Unlike recent underwhelming, wholly redundant remakes of cult horror films of the ’60s and ’70s, Steven R. Monroe’s “I Spit on Your Grave” does not redo a classic. Indeed, what most offended Roger Ebert, in his famous 1980 review that fueled the original’s demonization, was its failure to make even a pretense of polish. Not so 2010’s regurgitated “Spit,” its straight-ahead rape, humiliation and ingenious revenge competently executed but not aestheticized, the essential grunginess never overly slicked up. Unrated Anchor Bay release, skedded to open Oct. 8 in limited release, could score with torture-horror fans and other targeted auds.
Meir Zarchi’s 1978 shocker “Day of the Woman” — astounding insofar as its poor sound quality, absence of music and junkyard production values caused its tawdry exploitation elements to register as utterly gratuitous — made no waves until it was retitled and re-released as “I Spit on Your Grave” two years later, Ebert’s horrified review forever sealing its notoriety. By that time, the great era of independent slasher films had come and gone, and the shiny, squeaky-clean reign of post-“Star Wars” escapism was firmly entrenched. The banning of “I Spit on Your Grave” in numerous countries, in fact, officially turned the page.
The bare-bones plot finds novelist Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) taking to the hills to write her latest opus. En route to her well-appointed cabin, she stops at a gas station, where she brushes off the advances of an oversensitive redneck (Jeff Branson) in front of his friends, face-stuffing Stanley (Daniel Franzese) and baseball bat-toting Andy (Rodney Eastman). Shortly thereafter, the trio, joined by simple-minded hanger-on Matthew (Chad Lindberg), invades the cabin to rape and degrade her.
The gangbangers have their peculiar peccadillos — one has a dental fixation, another is a voyeur whose jittery camcorder-work differs little from the film’s actual handheld photography of the event. But their kinks comes back to haunt them, as comeuppance is meted out with punishment-fits-the-crime symmetry in extended toolbox-aided setpieces that owe a lot to the “Saw” franchise.
But the pic’s strongest scene by far is its forest-set transitional moment: Staggering away from the last of a series of violations, her nude body language eloquent in its rubbery shakiness, Jennifer surrenders herself to the river and completely disappears in a stunning backward dive off a bridge.
She returns, pale, almost expressionless, to exact vengeance in appropriately Grand Guignol style, each death designed to be more gruesomely shocking than the last. Monroe reverses the amount of time and detail accorded the rape and the revenge: In the original, the detailed, stage-by-stage rape ate up the lion’s share of the film, while the revenge plot was a bloody but far more perfunctory coda. Here, the rape is grueling and degrading, carried out with more exertion than enthusiasm, whereas the precise time and manner of each man’s death is intended to generate suspense and glee in equal measure.
But Monroe completely eliminates the revenge’s more ambivalent sexual component; though this may bring “Spit” more in line with superficial political correctness, it wrecks the poetic justice of the act in the name of psychological verisimilitude. (This, in a pic that barely deals with human beings at all.)
Monroe makes no attempt to give Jennifer a real backstory and Butler brings little to the table, reading as a cipher both before and after her brutalization, her zombie-like avenger just one small step removed from her city-girl sophisticate.