I Spit on Your Grave (1978) vs I Spit on Your Grave (2010)

I Spit on Your Grave

What separates the I Spit on Your Grave films from most other movies in the genre is that the primary source of horror is derived from rape rather than other forms of violence. While the rape/revenge subgenre certainly does exist within the genre as a whole, it is not utilized nearly as often as others, most likely due to the fact that it is so difficult to strike the proper balance when presenting the subject matter. The ideal depiction of a rape scene on film is one that acknowledges the horrific nature of the act without overly sexualizing it or downplaying the severity of it’s impact on the character. I Spit on Your Grave is generally cited as the quintessential rape/revenge horror film, but which version is able to more effectively explore what is easily one of the most taboo subjects in film? For that matter, does either version depict the central act properly? Well, let’s discuss.

Before I start, I do want to mention there are some spoilers regarding the plot so if you have not seen these films, I would recommend doing so prior to reading this. Okay, all set now? Let’s continue then. Both films follow the same basic plot structure in which novelist Jennifer Hills rents an isolated cabin in a rural town to focus on writing her book. Before long she is brutally raped and beaten by a group of men and left for dead. Once she physically recovers she seeks her gruesome revenge.

Considering the fact that the remake sticks very closely to the story of the original, it is almost baffling how different the final results are. Although, once you start examining the details, it becomes very apparent why the original is able to be a harrowing portrayal of sexual violence that is still genuinely disturbing nearly forty years later and why the modern version is the kind of trite piece of shit that makes people hate remakes in general.

Let’s start with the most important part of the story in both films: the rape scene. In the original the event unfolds in real time, only using time-lapse cuts when characters are traveling between locations. In this version, writer/director Meir Zarchi forces the viewer to bear witness to every horrific moment of the progressively brutal violation without reprieve. There is also a palpable sense of dread, not only before but during the act as Jennifer is clearly hoping the ordeal will be over after each assault, only to have it begin again. In this way Zarchi doesn’t let the viewer off the hook but forces them to confront every moment of the horror she has to experience.

Far from being an exploitative tool to titillate the viewer, this realistic, unflinching depiction shows rape for the vile act it truly is. I’ve always said “horror should be horrifying” and when disturbing subject matter like rape is explored, it should be done so in a way that actually disturbs the viewer, not simply presented like a sex scene that’s designed to excite. This is why there is far more cultural value in the realistic way the original, and films like Irreversible, depict sexual violence than films that sanitize it. It is an important reminder that rape in the real world is a horrible thing and one that should be taken seriously.

The remake on the other hand delivers the standard version of what Hollywood thinks passes for edgy and realistic but is, in reality, playing well within the established safe space of the average viewer’s comfort zone. It is still disturbing but comes nowhere near the unrelenting brutality of the extended, punishing realism of the original. It also self-sabotages by only showing two of the men actually committing the rape and merely implying the involvement of the others. I can’t think of any reason for this other than a misguided attempt to spare the delicate sensibilities of the viewer, despite the fact that all of them being involved is a key part of the story.

Speaking of misguided, the choice in the remake to have Jennifer disappear into the river after the rape and then start stalking the men with borderline supernatural abilities, like she’s fucking Jason Voorhees, was an utterly terrible decision. It took the film from the gritty realism of its source material and plunged it deep into mediocre Slasher territory. By doing so, it also cuts out what is perhaps the most poignant and devastating part of the original which is Jennifer dealing with the aftermath of the crime. This, along with the lingering shots of her in between assaults, is important because it further humanizes her and reinforces the traumatic fallout this event is causing her life.

Another aspect of the original that is a key part of delivering the emotional impact is the excellent performances. Camille Keaton’s fearless and emotionally raw portrayal of Jennifer is an essential component of the original’s success.

That point is reinforced in the remake, as it is very clear that Sarah Butler is not up to the task and her stilted performance never lets you forget that you are watching someone trying to act. Although that can really be said for pretty much the entire cast of the remake, who all feel like poorly sketched stereotypes straight out of central casting. Even the initially goofy depiction of the simple-minded Matthew in the original is made all the more chilling when he proves that, despite his initial reluctance to participate, he is just as willing to indulge in his darkest base desires as the rest of the men.

