Women in Horror Month (WiHM) is an international, grassroots initiative, which encourages supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries. Whether they are on the screen, behind the scenes, or contributing in their other various artistic ways, it is clear that women love, appreciate, and contribute to the horror genre. Psycho Drive-in is joining in by sharing articles – some classic, some new – celebrating the greatest women in the genre!
[Editor’s Note: A version of this article was originally published on June 7, 2016]
Warning: this film makes SAW look PG-13.
“One of the most disturbing things about I Spit on Your Grave is its perverse simplicity. Brutal rape … has no motive.” – Carol J. Clover
Horror movie killers are usually deranged psychopaths, products of a dysfunctional upbringing, or vengeful sociopaths. Yet in the rape-revenge exploitation film, I Spit on Your Grave (2010), the villains have no motives, no Norman Bates mommy issues. The five rapists in I Spit on Your Grave (2010), sexually violate and beat a woman just because they can. It happens every day, all over the world, without motive.
Yet in the world of I Spit on Your Grave (2010), a remake of the 1978 original, the hero, Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler), actually gets justice.
The film opens to novelist, Jennifer Hills, renting a remote lakeside cabin, miles from civilization and a working phone. She does have a laptop, liquor, weed, and pepper spray. But nothing can prepare her for the brutal, repeated sexual assaults she is about to endure. While Jennifer was hoping to utilize the isolation to write, her peace is shattered when local serial killers enter her cabin. The isolation, in turn, becomes her worst nightmare.
Jennifer is a beautiful novelist, modeled after the same name Final Girl from the original film. At first glance, Jennifer seems too polished and rich to be an FG, but she hasn’t been tested yet. Also, since we’re in a horror flick, the fancy shades just signal the city vs country trope. Moments later, Jennifer’s FG status is revealed when she dresses down to a wife-beater and jeans, and says, “I’m a novelist, just looking for some peace and quiet.”
Shit. We know from slashers like The Shining and Sinister that writers shouldn’t go off the grid.
As Jennifer collects her key for the remote cabin in the woods, she stops for gas and meets the local men, who are obviously serial killers. Her gas total comes to $19.78, a nod to the premiere year of the original film—another bad sign. And the gas station attendants are super rapey. You can almost hear the Deliverance banjos when these men hit on her. She fends off their advances with damaging insults. It’s obvious Redneck #1, Johnny (Jeff Branson, The Young and the Restless), is deeply offended.
The remaining rednecks bear the same names as in the original film, Stanley, Andy, and Matthew. Matthew (Chad Lindberg) is mentally handicapped, with a vacant stare evoking more Deliverance vibes. And those aren’t vibes you want to have. Knowing that Johnny, Stanley, Andy, and Matthew were rapists in the original film, it’s only a matter of time until Jennifer is sexually assaulted by these men.
In the 1978 original, Jennifer is raped on screen for 25 minutes, the longest rape scene in the history of film. Back in the 70’s in the heyday of feminist horror, films like Carrie (1976) and The Last House on the Left (1972) could show as much nudity and violence as writers wanted. The freedom to show a near half-hour gang-rape scene followed by vicious murders and a castration is one of the reasons the original film was loathed by critics. These film critics, the same who gave glowing reviews of gang-rape exploitation film, A Clockwork Orange (1971), hated the shit out of I Spit on Your Grave (1978). Unlike, Clockwork, which exclusively portrays sexual violence against women, I Spit shows sexual violence against men.
The film even shows most of the view from Jennifer’s vantage point, forcing the viewer to side with the victim, perhaps even understanding her transformation into a rapist/killer. That is not to say that Clockwork was shown without controversy as the ending of the story was banned from the US. The Clockwork film we know has chopped off the ending where the rapist reforms himself because he wasn’t a deranged individual at all. In the real Clockwork (the novel), Alex was a rapist, without motive. In the real story, Alex and the gang don’t stop raping women because they are psychos reformed, they simply get bored.
Yet Clockwork is still infinitely more accepted among film critics partially because it only features sexual violence against women. Many critics of the OG I Spit, claimed the sexual violence and castration of men was inexcusable. Of course, when a low-budget slasher shows violence against men, it’s offensive. Yet a higher-budget film with male gang-rapists like Clockwork gets revered as art.
I Spit on Your Grave is disparaged for forcing the viewer into the eyes of the sexual assault victim, Jennifer. Because horror is only okay if we see through the eyes of men assaulting women? Due to the mis-en-scene of the film, the viewer cannot accept justifications for the gang-rape, as they feel it through Jennifer’s eyes. The viewer can’t accept arguments like, “she wanted, liked, and deserved the rape.”
