Copied over from my Facebook on inception of the blog. Originally written 30/8/2010
Day of the Woman/I Spit on Your Grave (1978/1980)
What’s the deal? Rape, some more rape, and a fair bit of violence
Still banned? Not as of my 15th birthday!
WARNING: Spoilers and NSFW content to follow.
So in the 70s, one incredibly popular subgenre of horror cinema was rape-revenge “dramas.” They were usually abominably bad movies in which a woman was raped and then got her revenge on her attackers. Usually, the rape was a nasty catalyst for the film and nothing more – a misogynistic attitude of many of the filmmakers that posited that a woman being raped was enjoyable. The rapes were often filmed in a titillating way, with the subsequent revenge of the victim portraying her as a monstrous character. They were essentially very very nasty movies and most of them (the ones that haven’t been banned) have just disappeared, as no company has really felt the need to hold onto them.
Into this climate of cheap films came Day of the Woman. Let me pause to mention here that I’m not doing a double review – I’m talking about the same movie, from two different marketing perspectives. Writer/Director Meir Zarchi tells that the story of the film comes from his experiences in helping a girl he’d found in Central Park who had been raped, and his disgust at the (male) New York City police officers’ apathy towards her case. He claims the film is made as a form of atonement for his inability to fully help the girl he found. So Day of the Woman was made, on a miniscule budget (and by GOD does that show through) and released to a tiny number of theatres in 1978, before disappearing due to lack of audience, and inability to market it – it wasn’t a horror film, it wasn’t a drama it was an oddity.
Two years later, a production company took hold of the film and retitled it as I Spit on Your Grave and marketed it as a rape-revenge exploitation film. The film gained a lot of notoriety as being one of the more brutal rape-revenge movies made, and audiences flocked to it. Then the moral guardians caught wind and the epic shit hit the biblical fan. Calls for the film to be banned abounded, Meir Zarchi was labelled a degenerate, and the legacy of one of the more notorious banned films was born.
They are the same movie. Just with different intended audiences.
Day of the Woman/I Spit on Your Grave
Day of the Woman was rated R18+ on video in 1982. It was a cut down version of the film, removing some of the more graphic shots. Oddly, the film was retitled by the censors in 1983, reverting to I Spit on Your Grave. In 1987 a board tried to have it banned, citing that a crime in Tasmania had been inspired by the perpetrator viewing the film. The review board, in a rare moment, did not acquiesce to the request. But they did in 1997. The film was re-banned, and remained as such until 2004. On June 4 (my 15th birthday!) the film was passed, uncut, with the R18+ rating. This was helped by the DVD, which included special features that shed light on the film, such as its unintended branding as an exploitation film. This DVD is, for the moment, still available in Australia.
With the exception of one campfire scene, the following takes place during the day – which is odd for a film this sort.
Jennifer Hill is a writer from New York City. She vacations out to a cabin in a small (read: tiny) town to finish her work. It’s secluded and peaceful. On the way there, she stops at a service station, and the attendant talks with her. She’s wearing a nice dress that shows off her nice legs – not some dress which is slit up to high heaven, but just a normal dress.
She also sees two men in the paddock right next to the service station playing a game of sorts, which looks like it’s been born out of the most infinite boredom. She then drives up to her cabin, and has a bit of a walk around. Seems like a nice place, runs onto a lake, and she even has her own canoe.
Then she meets Matthew, a mentally slow man who delivers her groceries for her. Sadly the acting in the film is not great, and hindsight unfortunately makes him seem a lot like Jimmy from South Park. She has a nice, playful conversation, which is also badly acted.
Jennifer spends some time writing, lazing in a hammock near the lake. Before too long, two guys (the ones from the paddock) ride by in their boat, and wave to her. She hesitantly waves back, and they then start showing off, revving their boat and making a lot of noise and interrupting her writing. She walks off annoyed
We see the four men, the attendant, his two goons from the boat and Matthew sitting around a campfire. They talk lewdly and basely about women, and we do really get the impression of how bored the men are, something which Scott Telek talks of in much more depth on his review of the film at cinemademerde.com.
