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I Spit on Your Grave ’78 (Blu-ray / DVD)

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I Spit on Your Grave on Blu-rayReviewed by MattFini

Starring Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Pace, Gunter Kleeman

Directed by Meir Zarchi

Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment


As a concept, rape/revenge can be traced back to the work of William Shakespeare (specifically, Titus Andronicus – although it isn’t the victim who takes revenge there) and beyond. Writer/director Meir Zarchi was hardly breaking any new ground when he concocted this simple story of New York author Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) and her solitary sojourn to rural America which quickly deteriorates into every woman’s worst nightmare.

Released in 1978 (sans brutality) under the banner Day of the Woman, the film disappeared from theaters without a trace until the P.T. Barnum of exploitation filmmaking, Jerry Gross, rescued it from obscurity by slapping it with a far more memorable title, I Spit on your Grave, in 1980. It was released unrated and, thanks to a handful of kneejerk reactions from successful critics like Siskel and Ebert, incurred a mountain of publicity – all of it negative. Labeled a sexist, misogynistic work for misanthropes of the lowest common denominator, the protests only helped fuel the film’s notoriety which, in turn, yielded sizeable profits. Not bad for a would-be flop.

Watching I Spit on Your Grave in a modern mindset makes it easier to dismiss the film as pointless exploitation. The horror genre has always been home to some of the strongest screen women, and in the last fifteen years the rest of the movie industry seems to have caught up. Powerful, assertive and capable women are commonplace in every genre now. And that’s why our victim turned avenging angel becomes a point of contention for modern sensibilities. Zarchi asks a lot of his audience, expecting them to endure some appalling brutality throughout the twenty minute rape scene. Parts of it teeter on the edge of edge of ridiculousness thanks to some genuine overacting from the rapists (that second attack on the rock comes to mind), but Camille Keaton’s blood-curdling screams are so real they alleviate any temptation to snicker.

It’s Jennifer’s vengeance throughout the third act that really polarizes the art or exploitation debate. The very idea that a rape victim could bring herself to seduce her attackers – even if it’s only to lull them into a false sense of submission – seems so ludicrous that, at first glance, you can’t help but dismiss I Spit on Your Grave as barrel-scraping exploitation. Consider the implications of this, though. When Jennifer convinces the Cro-Magnon leader of the pack to take a bath with her there’s never a doubt in his mind that this “stupid broad” has “finally come around”. It says more about the film’s view of men (all of us, with our one-track minds) than it does about the woman hunting them down for execution. Jennifer may use sex as a means to an end, but only to a group of guys who never saw her as anything but a pair of legs and a set of tits.

Of course this is sleazy stuff. When part of Jennifer’s revenge is to help the previously impotent (and retarded) rapist reach climax just before hanging him, you know you’re trawling something perfectly suited for a grimy 42nd Street theater. But it’s not the anti-woman exercise it’s often labeled as. Not when its worldview of men is so bleak one could chalk it up as satire if the preceding rapes weren’t so vicious. Argue that Jennifer’s actions eschew believability in favor of hammering this point home, but I Spit on Your Grave doesn’t harbor any ill-will toward its hatchet-wielding protagonist or to the fairer sex in general.

Is it a well-made film? It’s certainly slow by today’s standards (to be fair, it was probably just as slow to a 70’s audience), complete with scenes often running longer than necessary. But there’s also a minimalist approach to the material that solidifies a sterile and spooky atmosphere throughout. A complete lack of music (save for some creepy redneck harmonica tunes and, later, a church organ) lends the proceedings a documentary-like feel further complimented by Zarchi’s overuse of master shots. Together, they allow the carnage unfold in creepy apathy that renders us unwilling witnesses to the ensuing degradation and violence. It’s not a crowd-pleaser by any stretch of the imagination but it accomplishes what it sets out to do and leaves a lasting mark (thirty years and counting).


