Month of Horror 2017: Dealer’s Choice – Exploitation: I Spit on Your Grave

10/11/2017 – Exploitation: I Spit on Your Grave (2010)
Directed by Steven R. Monroe

This may seem like a rerun since well, I’ve talked about low budget films plenty in the past including yesterday with schlock and the original last year. Heck, this was supposed to be a bonus entry last year but I just did not have time to watch it before the month ended and made the decision to delete it because my standards are higher outside of October. But now, that wonderful time of year is back and well, I got a perfect opportunity to use it to talk about another subset of horror.

Separating exploitation from schlock may seem trivial and an argument can be made there is a lot of overlap. Hell, my very description of much of it as something that is often used to capitalize on certain trends describes a lot of exploitation. But as I said then, schlock has an almost charming innocence to it. Exploitation on the other hand, well it’s a wide term and at its widest can include blaxploitation (which drew its name from it obviously), certain slashers, and as Wikipedia curiously asserts, spaghetti westerns. But typically, exploitation is drawn from a desire to push the bounds of what is allowed in an attempt to draw in the basest impulses of viewers.

Exploitation got its start in the 20s and early 30s with films pushing more and more sensationalist content. Well sensationalist for the time as no same person would think depicting such things as promiscuity, miscegenation, prostitution, drug use, or *gasps* nudity would be all that shocking now but it was this madness (and the moral outrage that thankfully we don’t have to put up with anymore…) that the Hays code went into effect. I have talked enough about the Hays Code but I haven’t talked about the early ways that it was circumvented. Starting in the 30s, films got around these restrictions if they kept things low budget (you’ll hear that often today) and claimed it was educational. Speaking as someone who has seen such films as Marihuana and Reefer Madness and the fact that Child Bride (depicting a naked 12 year old) exists, there was nothing educational about these films.

There were more innocent ones (such as the nudist films which got around a certain obvious restriction) but the more crass ones foreshadowed horror’s embracing of exploitation. The splatter films that got their start in the 60s, the rape and revenge films (as linked to earlier) in the 70s, and the cannibal films of the 70s and 80s are much more clear examples as they billed themselves purely on the brutality depicted within. They even occasionally pulled out the old excuses to justify their existence with varying degrees of believability. I even talked about these extensively last year in regards to the arguments that I Spit on Your Grave was promoting feminism or Cannibal Holocaust’s anti-colonialist stance but even when they are at there best, the were generally films made for exploitative purposes that also snuck in a message.

There are countless more titles though in the grindhouse films of the 50s and 60s (which were generally more schlocky than anything else at first but transitioned to more exploitive fare later on to bring back audiences who had grown jaded to the typical horror and sci-fi fare of that period. There are plenty more subgenres as well with nazisploitation films, giallos, etc. but the major point with exploitation is that if there is a market for something or a boundary to be pushed, you can count on horror to push it and for good films like Night of the Living Dead and it’s graphic violence or The Evil Dead and it’s tree rape and even more graphic violence, or Dead Alive and it’s copious blood to rise above. Call exploitation the Rule 34 of horror.

Before we get started on the actual film at hand I’d like to take a look at the modern exploitation film. While the “torture porn” films try to capitalize on a similar sentiment, the strange thing is that they were mainstream titles and achieved a success for about five years that those early films could only dream of. There’s films like The Human Centipede and A Serbian Film that very much still fit the bill, but there’s a more insidious form of exploitation that you can see below in a picture for the DVD cover of this film.

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I’m not talking about the film showing off of a bum or the violence it depicts (though the German cover interestingly depicts far more or the latter).