The next day, while Jennifer is relaxing in her canoe on the lake, the men drive by in the boat, take hold of the canoe and drag it ashore, whistling, cat-calling and jeering at her the entire time. She screams at them to stop, but they ignore her. She tries to run away, but they block her path. They end up stripping her, and holding her down, and offer her to Matthew – who it should be mentioned has some genuine affection for her. He is caught between liking Jennifer, and wanting to fit in with the guys, and also hindered by his mental capacity. The men try to coax Matthew into ‘doing’ her, but he refuses. The gas station attendant (whose name I’m pretty sure is Johnny) gets fed up with Matthew, disrobes and proceeds to rape Jennifer. The men watch on, slightly hesitant – you get the impression that they’re wondering just what they’ve gotten themselves into. Johnny finishes his assault, and Jennifer gets up, brutalised and devastated and stalks away into the woods. Matthew makes a small attempt to help her. She does, before she leaves, cry out “Bastard!”
The film then follows her as she goes through the woods. Here, she is traumatised but somewhat together – she is dazed and catatonic, but you get the sense she knows where she is. As she walks through the woods, she suddenly stops at the sound of a harmonica.
The men have run ahead of her, and she is soon in their clutches. They spread her over a rock, and the harmonica player rapes her. Although the first rape was awful, this one is a lot worse. She screams much louder, they are more vicious and brutal, and it is heavily implied that this is not a vaginal entry. They again try and get Matthew involved, and he again refuses. The men are clearly enjoying themselves this time. They are at ease with themselves and each other, and it is all the more sickening for it.
They once again leave, and Jennifer crawls away to her cabin. ‘Crawls’ is perhaps too generous a term. She inches. This time she is definitely not all there, and clearly even more devastated, as one would expect. She makes no parting cry of their character, she just inches away. And we once again stick with her through it all. She makes it back to her cabin and inches to her phone (even that is too much of an implied distance – she millimetres to her phone) and attempts to call for help. As the call connects, a foot comes out of nowhere and boots the phone away, providing the films one jump-scare. It’s a very effective shock, even if a moment later you realise that there was no way she could have *not* seen them.
But they’ve followed her back to her cabin, and they once again brutalise her. This time, Matthew attempts it. He can’t perform with the men watching and gives up. This time, the most psychopathic of the men has his way with her, and she weakly begs him not to. She is a mere shell of a woman at this point, and he finds it appealing, as he “likes total submission in a woman.” She is so torn down now that the one thing she asks for is that he make her use her hands, as she can’t take the physical trauma. He instead opts that she should “suck it, bitch” before laying the boot into her. He kicks her once, and the other men pull him away, abandoning her once and for all. Oh, and the final insult to her many many injuries – they tear up her novel.
As they leave, the men tell Matthew he needs to go back in and kill her, giving him the knife they have. Matthew can’t bring himself to do it, and instead leaves after wiping the blade through her blood. The men then go away and get ice cream. I’m not lying here – they really go for ice cream.
Matthew reveals that he didn’t actually kill her and they beat him before telling him to fuck off. They are worried, as they don’t know what she will do. As it turns out, she is recuperating. She cleans herself up, and recovers as much as possible, even trying to piece her typed pages back together – a somewhat heavy-handed metaphor, even considering this film’s lack of subtlety.
Jennifer then goes to a church, now cleaned and human-looking (during her rapes, she gets progressively bloodier and dirtier), and begs the cross to forgive her. For those who don’t know what’s coming, this might seem a horrible moment of suggesting that the rapes are her fault, but it’s actually a pre-emptive penance.
She then goes about getting her revenge.
First is Matthew, whom she lures down to a tree by the lake. She is wearing a flowing white dress, and is seductive towards him. Matthew, to his credit, is apprehensive – he knows something is amiss, and berates her, saying she brought nothing but bad luck with her. He pleads that he didn’t want to hurt her, that the others made him do it. She ignores this and succeeds in her seduction, managing to have him close enough to her and kissing her, while she slips a noose around his neck. She pulls it tight, and he is hanged over the water, his feet twitching. It’s a remarkably bloodless death, and actually the most disturbing in the film for it. It’s played quietly – he twitches and splutters his death rattle, and she walks away, cold.
Then she follows Johnny, who it turns out, has a wife and kids. She spots him on a dirt road, and holds him at gunpoint, telling him to take off his pants. He replies that he doesn’t like taking orders from women. So she shoots the ground at his feet. He then back-pedals his way into suggesting that all the men did was act in their nature, that she was attractive, and that they were just men. He tells her that her dress was just her showing off her nice legs to him.
