dial it back or add a fake grain veneer. I haven't found any information about the digital intermediate master, 2K or otherwise, but this is a crisp clear image with often striking details. Colors are also bright and bold with a strong primary presence. Black levels are impressive giving the image some true depth with contrast in check for whites to be bright without any blooming. All in all a solid-looking image - but it's also not very unique. Another funny thing with the clarity the image offers it's immediately obvious this sequel was not shot in Connecticut like the first film - even though the two are supposed to take place in the same locations. Kudos to the production design for doing their best at replicating the old location buildings.
Growing Up with I Spit On Your Grave
As a digitally shot documentary - the image quality is dependent entirely on the source elements which could be shot with any variety of cameras in a variety of locations. Using archival footage, incorporating stills, some rough around the edges reenactments - the overall visual aesthetic of the documentary is pretty basic - people sitting in chairs talking at the camera intercut with footage from the film or a location production still of some sort. You're really here for the information the documentary is providing, not the visual appeal.
I Spit On Your Grave arrives with three excellent audio mixes to choose from - A DTS-HD MA 2.0 Dual Mono track, A DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, and a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo mix. All three are pretty great for what they do, but I found the Dual Mono and the Stereo mixes to be the better of the three. The 5.1 mix is fine and offers some decent surround activity, but at the same time, there are long stretches where it just feels like the sides and rears aren't engaged and the front/center channels are picking up the heavy load. The Dual Mono track is exactly as it sounds, your front left/right speakers pumping the same sound elements where the full 2.0 Stereo mix spaces things out a bit better. If I was going to pick one over the other I'd go with the Stereo. All around dialogue is clean and clear throughout and there's a natural sound presence throughout giving the film plenty of atmosphere. The most effective sound effect is still that motorboat engine as it closes in on Jennifer's cabin. Still very chilling stuff. Free of any hiss or pops, this is clean and clear track.
I Spit On Your Grave Deja Vu offers viewers two options, a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track and a stereo DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. Of the two, the most effective is the 5.1 surround mix. There's a better use of atmospherics and dimension as more of the film uses the extra space the channels offer. That said, there are several long stretches where the mix sounds front-loaded - these are specific to any lengthy conversation sequence which can really drag this show out and the only thing cooking in your setup are the front/center channels. The Stereo mix is fine overall, but if you have a surround setup or even a halfway decent soundbar there's no real call for it.
Growing Up with I Spit On Your Grave
This documentary arrives with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix and a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix - truthfully there's little difference here as the 5.1 mix 90% front/center with only fits of surround activity for specific footage from the film. All of the interviews are in closed locations so there's no call for a surround mix. Both get the job done so take your pick.
Between two feature films and a documentary, there's actually a lot of great stuff to dig through here. Most of what's on disc for the original film is all ported over from previous releases. Meir Zarchi's commentary is interesting stuff as he goes through the making of the film and its reception even if it's not strictly scene-specific. Joe Bob Briggs' commentary is great and an essential listen. New for this set is a visit to the locations of the film hosted by Michael Gingold who also writes the notes in the included booklet.
The second film gets a fine batch of bonus features - the cast interviews work well even if they're pretty typical EPK materials. The Joe Bob Briggs audio commentary is the real treat though. He offers up as much scene-specific trivia as he can, but like the viewer often gets exhausted by how long certain scenes last or how nonsensical some of the plot elements are. He's not outright riffing the movie but he takes some good pokes at it
I Spit On Your Grave isn't an easy movie to watch. It's even a difficult film to say you actually "enjoy." Since its theatrical release, it's sparked controversy and it remains a controversial topic with its brutal and unrelenting depictions of one woman's rape and her horrific - but justified - revenge. This isn't a movie I pull off the shelf but maybe once every five years and even then I have to skip parts. Even as difficult as it is to watch I'm glad this movie exists. The rape/revenge exploitation film genre is often treated with kid gloves or even sexualized but I Spit On Your Grave never pulls any punches. While the sequel Deja Vu may have been well-intentioned, it's a shadow of its predecessor barely rising to the level of being a passable experience. The documentary Growing Up with I Spit On Your Grave is an interesting look behind the scenes of the film with new interviews with various cast and crew members.
This three-disc set from Ronin Flix is an essential piece for fans of the film or the genre. The first film is given a gorgeous new transfer with excellent audio and a terrific assortment of bonus features. The sequel gets the same special treatment and the Joe Bob Briggs commentaries for both films are a must-listen. The documentary feature also has some interesting little extras worth taking a look at. As a whole, this is one of the horror releases of the year. I hope Ronin Flix has more releases up their sleeves like this one! Highly Recommended