These arguments are readily accepted in court, letting most rapists free. What these rich, white male critics probably hated about this film, is that they were forced to see rape through a woman’s perspective. The idea that women get raped but don’t deserve justice is the dominant narrative in our country. Yet I Spit on Your Grave turns that cliché on its head, allowing the Final Girl to torture and kill all five of her attackers.
I think my favorite criticism of the 1978 film is, “This is, beyond a doubt, one of the most tasteless, irresponsible, and disturbing movies ever made. You will hate yourself for watching this one. The scene where she robs a man of his ‘weapon’ is one of the most appalling moments in cinema history.” Oh, a privileged, white male was appalled by violence against men? Shocking.
The film shocks not because it is alien, but because it is real, because rape happens all the time. Many of the critics cited the overwhelmingly male presence in the viewership of this film, as evidence that it glorified rape. However, slashers in general, are mostly watched by males. In the 1980’s, 90% of the people who rented I Spit on Your Grave(1978) on VHS were males under the age of 25.
Yes, I know that.
However, by pointing to the population and not the message, the critics miss the point. Males under the age of 25 should probably get the message that rape is not okay and will be avenged. What males under 25 should not watch, are films that propagate the idea that rape is okay and exists without consequence. Critics are uncomfortable, because, in these 70’s slashers, fear itself is not gendered feminine. And violence against men is shown in all its gory detail.
In the 1970’s, the MPAA did not have strict guidelines regarding nudity and violence. The OG film was detested by critics showing a near half hour of gang rape and every bloody detail of Jennifer’s revenge. However, by the time the remake came out in 2010, horror movies couldn’t show a rape scene over ten minutes.
The late Wes Craven (damn, that sucks writing that), known for The Last House on the Left, spent months fighting the MPAA in the 1990’s. The MPAA initially refused to give his horror satire, Scream (1996) an “R” rating. The original opening scene to Scream shows Casey (Drew Barrymore), gutted and hanging from a tree for minutes. Craven ended up cutting vital shots from the film, just to release it in theatres. That’s why the opening scene of Scream appears in flashes—there’s a time limit to realistic kills. (And now that Scream is an MTV show, there’s even less sex and violence).
Watching I Spit reminds me of Scream victim, Tatum Riley, since she references the film just before her death. Scream writer Kevin Williamson stated that Tatum’s death was his favorite death scene of the entire film, and possibly the franchise. In Scream, Tatum sees Ghostface brandish a knife and taunts him. “So what movie is this from? I spit on your garage?” she jokes, thinking it’s just Randy in a Ghostface mask. Tatum quickly finds out it’s not Randy, when the killer hits a button, killing her with a garage door.
And like Scream, I knew there wouldn’t be anything too grotesque in the 2010 version. So if you’re wondering how and why I watched this film, it’s thanks to good old American censorship. I have seen the original exactly once, without covering my eyes, but it was not easy (yet I walked out of Benjamin Button). As a horror fan, I can handle a rape scene under two conditions, it’s under ten minutes, and the victim gets revenge.
This is why I can’t watch Game of Thrones, because the women are raped, and it ends there (and I’ve already read Le Morte d’Arthur AKA King Arthur). In episode after episode of GOT, more women are raped without consequence. I believe it was the line “I’ll rape this village for you,” that disgusted me the most about GOT, because it was used as a pick-up line and it worked. I’ve happily watched SAW (2004). I just can’t bear to watch violence against women that is glorified and rewarded by other women.
I never thought I’d defend the MPAA, but their conservative censorship kept the contemptible rape of Jennifer under ten minutes. In I Spit, Jennifer is stripped completely naked, but the rape scene is short and edited down to a montage. It’s not easy to watch, especially when the redneck killers force Matthew, the mentally handicapped teen, to rape Jennifer first.
These men know they can do whatever the hell they want to Jennifer. She’s miles away from civilization, in an unlocked cabin, and dropped her cell phone in the toilet. Also, they’ve been surveilling her with a camcorder during their animal torture sessions in the woods. A camcorder? Don’t rednecks have rifles with big scopes or binoculars for duck hunting?
The men call Jennifer “city bitch” and refer to her multiple times as a horse, even making her whinny at one point. The main rapist, Johnny keeps saying, “What’s a pretty girl like you doing out here?” To which Jennifer responds, she has a boyfriend and the cops are on the way. Yet as we remember from Scream, the cops never make it in time, and if there’s a boyfriend, he’s dead.