“Ah, I see you’re wearing a dress. You must want me to rape you.”
She pretends to be persuaded by his argument and then takes him back to her cabin. She draws a bath, and climbs in with him, massaging him and being all naked in front of him. He eats it up (by which I mean he enjoys it. I’m not suggesting other sexual acts occurred) and closes his eyes, thus cementing himself as a character Too Dumb to Live. She jerks him off, and he tells her how sweet it is, even offering the hilarious line “God bless your hands.” Then she reaches out of the bathtub with her other hand…
Men, cross thy legs forthwith.
For those who can’t figure out the connection between her left hand and her right hand, I’m going to let you figure it out. For those who are really that dumb – she cuts his cock off. This would be disturbing if it weren’t for the very obvious limitations of the special effects. He pauses for a moment, unsure of what happened, until a huge squirt of blood erupts from the bathwater. It’s painfully clear that he is holding a blood packet under the water and just squeezed it.
Anyway, Jennifer gets out of the bath, locks him in the bathroom and proceeds to sit in a rocking chair, listening to both an opera and his dying screams, rocking back and forth, coldly.
Then comes the two goons. We first see her lying in the hammock, and they ride up the lake in their motorboat, the harmonica player jumping off a little while before they reach her cabin. These two have clearly come to kill her. We see a shot from the boat’s perspective, and Jennifer ain’t in her hammock no more – cos she’s actually swum out to the boat to surprise the psycho. She jumps in, and taunts him lightly with a “Scared ya, didn’t I” then proceeds to make a move with her lower jaw which is just weird.
She pushes him in the water, and proceeds to rev the boat and drive it around in circles, while he shouts out in fear and panic. He keeps on crying out “Indy” which I assume is some form of “please don’t run me over with a boat” but they never make it clear – it sounds like he’s a kid crying out “barley” in the middle of a game of chasings (which it only just occurs to me may in fact be a childish mistranslation of “parley.” Huh.) and he just seems like a bit of a whinger. Meanwhile, the harmonica player stands ashore, screaming at her, jumping up and down with an axe in hand. There is one moment where he jumps with his legs locked out straight, and it’s just bizarre.
“I’m gonna kill you so much, I’m gonna HOVER!”
She drives the boat at the harmonica player, and he trips and drops the axe into her boat, in a good show of “lets get the movie over with quickly now, figure out how she can get the axe.” He then dives in the water naked (just what you want to do when a woman with nothing but revenge against you on her mind is driving a boat on said lake) and she proceeds to axe him in the back. It’s a pretty unceremonious murder, and she goes back to taunting the psycho, who hasn’t moved from his spot in the middle of the lake.
She draws near him, and cuts the engine. He then paddles towards the boat, grabbing hold of the engine – cos it’s clearly the safest place to cling to the boat which is piloted by the woman you just raped and bashed, and who has spent the past 5 minutes taunting you and nearly killing you.
Too dumb to live.
He pleads with her that it wasn’t his fault, that it was Johnny’s idea, and that Johnny made him do it. She looks at him and says “suck it…bitch” echoing his own words back onto him, and starts the engine. He gets diced up in the blades and dies screaming in the water. It sounds like her line would be a bit of a badass one-liner, but she says it pretty lamely.
Jennifer drives the boat away, up the river, a satisfied look on her face, and then –
— oh yeah, the movie just ends. Literally ends, there. No resolution, no further fallout of the men’s or her actions, it just ends.
I’m in two minds about this film. Part of me hates it, part of me begrudgingly admires what it was trying to do.
First off, it is not a rape-revenge film, even though that is the plot structure. Rape-revenge films played their rapes as violent eroticism, and made the woman out to be a monster who should leave these poor blokes alone cos they didn’t really do anything that bad!
The rapes in Day of the Woman/I Spit on Your Grave are brutal, very much not erotic, and designed to abhor and appal. The film also goes to great lengths to show how it affects Jennifer – a good 15 minutes is spent in total showing her walking through the woods, bedraggled, broken and traumatised. This would not happen in a rape-revenge movie, where the rapes are just a catalyst for later plot. It’s also not done in a way which focuses on the woman’s suffering, even though that’s precisely what it’s doing. Compare a more recent film like Wolf Creek – the ladies there are shown being tortured, and it’s meant to be compelling. Not necessarily enjoyable, but not in such a way that you really empathise with them. Here, it has the effect of knowing how badly she has been attacked.