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I’m talking about the fact that “unrated” stuck on right below it. Though I have little doubt that the film will earn that (as always, my intros are written before I start the movie) title, and like Hatchet II it actually had a small unrated release in theaters), that little logo is the laughingstock of the horror community. It sought to capitalize on the same market those exploitation films had before but now it is pretty well known that it’s usually not an equivalent to the director’s cut where the theatrical version had to be chopped down to receive a mainstream release with an R rating (such as American Psycho or The Devil’s Rejects). It’s usually just where new scenes (often of stuff not ever intended or stuff cut from the movie for not being very good) of questionable brutality are inserted merely so that technically, the R-rating has to be surrendered and in the less restrictive DVD market (curiously you can advertise an unrated DVD on television but not an unrated film), studios are able to resell a movie as being different from the one fans shelled out for once already (so clearly you need to buy it to see the “true” experience”) and to try and for those who haven’t seen it yet, to sell it as something that is so brutal, that none of those puny R-Rated films can compete if you want a true horror film. That second one really started to fall flat though when looking over a horror section reveals film after film of “unrated” cuts. It’s exploitation in its laziest form and one that can’t hide behind the “art should challenge you” defense.

On to the actual movie, and it’s very much the same movie as the original. On her way to a cabin in the woods on a lake to write, a woman stops at a gas station with three young men (including Daniel Franzese of Bully and Mean Girls). One tries to pick her up in an embarrassing but harmless manner but it’s clear the rest are all attracted to her. She calls on a mentally challenged plumber help fixing the plumbing and then drops her phone in toilet which you would think would factor into her seclusion but really there isn’t much of an opportunity for her to use it even if it worked so it just becomes some weird added bit to the show.

Anyone who has seen the original or heard of the movie before knows what happens next (broadly at least). SPOILERS They invade her cabin to harass her verbally and physically assault her and filming it all (which I get the feeling is sending a message about the very film itself or at least would be in a better if hypocritical movie such as Cannibal Holocaust). They make her fellate a gun and a bottle of alcohol before she is able to escape into the woods and running into some hunters (one of who is a cop). What me get is more sexual assault, humiliation, and gang raped (the sheriff even taking a call from his daughter during it) complete with all the teasings of escape of the original. She jumps (well falls) into a river to save herself when they are about to shoot her and it’s here where the movie switched.

Well very slowly switches to the “revenge” part of “rape and revenge” as there’s also certainly more of a focus on the rapists but no real attempts to humanize them (not really a complaint). I’m actually surprised that they don’t just assume she’s dead (well the sheriff doesn’t at least who is also smart enough to destroy the video evidence of the rape and physical evidence she was ever there) but these scenes drag on forever. The video (apparently the sheriff smashed up the wrong one) and one of her shoes are delivered mysteriously to them and as they start to panic she moves on them slowly. Once again the film seeming to have weird priorities since you would think watching them descend into paranoia would be something interesting to follow up on but the film moves on quickly.

She finds the mentally challenged man and gets him to help her (he doesn’t seem to do all that much though) and then captures and tortures two. She force-feeds a rat into one of their mouths and pulls A Clockwork Orange on the one dude who filmed it all holding his eyes open with fishhooks and having birds come peck out his eyes. She tortures the other (who forced her head underwater) in a bathtub full of lye water which kills him too. Then she captures and ties up another (who held her by the teeth) and rips his teeth out, cutting his genitals off after he says he loved raping her. If you are thinking this all just sounds on its surface the story is like a more cartoonish and graphic Seven, well then you are absolutely right.

Finally she hangs out with the family of the sheriff and takes the daughter for a fun outing at the park (which really, why the hell did you let your daughter go out with a strange woman even if she claims to be your daughter’s teacher). She uses the opportunity to capture him and tie him up, a shotgun forcibly and repeatedly inserted into his rectum, before tying the trigger to the mentally challenged man’s sleeping arm (killing them both when he wakes up). A shot of her and then end of movie with no word on what happens to the daughter and I’m pretty sure she missed a few revenge opportunities. END OF SPOILERS

The film is certainly better shot and acted than the original but to what ends? It’s still unpleasant to watch even as the film very much doesn’t show as much as the original especially when it comes to the rape (this is the exact opposite of a complaint), but the film still leaves me with a similar conundrum. The film is certainly horrifying and hard to watch which considering horror so rarely gets to me is impressive. It asks the questions of “why do we watch horror” and “what makes a horror film successful?”. I don’t think you can answer either of them simply (hell I’ve spent years here discussing both) and there’s more than one way to enjoy horror but watching it just to see people get tortured, even deserving ones as I shift uncomfortably is not one of them for me.