I Spit On Your Grave censoredAnchor Bay brings I Spit on Your Grave to Blu-ray in a solid 1080p transfer that should please fans of this classic. For a low-budget, thirty-year-old film the elements are in good shape. Colors are good (even if they’re teetering on the bland side, per the film’s visual palette) and flesh tones (of which there are plenty) are perfectly natural. The level of detail available on the actor’s faces and bodies is plentiful and impressive. Exteriors look pretty good, even if Zarchi’s master shots aren’t quite as crisp as I had initially hoped. Film grain is present and well-preserved with some of the evening scenes looking very coarse but always film-like. Certainly no DNR here. Black levels are impressively deep (again, look at those aforementioned evening scenes), offering a substantial upgrade over Elite’s Millennium DVD release from several years back. This isn’t reference material by any stretch but Anchor Bay did a great job bringing this to Blu-ray.

Moving onto the audio, the TrueHD 5.1 track doesn’t much benefit from the multi-channel upgrade. It’s occasionally rough and inconsistent, making it a real strain to hear some of the garbled dialogue. This seems more like a deficiency in the source material, however, and less to do with Anchor Bay’s technical presentation (past DVDs suffered similar fates, and Ebert complained about the same thing back in 1980 regarding the theatrical presentation). Rear-channels aren’t used all that much and what little ambient sound filters through your surround speakers fails to pack a wallop. To be fair, this isn’t an action-packed film and the lack of a lively audio track doesn’t detract from the viewing experience. Most of the sounds comes through the front speakers and there’s a satisfying balance between dialogue and sound FX. Like the video presentation, this isn’t going to blow the roof off the format but it seems like a true representation of the source material.

We get a nice little collection of extra features here, though owners of Elite’s Millennium disc will find the majority of it familiar. First up is an audio commentary with writer/director Meir Zarchi. He offers a dry but informative discussion on his film, from its controversy to his unsettling personal experience that inspired the story. Zarchi is a slow speaker and slogging through this track takes some patience, but it’s a worthwhile listen to gleam some insight into what the director was attempting with this rape/revenge flick. The information is somewhat repeated in disc’s only new supplement, Meir Zarchi Remembers I Spit on Your Grave, a 29-minute interview with the director that covers some of the same ground. He also weighs in on the remake and teases the possibility of a sequel (!?). The alternate main title feature is just the title screen with the Day of the Woman text replacing I Spit on Your Grave – nifty to see for those of us too young to have seen the truncated version in theaters. Trailers (foreign and domestic), TV spots, Radio spots and a poster gallery round out this package.

Special mention must be made of the second commentary track in this set. It’s a hilarious and intelligent discussion by legendary horror historian Joe Bob Briggs that alone warrants a purchase of this disc. Briggs is consistently hilarious while offering a thoughtful defense of the film – no easy feat! With all the commentary tracks out there, this one easily places in the top five. A must listen!

It goes without saying that I Spit on Your Grave isn’t everyone’s bag. It doesn’t have to be. It’s brutal, uncomfortable and more than a little implausible. Depending on your sensibilities, that makes this something to either avoid like the plague or revel in its depravity. This notorious genre mainstay has been given its due on Blu-ray with solid audio/video and a handful of solid supplementary features. In my house, I Spit on Your Grave is essential viewing. Your mileage may vary.

Special Features
Commentary with writer/director Meir Zarchi
Commentary with horror historian Joe Bob Briggs
Meir Zarchi Remembers I Spit on Your Grave featurette
Trailer Gallery
TV Spots
Radio Spots
Poster & Still Gallery

Film
4 out of 5

Special Features
4 out of 5

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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

Directed by Charles Martin Smith


I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

Now let’s get to it.

First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

Rockstar lighting for days.

Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

  • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
3.5

Summary

Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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User Rating 3.74 (19 votes)
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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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User Rating 4.14 (22 votes)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 3.95 (20 votes)
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