There are also so many brilliant, subtle points in the original that are completely lost in the remake, seemingly because director Steven R. Monroe couldn’t grasp their significance. For instance, the fact that the men in the original mock and destroy her writing towards the end of the ordeal, as though they are trying to make their domination and destruction of her complete by also emotionally violating and destroying her. In the remake it is thrown in as a relatively inconsequential afterthought before the rape begins.

Another important point in the original is that her sexuality, the very reason they targeted her in the first place, is a key tool in her revenge, a fact that is almost completely excised from the remake. In the original, it is also made clear that the men are not just mad at her but actually blame her for the fact that they felt compelled to violate her. This is a subtle but very important commentary on the kind of mindset that perpetuates rape culture in our society and one that is totally glossed over in the remake.

The original also adds a layer of complexity by efficiently establishing the fact that, despite being capable of horrific crimes without regret, the lead rapist Johnny is also a loving and attentive father. This doesn’t excuse his actions, but it does serve as reminder that other innocents will suffer the fallout if he is served with his well-earned comeuppance. There is an attempt in the remake to invoke a similar familial tie with the character of the sheriff (who was invented for the remake) but it is belabored to the point of rendering it ineffective.

To be fair, the gore itself in the original, while creative, does look quite dated by today’s standards. Even though the effects are updated in the remake, and overall do look good, they are simply the same run-of-the-mill post-Saw set pieces we have seen in pretty much every horror film since the beginning of the millennium. In the end, this is one of the most clear cut examples of how no amount of slick production values can justify the existence of a remake that doesn’t preserve the aspects that made the original great in the first place.

Winner I Spit on Your Grave 1978

Night Kaleidoscope (2017)

Night KaleidoscopeSome movies are created with an emphasis of style over substance, a deliberate attempt by the filmmaker to craft a compelling and surreal world that does not adhere to a standard narrative format. Suspiria, Lost Highway and Beyond the Black Rainbow are just a few examples of when this artistic gamble really pays off and pulls viewers into a compelling, living nightmare that brings you along for the ride, even if it’s not always clear where that ride is taking you. Conversely, when not done properly a lack of narrative only succeeds in creating frustration and quickly bores the viewer with a series of meaningless images. So, where does a film with a hallucinatory, dream-like style like Night Kaleidoscope fall on the spectrum? Well, let’s discuss.

The plot (such as it is) centers around Fion (Patrick O’Brien) who uses his hereditary psychic abilities (along with the unknown mystical drug he smokes) to help solve crimes. His current case involves a vampire couple that are responsible for a series of murders in the city slums. He is soon joined by Isobel (Mariel McAllan) a mysterious young woman who seems to have a personal stake in wanting to defeat the vampire couple.

First of all, I want to acknowledge the style of this film and the fact that director Grant McPhee effectively uses a variety of techniques to create an authentically surreal, dream-like experience. Quick edits, single-color saturation scenes, deliberate out-of-focus shots and a purposely shaky handheld camera all work together to deliver a fluid sense of movement that is disorienting and nightmarish in the best possible way. The pulsating and ominous 80’s style synth score that’s underlaid throughout adds to the hallucinatory effect of the film and perfectly compliments the striking visual style.

However, one key aspect that separates this film from other surreal classics like those I previously mentioned is the fact that it doesn’t commit fully to the surreal tone it establishes. Swirling, disorienting montages are broken up by scenes with more standard structure and pacing. That’s not necessarily a bad strategy in general as you don’t want to burn out your viewer with images that risk becoming repetitive and meaningless, plus it can be a good time to communicate key plot information. But, in the case of Night Kaleidoscope, this is where it comes up short because unlike films where the whole plot is up to interpretation, this one has a pretty straightforward narrative, it’s just got some holes in it.

For instance, the fact that there is clearly meant to be a greater significance to the character of Isobel but it is never properly established in the plot. This leaves unanswered questions about her connection to the vampires that feel more like an oversight than a deliberate omission. Similarly, plot threads involving Fion’s employer who suddenly wants him off the case and his “psychic drug” supplier’s motivations are not properly fleshed out. This adds to an overall feeling of characters and plot points being introduced without the filmmakers having a clear understanding of how these elements work in the context of the story as a whole.

