The Horror Honeys: Honey Switch Month ~ Vengeance is Mine… Or is It?

Honey Switch Month ~ Vengeance is Mine… Or is It?

A Honey Switch Month Review with Revenge Honey Katie

The I Spit on Your Grave series

January is the month where all Honey writers on the site switch roles, and I was the lucky (unlucky?) gal who drew the Revenge Honey’s area of expertise, leaving her to swap with me as the Sci-Fi Honey for a month. This experiment is sure to result in some surprising and interesting looks at specific subgenres through the eyes of a viewer who may not be as well-versed in the subject as those who consistently write within their given Honey designation year-round. Eager to quickly learn the ins and outs of this controversial and ruthless subgenre, I chose a film that is so notorious it’s practically synonymous with the word ‘revenge’: Meir Zarchi’s 1978 exploitation classic I Spit on Your Grave. But why stop there? A 2010 remake of the film has already spawned two recent sequels, and since Revenge Honey Linnie is normally averse to watching remakes, I decided to review Revenge Remakes all month long – starting with the entire I Spit on Your Grave series.

Am I a glutton for punishment? Maybe. But Revenge is a dirty job, and someone’s got to do it. It’s time to put on my brave face, because January is going to be a merciless month for this typically timid Sci-Fi Honey.

Zarchi’s original film – initially released under the deceptively empowering title Day of the Woman – made waves in the early 1980s for depicting its central female character Jennifer (Camille Keaton, Zarchi’s wife at the time) being viciously brutalized for nearly a third of the film’s runtime. As a writer escaping to the solitude of the woods for inspiration, Jennifer’s isolation makes her an easy target for a crew of local thugs who go from stalking and taunting to assault in no time at all – leading to a savage gang-rape that seems to last an eternity. Anyone would feel that Jennifer deserves retribution after what she’s portrayed to endure, and some sense of justice is eventually achieved in the hanging, castration, and disembowelment of her attackers. The problem is, whatever ‘statement’ the filmmaker was trying to achieve about one woman’s victimization and subsequent retaliation is muddled by the painfully amateurish quality of the film’s photography, acting, and bare-bones semblance of a script. It’s hard enough to stomach the unflinching portrayal of sexual violence in Zarchi’s film without being distracted by the all the ways I Spit on Your Grave is incompetent on a basic technical level. This is not an ‘enjoyable’ film to watch by any conceivable measure, and its place in cinematic history is ultimately nothing more than a tawdry footnote from the infamous Video Nasty era.

An oh, it is nasty indeed.
A remake of I Spit on Your Grave utilizing even a modicum of artfulness is not exactly a bad idea, if the intention is to make the audience emotionally connect to its central character before depicting her cycle of abuse and retribution. In that sense, Steven R. Monroe’s 2010 update achieves what the original film was lacking – for at least the first half of the equation. Sarah Butler stars as modern-day Jennifer, a writer facing similar victimization at the hands of backwoods deviants, this time in a film buoyed by a stronger crew of actors, skillful direction, and a more fully-realized script than its 1970s counterpart. Jennifer’s pain and suffering is still just as distressing to watch; maybe even on a greater level considering the perpetrators in the remake are less like the Deliverance-style caricatures of Zarchi’s film and more like potentially real people. The story, too, has wisely been updated to address all the issues raised by adapting this scenario to a contemporary setting: doesn’t she have a cell phone to call for help? Can’t she trust law enforcement to be more sympathetic than a woman in the 1970s possibly could?

Answer: no.
With so many initial improvements over its predecessor, it’s a shame that Monroe’s remake declines so rapidly in the revenge-fueled second half. Fans of torture porn will gleefully cheer on Jennifer as she seeks retribution against those who wronged her, because she does so in impossibly cruel, absurd, and outlandish ways rarely seen outside of that specific subgenre. Whatever realism that was achieved early on in the film (and in the original I Spit on Your Grave, where a simple castration seems like a fitting punishment for this particular crime), Jennifer’s revenge rampage features elaborate set-ups utilizing a shed full of torture tools and chemicals to carry out her murderous mission. Even for a savvy modern-day character who is also supposed to have a creative mind, it is hard to swallow these over-the-top death devices Jennifer concocts to slowly afflict as much agony on her attackers as she possibly can.

Like whatever's going on here.
If you are indeed a fan of the torture porn subgenre, you may be inclined to check out the first sequel to the I Spit on Your Grave reboot: I Spit on Your Grave 2 (2013), also directed by Steven R. Monroe. This time, the ill-fated victim is aspiring model Katie (Jemma Dallender), a small-town girl trying to make her way in the bad Big Apple. After shrewdly turning down an offer for free headshots if she strips down for a photographer, she’s followed home by the photographer’s brother and bound, gagged, and brutalized in her apartment. Being a sequel that needs to somehow up the ante, however, the cruelty doesn’t stop there – Katie is kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery, taking the film directly into territory reminiscent of Eli Roth’s Hostel series. Nothing of much value is offered in Monroe’s follow-up, unless you’re seeking more graphic depictions of genital mutilation, torture involving urine and feces, and scene after scene of unmitigated violence. Just be aware that bingeing these movies back-to-back will assuredly leave you feeling as hopeless and numb as some of the characters on-screen.

PSA: too much Revenge-ing will turn you into an unfeeling robot.
What makes the third film in the recent I Spit on Your Grave series so unique (released in October of 2015, and subtitled Vengeance is Mine), is that it focuses on the many stages of coping with having experienced life-threatening sexual trauma – something that none of the aforementioned films do. Jennifer of the 2010 film (also played by Sarah Butler) is still reeling from her assault five years later, and undergoing various forms of therapy to manage the ongoing pain following her torturous ordeal. Jennifer finds inspiration through fellow assault survivor Marla (Jennifer Landon), who joins her on a spree to humiliate, harass, and ultimately execute men who and are not appropriately punished for the crimes they perpetrate against women. Vengeance is Mine is a surprisingly well thought-out sequel that finally addresses the countless ways that victims attempt to process their trauma, treating scars both physical and psychological. 

When 'Girls' Night goes horribly awry.
Revenge films are popular because we like to root for a wronged character to triumph; but whether or not Jennifer and Katie are left standing, they are irrevocably broken from this experience – and have killed a great many people to achieve their physical and emotional “freedom." Most of the films in the I Spit on Your Grave series – except the third entry, to some extent – fail to achieve a meaningful sense of closure or a satisfying emotional catharsis. For the most part, each film features just an hour (sometimes less) of a reprisal of needless violence preceded by an hour of the same. M.K. Gandhi is known to have said “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind,” and one can’t help but understand that sentiment after experiencing six-plus hours of the horrific torture of women and men alike depicted in this original film and its modern-day incarnations. Can Jennifer and Katie ever truly be healed – or is their retribution just as hollow as the moral ambiguity that I Spit on Your Grave ultimately adds up to?

Sci-Fi Honey ‘Revenge’ Rating:
1978: 0 stars
2010: 1.5 stars
2013: 0.5 stars
2015: 2.5 stars

What do you think of the ISOYG series?
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