Meir Zarchi’s I Spit On Your Grave (1978) is one of the most infamously violent films ever made. Even by the standards of the late seventies genre picture I Spit On Your Grave is a ludicrously cruel affair. While Zarchi’s film lacks the pornographic elements of Bo Arne Vibenius’ films, it revels longer in the spectacle of sexual violence. The gang rape that has always been the most controversial and divisive aspect of I Spit On Your Grave lasts for more than thirty minutes of the 102 minute runtime.
The duration of the gang rape on screen draws as many viewers to I Spit On Your Grave as it repulses. Obviously an assault that goes on for so long is not to everyone’s tastes and revulsion is a perfectly natural reaction. But the audience that constitutes the cult following of I Spit On Your Gave is in it just as much for a potent dose of schadenfreude as they are for something new that can shake up their collectively desensitized sensibilities. I Spit On Your Grave, like so many exploitation films, may also appeal to certain kinks and the fantasies that come with them.
Meir Zarchi’s plot is rather threadbare; more concerned with fetishistic images of violence than with characters of story. Camille Keaton (granddaughter of Buster Heaton) plays a writer on vacation in rural Connecticut who is terrorized and raped by three local men. They leave her for dead but she survives and exacts a brutal revenge. This is boiler plate genre stuff through and through. It may be mildly interesting to some that the images of rape are as fetishized as the images of male castration and general body mutilation. What really elevates I Spit On Your Grave is Keaton’s central performance.
Before starring in I Spit On Your Grave Camille Keaton acted in a handful of Italian films, with leading roles in Sex Of The Witch (1973) and Tragic Ceremony (1972). Keaton is a natural leading lady with her distinct features, slender build and captivating eyes. In I Spit On Your Grave Keaton makes the difficult transition from relatable human being to calculating vessel of vengeance with a performance that relies entirely on her own inner life rather than Zarchi’s clumsy dialogue.
I Spit On Your Grave isn’t art dressed as trash, nor is it particularly entertaining overall. Its longevity is entirely due to its reputation as an ultra violent exploitation flick. To this day I Spit On Your Grave remains a right of passage for cinephiles. At some point one sees I Spit On Your Grave just to belong to the elite, though rather large, group of people who have experienced Zarchi’s cult classic. It’s a part of cinema culture to the extent that it was remade in 2010 and remains subject to debate as to whether I Spit On Your Grave has a feminist subtext.