Johnny and the other men force Jennifer to deep throat guns, vodka bottles, and well, you know. They make Matthew rape her first, even though he is crying and shaking in the corner. Matthew’s an interesting character, as he is berated by the others as not being man enough. Even though Matthew rapes Jennifer too, he does so at gunpoint, against his will. He’s the only man with a conscience in the room.
Interestingly enough, in the 1978 film, film reviews and summaries only listed three rapists. Since Matthew’s the fourth, he was not considered a rapist in the original film because he didn’t want to rape Jennifer. I imagine that disgusting interpretation is partially behind the remake writers’ motives for adding another rapist, for a total of five.
Jennifer is raped again and again by the four men until she blacks out. She wakes up, naked, covered in their sweat and her blood, and grabs the pepper spray. She pepper sprays one of the men and escapes into the woods. Yet, for some reason, her pepper spray doesn’t have tear gas like mine does, so the men just get right back up.
Jennifer is quickly caught by two hunters. “It’s okay,” one of the men says, “I’m a sheriff.” Even worse. The sheriff (Andrew Howard) will either get killed or turn out to be another rapist. As the sheriff walks through Jennifer’s house, we quickly realize, he is rapist #5. The sheriff denigrates Jennifer for being alone, having alcohol, and a “marijuana cigarette,” (a term I haven’t heard since Sublime mocked Reefer Madness). It becomes increasingly obvious, that the sheriff is the worst. He’s 100% not Deputy Dewey, the affable sheriff from Scream.
The sheriff anally penetrates Jennifer with his rifle barrel, as the rednecks return, echoing Deliverance with their savage bellows. At one point, one of the rapists even says, “You’ve got a purdy mouth.” The sheriff rapes Jennifer brutally, whispering, “I’m an ass man.” Don’t worry, that will come back to … get him. The vile man clicks at Jennifer like a horse, calling her a mare, and the nightmare continues.
A phone rings.
It’s the sheriff’s young daughter. She’s a sweet, blonde toddler, like a Children of the Corn kid but not evil. “Daddy’s real busy” he tells his daughter softly, then goes back to the gang rape. This irony of the falsely perceived “sweet, church-going father of the year” actually being a brutal, serial rapist is extremely well done. His blonde, Christian wife and child, sit at home patiently, as he misses dinner for more rape. Like the sheriff, Johnny is also a father/rapist. What’s Johnny’s daughter’s name? Guess.
Did you guess Chastity? It’s Chastity.
Jennifer, now a stranger in her own skin, a ghost of her former self, wanders through the woods in nothing but a shirt. The men find her and rape her, beating her again and again. Though the remake has shorter rape scenes, the writers make up for it with a fifth rapist, the sheriff. Which is even more fucked up, and an obvious commentary on police brutality, something that hasn’t changed much since 1978. Jennifer comes to just as the fifth man climbs off of her. Then Jennifer stumbles to the edge of the dock, holds her hands out like Jesus (Jesus Christ Superstar), and falls deep into the lake.
The redneck rapists are confounded and spend days searching for Jennifer to no avail. They curse the heavens, mad they can’t find “that dead city whore” and scrub the crime scene of all evidence. Except for one, small, piece, the video tape of the entire thing. It’s gone. Then the tape magically appears in the sheriff’s house and he flips his shit. The sheriff curses Stanley for not destroying the tape, saying, “I’m gonna cut his retard pecker off and use it as a goddamn hood ornament.” Which is funny when you realize that Jennifer is going to be the one cutting “peckers.”
The tape’s existence means two things: Jennifer’s still alive and she’s got evidence of their terrible crime. Matthew, (the only one with a conscience) refuses to look, shuddering and crying, flashes of the sadistic gang rape on a loop in his mind. Conversely, the other rapists, chug beer and fuck around because they have no morals whatsoever. And then the fun begins as Jennifer proceeds to savagely torture and murder her attackers.
One by one.
Jennifer begins her revenge with Matthew, the first rapist. “Come here,” she goads him, “Come sit with me.” She consoles him at first, cradling him like a son as he weeps in her lap. “I know this wasn’t your fault,” she says. In the original film, Jennifer has sex with Matthew just before killing him, but this is 2010, so she pats his head.
Then Jennifer strangles the shit out of Matthew with a rope. Goodbye, rapist #1. She cries, as Matthew whimpers his last breath, and it’s clear that this is Jennifer’s first kill. “I’m sorry” were Matthews last words. “That’s just not good enough,” Jennifer says to his corpse. Killing Matthew first was a strategic move to separate and confuse the remaining rapists, and it worked perfectly.
