‘I Spit on Your Grave’ (1978)
Originally released as ‘Day of the Woman’
The IFCO and the BBFC both did a very clever and subtle thing with their names. In 1984, The British Board of Film Censors officially rebranded itself as The British Board of Film Classification. As with most changes in society, laws, and government, it took Ireland over 20-years to catch up. The Irish Film Censors Office was named as such until 2008, at which point it was officially renamed as The Irish Film Classification Office.
Of course, the reason for the name changes should be obvious. Censorship obviously has negative connotations, especially when applied to a government body. The general public dislike the idea of government telling us what we can and can’t do. You may insert a comparison to your fascist dictator of choice here. Classifying something, on the other hand, doesn’t sound quite so scary. Not censoring art, *classifying* it.
Never mind the fact that the name change has nothing to do with the organisations changing. No, no, they still do much the same job they ever did. Indeed, post-1984 the BBFC became the primary legal body in the infamous ‘Video Nasties’ debacle. The effects of which are still felt to this day with many of the films involved still not seeing a UK re-release, therefore effectively still making them illegal to sell. Of the 72 films which made up the ‘section 2’ lists, few were quite as hated by mainstream critics as 1978’s ‘I Spit on Your Grave’.
Hated really is an understatement. Roger Ebert, arguably the most famous film critic of all time, once called it “Sick, reprehensible and contemptible”, a quote displayed with pride on the box of the recent Blu-ray release. He later went on to describe it as “the worst movie of all time”. Upon release, you would have been hard-pressed to find a soul that might claim to liking the film.
I know better than most that making an academic defence of something like this is difficult without first giving the proper context. Even so, I know much of the reading audience will read the plot description and decide the film is not for them. This is perfectly fine. No art has to appeal to everyone. However, I will ask that nobody pass judgement on something they haven’t seen. Decide it’s not for you, fine, but do not decide for other people. British feminist Julie Bindel protested a screening of this film in Leeds before retracting her opinion years after the fact and calling it a “feminist film”, this was presumably after she actually bothered to watch it.
The plot involves Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) renting an isolated cabin, hoping the seclusion will help get her novel off the ground. This all takes a turn for the worse when a group of four local men decide to rape her. They leave the scene of the attack assuming Jennifer is dead. However, Jennifer survives and recuperates, before going on the kill each of her attackers in increasingly violent ways.
Fun, huh? It should go without saying that the film is not at all an enjoyable watch. It’s about as enjoyable as any film in the ‘rape/revenge’ sub-genre. However, a film need not necessarily be enjoyable if there is a real enough intelligence behind it. Look at ‘Martyrs’, ‘Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom’, ‘Hard Candy’ etc. All of these films are tough, tough sits which received critical acclaim.
‘Salò’ in particular I think is worth focusing on here. Much like ‘I Spit on Your Grave’, ‘Salò’ was heavily criticised and banned just about everywhere. Unlike ‘I Spit on Your Grave’, ‘Salò’ received a critical reappraisal. ‘Salò’ was passed uncut by the BBFC in 2000. ‘I Spit on Your Grave’ on the other hand has still not been passed uncut in the United Kingdom. ‘I Spit on Your Grave’ is a hard sit, but nothing compared to sheer, unadulterated horrors of ‘Salò’. I’m sure the fact that ‘Salò’ was made by a critically acclaimed director and could, therefore, be more easily classified as “art” is just a coincidence.