In general, the world the film creates is certainly strange. It’s a world where there don’t appear to be any mythic creatures other than the vampire couple but their existence is instantly and unquestioningly accepted. It’s a world where psychic detectives are commissioned by mysterious clients when a murder needs to be solved and actual police never appear regardless of the amount of bodies that pile up. In most cases, people in this world also seem very complacent when faced with the threat of death from the vampires but that fact does also lead to an interesting interpretation of this film as an allegory for drug use. Although, it remains unclear if that was the filmmakers’ intention as other aspects of the plot don’t necessarily support it.

Narrative issues aside, I really can’t overstate just how accomplished this film looks visually and the fact that it was made for the astoundingly low price tag of under $5,000 makes it all the more impressive. It also shows a tremendous amount of raw talent for visual flair on the part of McPhee who is a director that one would do well to keep an eye on. In the end this makes for an experience well worth having if you can let nagging concerns about plot melt away and embrace the mesmerizing surreal imagery. Indeed, this is the kind of film that is best when consumed late at night and slightly under the influence.




Flytrap (2015)

FlytrapPsychological horror is often the best route to take for micro-budget films as it places more emphasis on creating an atmosphere of dread rather than elaborate set pieces. That being said, it can still be difficult to execute properly because without the gory spectacle to entertain viewers there is a greater importance placed upon the performances and the quality of the script to keep the audience engaged. The smaller the cast and fewer the locations the more important the acting and story become. So, does Flytrap, a film with one primary location and a very small cast have what it takes to provide an hour and a half of quality entertainment? Well, let’s discuss.

The story follows James Pond (Jeremy Crutchley) an English Astronomer who drives cross-country from New York City to California to take a teaching job at UCLA. He has nearly arrived when his car breaks down in the suburbs and with no cell signal to be found he is forced to knock on the nearest door and ask to use the phone. He is graciously welcomed in by the home’s beautiful but strange occupant Mary Ann (Ina-Alice Kopp) but soon finds leaving much more difficult as he becomes ensnared in a sinister plot that could effect the human race itself.

The first thing I want to say is that I think the concept itself is solid and there’s no reason that a great film couldn’t be made using it….but this is not that film. It starts off promisingly enough with an intriguing voice-over and great cinematography but after about five minutes the dialogue begins and the film takes a hard nosedive and never stops plummeting. I’d like to believe that given a better script and direction the actors here could be capable of decent performances but the writing is just so irredeemably poor that it’s honestly hard to tell. What we are left with is awkward, stilted performances that don’t portray anything resembling authentic characters and quickly become a chore to watch.

I do want to point out that I know that the performances are supposed to be somewhat off because Mary Ann and her comrades are in fact aliens disguised as humans. However, even for that, they severely missed the mark and Crutchley’s awkward performance makes him unintentionally come off as the most alien of all. What is clearly intended to come off as charmingly befuddled comes across as cringingly awkward and socially dense. Oh, and don’t worry, the extraterrestrial revelation isn’t a twist that I spoiled, it’s something that’s clumsily introduced very early in the film when Mary Ann blurts out that they’re from….(sigh) Venus. Okay, here’s a free tip for writer/director Stephen David Brooks; if you’re going to pick a home planet for aliens don’t pick one that we already fucking know can’t support life!

However, this may have been one of the film’s many failed attempts to inject comedy into the production, an ill-conceived move that proved to be the biggest detriment to it’s success by far. The attempts at humor are relentless and fall completely flat every time making for an unbearably irritating experience. Most baffling of all is the fact that so many of the “jokes” involve references to Gilligan’s Island (!). Apparently, Brooks thinks this target audience will be primarily made up of fans of bad sitcoms from half a century ago.

I also take issue with this film in any way even associating itself with the term “horror”. This is at best a weird comedy/drama with elements of a thriller that provides absolutely no tension or dread and primarily focuses on a Stockholm Syndrome induced romance between characters you will hate. And truly, this is a real shame because all this terrible, awkward dialogue is delivered in scenes that are surprisingly well lit and competently framed. This adds to the feeling that this was an enormous missed opportunity that could have had a very different outcome if Brooks had ditched the “comedy” and workshopped the script more before shooting.

I think it’s fitting that this film is posted after Romeo’s Distress on my site because they represent opposite ends of the spectrum for how a micro-budget film can turn out. I wasn’t given information on the budget of this one but it couldn’t possibly have been lower than the $2,500 spent on Romeo and that film managed to be fascinating, engrossing and highly watchable. In other words, the complete opposite of this, which can best be described as a really shitty version of Misery…..with aliens.