A tale of two Jennifer's
Last November I ran across a discounted gem on Black Friday. Sitting in the Walmart DVD bargain bin amongst various kids movies (an employee prank?) was the I Spit on Your Grave double-feature for $7. It's a no frills 2-disc set that has the original movie along with the unrated edition of the 2010 reboot. I'll be honest and tell you that "exploitation" films aren't my favorite genre by a long shot, but I Spit on Your Grave (aka Day of The Woman) has such a notorious reputation that I felt the need to add it to my collection. Now that I've watched both films back-to-back, lets talk about them!
(Click the jump to see my entire review)
Widely considered one of the most vile, insipid, and unnecessarily brutal movies for its time, the original I Spit on Your Grave was almost universally hated by critics upon release. Since then it has garnered a cult following and even turned a corner to praise in some circles as an extreme artistic statement on feminine empowerment. For me, it was one of the movies spoken about in hushed tones around the neighborhood video store, like the Faces of Death videos. It had those sorts of "I heard it's REAL" type rumors building it up for those who couldn't get a hold of a copy. I still pine for those video store days of yore when movies could obtain urban legend status.
The story is minimal. Jennifer Hills is a young author from New York City who heads north to a small town (this was filmed in rural Kent, CT similar to shocker Last House on The Left) seeking inspiration through isolation. What she finds is a group of perverted townies, led by alpha male Johnny, who proceed to terrorize and victimize her. A large portion of the film is devoted to the group tormenting Jennifer, then proceeding to beat and repeatedly rape her. This is graphic stuff. It's difficult to watch, and the extremely low production values make it even more disturbing. Especially unsettling is Johnny forcing his mentally challenged younger brother Matthew on her, which at the time was something critics found especially abhorrent. After mistakenly leaving her for dead, Jennifer slowly recuperates and begins planning her revenge.
While the overarching story of both iterations remain the same, there's a few key differences in their delivery. In the original movie, there are some pretty big gaps and plot holes that the reboot actually answers, including "Is there any law enforcement in this town?". The first iteration expects you to make some fairly large assumptions, and the reboot does a good job of filling in those details. It also includes a fifth assailant (which the trailer for the original mentions but does not contain!) and fleshes out the town and its residents a bit more. In terms of telling a story, I feel the it is actually the superior version.
Where the original reigns supreme is Jennifer Hills herself. Sarah Butler does a good job playing the role in the remake, but the way the character is written is what I take issue with. In the original, Jennifer takes revenge on the men in realistic ways. Even the infamous bathtub scene with Johnny that I nicknamed "The Sum of All Fears". She uses her sexuality as a tool to play off their arrogance and lure them to their demise. None of this exists in the reboot. 2010's Jennifer wakes up in a mud puddle and inexplicably becomes The Jigsaw Killer. She creates a series of unrealistically elaborate devices and traps to snare and brutally murder her tormentors. It becomes ludicrously over-the-top and undoes everything the first half of the movie achieves to create a frighteningly realistic scenario.
I feel like I Spit on Your Grave (2010) reboot was a victim of the modern horror landscape, with the flurry of remakes sprouting up, it fell back on the pressure to outdo similar films in gore factor which meant it sacrificed key elements that made the original such a cult classic. It's a shame because it starts out very strong.
I'll only recommend this double-feature to a specific audience. Neither movie is for the feint of heart, and there's really nothing entertaining about them (outside of some unintentionally bad dialogue in the original). They're the type of movies you watch because you make the conscious decision to see if you can stomach sitting through the entire thing. That said, absolutely start with the original because it's the better movie even with the less polished story. Watch the modern re-imagining when you're ready to see the chubby guy from Mean Girls get fish hooks put through his eyelids.
Reviewed on DVD via the Walmart discount bin