As a fan of any genre of film, one must be diligent in seeing all that particular genre has to offer. I like all genres of film, but I have a passionate love of horror films. Specifically fond of Halloween and The Exorcist as representative of the best the genre has to offer, I also care a great deal for "Le bad" types best represented by the great The Mad Butcher. I have had to play catch up with several movies that were made prior to my interest in horror having seen Wes Craven's Last House on the Left sometime last year and today finally seeing I Spit on Your Grave, directed by Meir Zarchi.
The basic plot involves a woman who rents a house in the country in order to write her first novel. The seemingly normal inhabitants of the town turn into not such nice characters as she soon finds out when they engage her in what Robert Firsching from AMG's All Movie Guide calls "the longest, nastiest, and most brutal gang-rape in motion-picture history." He is quite correct. Not that anyone should be particularly comfortable watching any rape scene, the director takes great pains to linger on the act so that we, as the audience, find ourselves almost as pained as Camille Keaton, the protagonist (she also happens to be the grand-niece of Buster Keaton.) From here, the movie turns into a revenge tale as she proceeds to dole out punishment to each man that violated her, each in more gruesome fashion, though I must admit that dismembering the man in the bathtub was probably the most uncomfortable of the deeds.
I suppose there are many levels in which to view and review this film. On a simple horror film level, it does the job quite nicely. In fact, though the film was originally released in 1977, I found it quite refreshing to watch a horror film that did not rely on cheap scares or overt gore. This film is more psychological. There is gore, to an extent, but it's horror lies in the act each member commits. It takes a certain amount of sadism, which Buzz McClain, also of AMG, rightfully claims "few people will willfully admit to." In some sense, all horror movies require this, but most are not near as difficult to visually experience.
In terms of historical importance, I'm not sure this film warrants as much attention as it receives. I understand it was banned in some places and certainly received it's fair share of negative reviews, most notably from Roger Ebert in 1980 when the film was released in Chicago, discussed here on Not Coming to a Theater Near You. Most of the negativity is derived from the films obvious level of violence and seemingly indifferent view of female empowerment or lack thereof. I found the manner in which it approaches such to be relatively on the mark as it was made during the 70's as women's liberation began making great strides. Perhaps this brand of political action colored many people's feeling's as they watched it, if they in fact did. So many are quick to criticize without even witnessing what they are denigrating (see The Last Temptation of Christ.) It does not appear to me to exploit women in any way and, in some sense, does seems to advocate a certain level of empowerment. One particular objection of Ebert's was a scene that takes place in a church in which the main character asks for forgiveness for the sins she is about to commit. He felt this to be an abomination, perhaps even sacrilegious. I found it to be fitting in the context of the story.
As a film in general, the cinematic worth is somewhat lacking. The screenplay is rather empty, though some scenes do find a way to work given the sparse dialogue and obvious limitations of the actors speaking the words. The actors themselves do find a nice pace halfway through the film and I found myself forgiving said limitations and even applauding some of their efforts, particularly the lead, Ms. Keaton and the lead rapist, portrayed by Eron Tabor, who's only other film credit (that I can find) appears to be 1985's Krush Groove. There was nothing particularly stunning in the camera work or editing to speak of and almost zero sound or music other than screaming to warrant any reaction, though one scene does use a character's harmonica playing effectively to increase the sense of dread and/or horror at what's about to happen.
All in all, I have to say I thought the film to be worth it in terms of living up to the mantle of classic horror films, though this one belongs more in the cult status than the mainstream. I was able to watch a DVD version of the film, which says that someone out there saw a reason for it to continue to be distributed to the general public. You may not be able to find it at your local Blockbuster (of course I could be talking about any film post 1990 for most stores), but if you search, you should be able to find it. It is worth watching if you have never seen it and have an interest in horror as I do. It certainly has made an impact on some; otherwise it would have never generated the buzz that it seems to have achieved. That is all.