Memories of I Spit On Your Grave

I was 13 when I saw I Spit On Your Grave the first time.  Or maybe it was 14.  It’s hard to remember which because that time of my life was a bit of a whirlwind and it’s been 20+ years since then, so of course my memory is slightly foggy when it comes to the finer details. 

Nevertheless, seeing the film coincided with one of the first big changes in my life, which was getting my own room.  For nearly a decade I’d been saddled with my little brother as a roommate, and as great as he could be, by the time I was 13 and 14, the last thing I wanted to do was share a room with a 9 year-old.  No, what I wanted was a little privacy and finally, after work on some improvements in the basement of our house on McKinley Street came to an end, I had my own retreat.

Of course, seeing the film also coincided with the second big event in my life at that point, which was my mother deciding right then was the time to get her second divorce.  Even though I was only 13 or 14, it wasn’t a real surprise when she and my stepfather decided it was time to call it a day on their marriage.  After all, they hadn’t been getting along for some time and even managed to have themselves a couple of knock-down, drag-out brawls where my mom showed my stepdad that just because she might get beat up, didn’t mean she wouldn’t go down without a fight.  I’d have thought he’d realize what he was in for with her when he stood outside the kitchen window and started bad-mouthing her and she punched him right through the screen, but he wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box, so it was completely within character.

Anyway, as awful as it was to have the two of them crashing and burning, it actually created a vacuum for me in that, with them so focused on each other, nobody really paid much attention to me which gave me lots of free and unsupervised time to explore my favorite pastime, which was watching movies.

Given I was 13, or more likely 14, my interest in movies ran almost exclusively to boobs and blood, a nice little phrase I coined in another post.  Because we had cable then, my yen for boobs was pretty well satisfied by Cinemax and the ‘Friday After Dark’ lineup, which is the holy grail of soft-core porn for most men my age.  When Cinemax would crap out on me, and play some nonsense like Picasso Trigger, which had far too-little nudity for a movie with all those playmates in it – I’d turn instead to the well-thumb Playboy and three Hustler’s I traded my cassette of Warrant’s Cherry Pie for, which was easily the greatest trade ever made in the history of the world.  I mean, I’m sure I traded baseball cards and a million other things when I was younger, but that I remember the details of only this one trade obviously makes it something special.

The blood, of course, was provided by my local video store which, at the time, I thought had an incredibly extensive horror collection, which in hindsight doesn’t seem as extensive, given it was limited by the blandly mainstream tendencies of the stores buyer.  For the most part I saw everything they had, all but one film: The Last House On The Left.  Because it looked more like a documentary than a piece of fiction – and therefore, looked real – I was turned-off enough by it that it took years before I would see it in it’s entirety.  I was interested in the fake, obviously staged blood, and when the movie transcended reality, obviously that was a problem.  It was same issue I had with Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.  Though that film was not overly gory, and much of the violence seemed pretty mundane and un-splatterish, that it had a creepily real quality to it was enough to scare me off for an equal amount of years.  I suppose it’s the sign of a good movie when, after fifteen years or so since I first saw it, it still gets under my skin just to think about it.

Nevertheless, while boobs and blood were my two interests, there were few opportunities for these two interests coincided.  Sure, you saw Mia Farrow fleetingly-topless in Rosemary’s Baby, and sure, you saw P.J. Soles boobs in Halloween, and sure, you saw a whole bunch of boobs in Carrie, but somehow, it just wasn’t quite the same.  After all, Mia Farrow is disgustingly flat-chested and not my idea of attractive, P.J. Soles never did it for me either, and in Carrie the only time you saw anybody naked was when they were throwing tampons at one another.

In other words, there was blood, and there were boobs, but only in a clinical and unappealing way.  No, I wanted my boobs to be sexy.

And here we come to I Spit On Your Grave

Amongst the films stocked on the shelves in the horror section at my local video store was one called I Spit On Your Grave.  On this video was a photo of a woman in some high cut panties that showed off her shapely backside, which was definitely promising.  Also promising was she was holding a bloody knife.  Even better, the copy on the video box promised a rape and revenge story, which seemed to guarantee plenty of what I was interested in: female nudity and blood.  Standing there holding the case I was agog that such a movie existed, one where both of my interests seemed to dove-tail together so perfectly, and even if in retrospect it my thinking of what the movie seems completely flawed, there is no denying that my first thought when looking at it was, “Perfect.”