If it has yet to be implied, Jennifer is fucking badass. She could’ve taken a truck and fled town. However, she decided to stay and face her attackers, until every last one of them paid. Maybe Jennifer knows that even with a video of her rape, bringing the rapists to justice is nearly impossible in this country. Most likely, though, Jennifer wanted them to hurt and suffer, just as she had, yet even worse. And the writers clearly want to echo the feminist message of the film, that justice can only be found between a woman and her attacker. The courts will do nothing.
I know this seems dire, but there is actually some humor in this movie. When the rednecks search for Matthew, they scream, “You’re a dead man!” Which is hilarious because, yes, Matthew is dead as fuck. He’s a rotting corpse, but at least they finally call him a man.
Jennifer tortures and kills the other men, largely off screen. Then, nope, wait, they’re not dead. She’s going to torture them in a way that would make Jigsaw proud. Yet unlike SAW, it’s the Final Girl doing the torture this time. (Speaking only of SAW I, no spoilers for who the Final Girl becomes in the sequels).
Our first torture is Andy (Rodney Eastman), bound with rope and suspended over a bath tub full of lye. If you’ve seen Fight Club or passed middle school science, you know lye causes chemical burns when mixed with water. Andy screams, “help me” just as Jennifer had. And no one cares. No one helps. “Now it’s my turn,” Jennifer says, as Andy drowns in a bathtub of acid. Two rapists down, three to go.
The next torture is Stanley, the rapist who gets his eyelids ripped open by fishing hooks. It was hard to take Stanley (Daniel Franzese) seriously since he’s the loveable gay dude from Mean Girls.
Anyway, Jennifer pierces his eyelids with bait hooks, then pulls them back taught against a tree. “Don’t blink,” she says, leaving Stanley there to suffer. So this is a comedy after all. With his eyes ripped open, like Alexander in A Clockwork Orange, Stanley can’t blink.
Then Stanley is forced to swallow a dead rat whole, gets fish guts crammed into his bleeding eyes, then gets his eyes pecked out by crows. Jennifer is ready for her next victim, Johnny. In an amazing ruse, Jennifer dresses slutty and returns to the gas station where Johnny works. Bending over in a denim mini skirt, she tricks Johnny into coming over and hitting on her again.
Jennifer turns around and Johnny sees his fate. Cut to next scene, Johnny is tied up in the barn, a horse bit in his mouth. And much like a scene from SAW, Jennifer yanks out Johnny’s teeth one by one. Yet unlike SAW, which is torture-porn (torture for torture’s sake), this film’s torture was not gratuitous. Jennifer suffered every type of violence one can think of and it makes sense that she would torture these men. Unlike SAW’s killer Jigsaw, who tortures because … better ratings?
Johnny is forced to deep-throat his own revolver when Jennifer drops the gun. In a nanosecond, Jennifer disappears, seeming merciful to Johnny. Then she returns with giant lawn shears and chops his dick off. Johnny screams for minutes, slipping in a pool of his own dick blood.
Time for the final kill: the sheriff. Jennifer gets even more brilliant, conning her way into the sheriff’s house, posing as “someone from the school.” Jennifer calls the sheriff moments before he kidnaps his daughter and peels out. She then rapes the sheriff with his own rifle, until he coughs blood, then rapes him even more. Jennifer calls out the name of each rapist, and echoes what the sheriff said during her rape, “C’mon, Sheriff, I thought you were an ass man.” Then she snaps even further, shoving the rifle with more force and fury.
It doesn’t end there. If you’re still reading this, Jennifer keeps the rifle in his ass, rigging a rope, tied to the trigger. She pulls the string along the wall, then ties it to … Matthew? He’s still alive! Matthew sits on the couch, asleep, as Jennifer ties the string to his arm.
The sheriff looks panicked as hell, as he realizes what will happen when Matthew wakes up. His arm will pull the trigger, firing the rifle rammed up the sheriff’s ass. In the final scene, we see Jennifer sitting calmly outside, a peaceful, sociopathic look on her face.
A gunshot fires and the sheriff is killed instantly, still being ass-raped by his own gun. We see a shot of Matthew, who Jennifer lets live, as she knows he was forced to rape her. And the sheriff dies, “I’ll rape you in hell,” being his last words. It may seem to be a ridiculous threat, but it worked for Freddy Krueger.
Jennifer will never be the same, but she’s got one hell of a novel now.
So if you thought SAW was just too bland, check out I Spit on Your Grave. And if you never want to sleep again, watch the 1978 original.