One of the most controversial and divisive films in the history of cinema, Meir Zarchi’s 1978 horror I Spit on Your Grave has lost none of its power to shock in the last 42 years. The film tells the story of Jennifer (Camille Keaton), a young woman who exacts brutal and bloody revenge on each of her attackers after she was sexually assaulted and left for dead. The resulting film is a bold and horrific experience filled with explicit sexual violence and gore. It is no surprise that the film was banned in so many countries, with the argument raging on to this day whether the film is crude and offensive exploitation or a feminist revenge masterpiece.
The film spawned a 2010 remake, which led to two sequels of its own, and a direct sequel which saw original director Zarchi and star Keaton returning. This passionate boxset from Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment combines all the films, along with a new feature-length retrospective documentary Growing Up with I Spit on Your Grave and various bonus features including exclusive commentaries, featurettes and deleted scenes. While there’s no denying that this collection is the most definitive release for the franchise we’re likely to see, it will certainly be debatable to many whether it deserves such treatment.
Each of the films in the series are hideously violent to the point of being offensive and totally unenjoyable. They are relentlessly savage and grisly, among the most sickening and depraved works in cinema history. But therein lies their power, and the reason for their long-lasting legacy. The films seem almost designed to disgust, and in that respect, they are wholly successful. But it is certainly arguable whether they are films that warrant revisiting enough to splash out on such a lavish boxset release. And legacy aside, whether these films are actually good is another matter entirely.
While other horror films of the era such as Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left were certainly difficult watches, they at least harbour a certain sense of filmmaking quality that has earned them classic status. I Spit on Your Grave however was summed up best when critic Roger Ebert described it as “a vile bag of garbage…without a shred of artistic distinction”. The film is nothing more than exploitation but, to paraphrase This is Spinal Tap, taken up to 11. Each of the following films are just as cheap and nasty as the 1978 original, with not a particularly good film to be found among them.
And yet, their cultural significance and place in the history of cinema still earns this boxset a recommendation. Fans and historians of the horror genre will find a lot to sink their teeth into with the special features and fascinating retrospective doc, while having all of the controversial films in one place in high definition is certainly a coup for fans. I Spit on Your Grave: The Complete Collection is a very difficult release to review. A lot of love has clearly gone into it, but your mileage will vary considerably with the films themselves.