Ah, but as soon as I saw the film, you won’t believe just how quickly it failed to live up to the perfection I imagined.

Yes, there was rape, and a lot of it, and there was a lot of nudity, but it was far from the sexy-rape my young mind assumed it would be.  No, it was dirty, disgusting, off-putting and even though you saw pretty much everything star Camille Keaton had to offer and what she was acting out  technically qualified as sex, it wasn’t the type of sex I wanted to see, even as a newly-hormonal 13 year-old.  In fact, I don’t think it was the type of sex anybody but the most demented of mind would want to see, which was probably the director’s intention when he made the film.

More memorable for me, though, than the disappoint of the boobs in the movie, was the revenge.  I Spit On Your Grave is a rape and revenge film which meant that after the rape would come the revenge and in this case, it was all there.  Since that first time I’ve seen the film a good number of times and even if my memory of the film is burnished by constant repetition, I still can’t get out of my head the fact that for years afterward my only lasting impression of the film was only of the revenge.  Yes, I had memories of the rape, but with each passing year my memory of seeing it that first time is less of the rape and more of the revenge and I suspect that, given the rate of diminution of the memory, it won’t be long before that section of the film is reduced in my memory to no more than a few thrusts.

The revenge, though, the revenge was never minimized.  How could it be?  I mean, one man gets his tally-whacker – that’s one of my grandma’s words for penis – lopped off in a bathtub while getting a hand-job, another gets hauled up by his neck to hang at the moment of orgasm, and the other two wind up with an axe in the back and being chewed up by a boat motor for their trouble.  These were the types of things a person just doesn’t forget, and I haven’t.  I suspect that’s exactly what the director was going for when he made the film.

Over the years I’ve pondered a bit on just what the movie means.  Is it a warning film to women, warning them that to dress sexy only invites gang rape?  Or is it a warning to men to take the high and moral path when it comes to sex, lest a woman cut your wang off?  Was it a city v. rural parable, where even though the rural fights the city, eventually the city will overrun their way of life?  Was this simply a story that reminds us just how good revenge feels?

Despite my pondering I’ve come to the conclusion that there really is no greater moral to the story and if there were, the method used to get there asks all manner of uncomfortable questions for the audience.  Certainly, rape is bad, and having your revenge can be seen as a righteous act, but what if you’re revenge is taken out on a retarded man, who was essentially forced into taking part in the rape?  How righteous can that revenge be?

Whether there is a lesson in the story or not doesn’t matter to because the film has still managed to be one that stuck with me, so much so that I’ve been fascinated about the people who were in it and followed their careers, which actually isn’t that difficult given few of them had a movie career to speak of after I Spit On Your Grave.  Director Meir Zarchi directed one other film, the little seen Don’t Mess With My Sister, but since that time I Spit On Your Grave achieved it’s notoriety he’s basically coasted.  To be fair, he’s made a good deal of money from the film, but at the same time, he’s coasted.

Eron Tabor, who played Johnny, the raping-ringleader, had been a professional singer before the film, saw his career in films basically stagnate after I Spit On Your Grave, and became a successful vocal teacher in New York.  Gunter Kleeman did his best to maintain an acting career, worked odd jobs, but eventually turned to another profession and now works as a concierge in a New York hotel.  Despite having starred in a handful of Italian films throughout the 1970s, Camille Keaton’s career seems defined, both good and bad, by her role and after marrying Sid Luft, one-time husband of Judy Garland, she turned away from film for many years until finally returning in a series of low-budget efforts that have done little to resurrect what little career she had.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what effect the film had on the careers of those people who worked on it – life happens and the people involved lived it.  The only thing that really matters to me is every time I look at the DVD case sitting next to my desk I think of the first time I sat down in my basement room to watch a film with boobs and blood and instead got punched in the face by a movie for the first time in my life.

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