The revenge plot is more troublesome. Zarchi may have been trying to atone for his inability to help the rape victim (more on this in a minute) but it raises the question of why. Is revenge really the only option? She goes to a church and begs forgiveness, and her actions show she has planned each murder – it’s pure revenge, not a spur-of-the-moment, empassioned need to get revenge, such as in the much superior Irreversible.
The murders are theoretically disturbing, but not really, due to the dating of the film and it’s lack-of-budget shortcomings. I know I say that in light of four decade’s worth of subsequent movies, but I don’t see that a 1970s audience would’ve been drawn into this film in a traumatic way – it’s obvious how bad the effects are, and the film makes no attempt to cover that up.
Its budget also undercuts its merit. With no budget, it isn’t able to pay experienced actors a decent salary, so we have slim pickings on offer. Camille Keaton (Jennifer) is here because she is Buster Keaton’s niece. She plays a rape victim well, but she doesn’t play a writer in a cabin, or a woman on a rampage of revenge well at all. She’s hackneyed and forced, except for when she is walking dazed through the woods. It is not a good mark of a film that it’s best acting comes from a catatonic rape victim.
The men are also singularly woeful. They are bad, bad actors that stumble through inane dialogue, and only seem to be acting when they’re in the middle of the rape scenes. Again, not a good mark of the film.
Matthew does fare better, and is in fact the best performance in the film (which is not saying that much). He doesn’t seem bored, like the men, nor does he seem like he’s trying too hard, a la Camille Keaton. His death is certainly affective, as, although his taking part in the rapes is unforgivable, we are left wondering how culpable he really is in the matter, and how much he deserves to be murdered.
Yes and no. It’s violence (by which I mean Jennifer’s revenge) is not shocking enough to warrant a banning. It’s cheap and it’s exploitative, and it’s tawdry, but it’s actually not excessive.
The rape scenes however, are brutal. The film enhances this brutality by spending time with the shell-shocked Jennifer between and after her rapes, showing the psychological effect, as well as the physical brutality. They are perhaps excessive in quantity – the third time around you start wondering “really?Another one?” – but it also shows how excessive their crime is, and that it does warrant action against them…just perhaps not what does come.
But these questions are better addressed by asking “what purpose does this film serve?” It’s not an exploitation film, and it’s not a rape-revenge film such as ones like Ms. 45 from the same era.
But it also doesn’t serve Zarchi’s purported reasoning for making the movie. I don’t see how this film in anyway supports a rape victim. She is reduced to the same level of brutality they delivered on her, only hers is not sexual. She doesn’t regain control of her life, she doesn’t seem to get any catharsis from her murders. She simply executes the men, and the film ends.
She is put through this trauma, but for what?
I suspect that Zarchi has either exaggerated or entirely fabricated the story about the rape victim as a reaction to the public’s reaction to his film. My only doubt is the film’s very sympathetic portrayal of Jennifer as a victim. It is an unusual film. It would have been much better suited as an exploitation film, but it steers clear of it in its treatment of Jennifer.
I suspect Day of the Woman is a cheaply made drama with juvenile levels of violence, and overall a bad movie that suffers from a paltry budget, whereas I Spit on Your Grave is an exploitation film that arrives to late to the actual exploitation, and doesn’t know what to do with it once it gets there.
The violence is not enough to warrant the film’s banning, but the rape might have been if it had been purely for the sake of enjoying seeing a woman brutalised. It’s easy to see that in the storm of notoriety the film gained that it would be easy to overlook the somewhat-mature handling of rape and its affects, and see it as exploitative violence and rape. In that sense, yes, the ban was understandable. And also for the time, yes, it was understandable that the film was banned. But today, by today’s standards, and the films that have followed it, not even remotely. If it were still banned, I would be decrying the OFLC.
A misguided movie, and one that has a reputation worse than its content, and is marred by its reputation. Worth seeing for the curious, but one which many would be better to avoid.
One last thing…
You should also read Roger Ebert’s now-famous review of the film ( http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19800716/REVIEWS/7160301/1023 ) and compare it with Scott Telek’s polar-opposite opinion ( http://cinemademerde.com/node/133l ).