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Blu-ray Review: Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave on Anchor Bay Entertainment

It comes out of the past coated in textured mud and blood, returning in a rapturous Blu-ray edition.

3.5

I Spit on Your Grave

Man and nature are both all-consuming in Meir Zarchi’s landmark horror film I Spit on Your Grave, effortlessly enveloping attractive young novelist Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) as she drives from New York City into the Connecticut countryside to work on her first novel. The film’s titles fill the frame in big red block letters and the lack of music or sound in general immediately becomes a striking aesthetic choice. Large groves of thick trees mark both sides of the road, eventually guiding Jennifer to a dilapidated gas station with a single white shack as an office. Two man-children, the shirtless Stanley (Anthony Nichols) and the suspender-wearing Andy (Gunter Kleemann), gleefully play with a switchblade, while suave mechanic Johnny (Eron Tabor) idly chats Jennifer up before she drives away into the distance. The interaction is strange but unthreatening, and Jennifer’s casual and hopeful demeanor is expressed when she immediately disrobes for a swim upon reaching her cabin in the woods.

On the surface, isolation equals safety in I Spit on Your Grave, and Jennifer quickly settles into her routine walking through the dense, verdant forest surrounding her isolated cottage, lounging on the calm lake in a red canoe, and soaking up the sun in her hammock. But the sporadic use of sound effects begins to encase her world in dread, and what first seems like random overlapping noises quickly develops into menacing patterns. The audible motifs of a motorboat engine and a harmonica quickly take the place of the traditional horror-film theme music, cueing the human monsters that are circling Jennifer’s cabin from beyond the frame. Jennifer has no idea of the impending danger slowly closing in on her, and I Spit on Your Grave turns the languishing peace of nature into a prolonged arena of terror.

The prolonged rape sequence that takes up more than 30 minutes of I Spit on Your Grave’s runtime is devastating not only for its brutality, but also for its ghostly matter-of-factness. A handicapped grocery delivery boy named Matthew (Richard Pace) joins the trio from the gas station, and as the men emerge from the woods, the moment is striking for its lack of editorial buildup. Even worse, the sequence is broken up into three stages to signify both the duration and crippling trajectory of the act. The inference of possible escape during the moments that segue into these scenes becomes the film’s most diabolical trick. Each segment, from the initial assault by Johnny right out in the open, to the protracted set piece within the dimly lit forest, then finally in Jennifer’s cabin at night, takes on a unique type of visual repulsion, and the affects still make an impact more than 40 years after the film’s release.

Throughout this shocking and at times near-silent middle stretch of I Spit on Your Grave, Zarchi reduces everything to the elemental. As Jennifer’s white skin becomes caked in mud, sweat, and blood, we very much sense a violent shift in her spirit—an overall transformation of ideology. After Jennifer recovers from her attack, allowed to live only because Matthew is unable to kill her (finalizing a trend of impotence), she stages a calculated show of retribution that’s never represented in narrative terms. The famous torture that defines the film’s manifesto on male aggression (including the infamous bathtub castration) springs forth from an elemental part of Jennifer’s core being, much like the deviancy of the rapists.

One can’t mistake I Spit in Your Grave for anything other than a raging political text. “I don’t like a woman giving me orders,” Johnny arrogantly says right before his castration. Jennifer can only smile, reveling in the pain she’s about to unleash. Her malicious focus is so clear in the final moments that there’s no need for narrative closure, and Zarchi simply cuts to black after her final lethal blow, fittingly wielded aboard the motorboat that earlier evoked her rapists’ omniscient power. Engulfed in nature and violence, she forcefully reclaims her individualism, taking away power from the good ‘ol boys and making it her own. Her smile, captured in a rare close-up, is a deafening exclamation point that’s difficult to forget.

Image/Sound

I Spit on Your Grave will not look any better than it does on Anchor Bay’s vibrant 1080p transfer. Every color pops with a disturbing intensity, most notably the many objects splashed with red and green, like the lamps in Jennifer’s cabin, her swim suit, and the interior of the canoe. The day sequences are so stunning you almost forget about the terrible acts filling the frame. Almost. While the nighttime scenes are a bit muddied, I chalk that up to the low-budget production design. Speaking of which, the sound design is pretty awful, with key dialogue unintelligible and sound effects raised to harshly pitched levels. The imbalance probably has to do with the original recordings more than anything else.

Extras

Two superb audio commentaries highlight an otherwise meager supplemental package. The first, by director Meir Zarchi, touches on the production experience, the thematic issues at work, and the importance of on-location shooting. The other, by film historian Joe Bob Briggs, brings a comedic and witty perspective to the social and political subtexts defining the film’s iconic status. The disc contains a low-budget documentary called “The Values of Vengeance,” which basically mixes footage of the film with an interview of Meir Zarchi talking about the various artistic decisions and personal experience on the film. This featurette is most interesting when the director talks about how editing played a key role in fleshing out the story. Also included are radio and television spots, a photo and poster gallery, and an alternate main title sequence.

Overall

Ghostly, wrenching, and defiling, I Spit on Your Grave comes out of the past coated in textured mud and blood, returning in a rapturous Blu-ray edition.

Cast: Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Anthony Nichols, Richard Pace, Gunter Kleemann Director: Meir Zarchi Screenwriter: Meir Zarchi Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment Running Time: 101 min Rating: R Year: 1978 Release Date: February 8, 2011 Buy: Video

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