07:32, October 06 63 0 theguardian.com

2020-10-06 07:32:04
Growing Up with I Spit on Your Grave review – gruesome 'video nasty' gets family treatment

The infamous 1978 exploitation-revenge flick I Spit on Your Grave – one-time “video nasty” and chosen by critic Roger Ebert as his all-time worst film – now gets a lengthy retrospective and reappraisal here courtesy of its director Meir Zarchi’s son, Terry. Perhaps the current febrile atmosphere – split between rampant online misogyny and strident #MeToo calls – is the right moment.

Zarchi Sr is nonplussed in being asked to justify the 30 minutes of gang rape; he describes his film, with its second-half procession of wince-making retribution slayings, as simply “biblical – an eye for an eye”. Whether Terry Zarchi is persistent, or sophisticated enough, in questioning that belief is another thing.

The director and cast were upset when, after struggling to sell the film, distributor Jerry Gross changed its title from Day of the Woman and sexed up the new poster (with Demi Moore, rather than actor Camille Keaton, supposedly providing the image). Which makes you wonder what kind of film they thought they were making. This is not high art, even if the sheer crudeness of staging and performance is what gives the film its brutish glow, and inflamed its critics. Zarchi Jr, though, has an unfortunate tendency to treat it like Tarkovsky. Detailing every nook and cranny of the production, the documentary is longer than the original film.

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Terry Zarchi may be right in drawing attention to the fact that such female-revenge narratives were unusual at the time, running counter to the reality that rape was often not taken seriously by the authorities – including the incident that Zarchi Sr says inspired him to to make the film, when, in the early 70s, he rescued a girl who staggered out of a New York park after being sexually assaulted. Now they are a familiar trope, from Kill Bill to Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge.

Whether or not these films constitute feminism is a debate still raging. Zarchi Jr doesn’t fully prise open the discussion, leaving it to a panel of viewers – fans and detractors – to cast their ballots. (His attempt at impartiality is undermined by the family love-in tone he increasingly adopts, including towards Keaton for whom his father left his mother.) The rape survivor who is vociferously pro-Spit probably gets the deciding vote.

Growing Up With I Spit on Your Grave is available on digital formats.

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