The film goes for more of a mainstream feel than the original but seems to have even less of a reason to exist despite the fact that both are truly exploiting its characters for the viewers “benefit”. It just leaves the main character as more of a background force who appears like Jason Voorhees out of nowhere with a musical sting which just makes the whole thing feel so much cheaper and by the numbers as if the creators were told they had to hit certain story beats and dutifully worked its way down them. It also lacks that unquantifiable The Texas Chain Saw Massacre factor where there is something inherently more horrifying about watching bad shit happen on what cruddy film that makes it seem almost documentary like. Watching the original you get a subconscious queasy feeling over reality, here, even my brain knows that this is just some generic movie.

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Bonus Episode #7 – Exploitation: I Spit on Your Grave 2 (2013)
Directed by Steven R. Monroe

One would think that after watching a film you didn’t care for, there would be no reason to watch a lesser regarded sequel that was essentially released direct to DVD. That person would be intelligent. I am not a normal person though so I decided to watch this because I am a mad person. The film continues the story of Steven R. Monroe’s attempts to make a series of movies based on I Spit on Your Grave. It carries no story or characters over from the original so it can best be described as another remake, this time in an urban setting and with the lead as a struggling model, not a writer.

The film just starts off right away with a way too on the nose remark by our lead saying that “she knows how to catch vermin”. Coupled with her ability to do electrical repairs and her owning (and being able to use a taser, the film is sending a clear message that it wants us to view her as super self-reliant to a frankly eye-rolling degree. We also trade backwoods CW actors for Bulgarian direct to DVD actors which creates the uncomfortable subtext that the Takenmovies had. One of the three Bulgarians who she had a modeling session with SPOILERS invades her apartment and when she rejects his advance he knocks her down, ties her up, stabs a friendly neighbor who comes for help, and rapes her. He calls his brothers for help with the body and they kidnap her, drug her, rape her and piss on her and apparently taken to Bulgaria (for no reason aside from making the film cheap) which she finds out after she escapes.

She claims she is raped and yet is taken in by the police who treat her like a suspect and won’t let her go to the embassy in what I feel was meant to be an indictment of the Bulgarians but honestly wouldn’t feel out of place in the US. In fact, the setting in Bulgaria (while obviously for tax credits and the like) just underscores how little the film is even bothering with including a message since this would have been a perfect place to make a statement about our society’s treatment of those victimized by sexual violence. A woman who claims to run a women’s shelter comes to her aid but in a totally shocking twist to anyone who hasn’t seen the last movie and is feeling especially slow she actually delivers her back to the brothers. It is our first female villain which is something although she clearly is traumatized. Once again, it’s a missed opportunity to say something about what victims of rape and abuse go through and how they can still be manipulated even when they ostensibly have their freedom, but instead they just use it for lazy parallels with our lead.

A new man (who has paid for the privilege) shocks her repeatedly and rapes her before they bury her alive which seems odd that they went through all this work to get a sex worker for one session. She escapes to some church where she is given clothes and support and decides to get revenge. She captures one of them, cuts him, tortures him, then leaves him tied up with shit rubbed into his wounds. She attacks another one and shoves his face into a dirty toilet until he drowns. She shocks the one who shocked her repeatedly and electrocutes him to death with a plumber’s snake down his throat. She tortures another while the woman is locked in a box and forced to watch until the cop from earlier shows up having been warned by the priest. He orders her to stand down but as he does, the model is attacked by the man she was torturing who gets gunned down. The woman gets arrested while our protagonist reaches the embassy. END OF SPOILERS

I write all the above for the benefit of you having now said you had seen the movie. It is literally those scenes back to back to back with almost nothing in between. They tried to add more backstory but just made the film feel even more worthless as if it was simultaneously stalling for time (not that the film needs the extra length), creating more of a reason to hate the rapists as if that wasn’t enough, and make one character more sympathetic I guess to leave the audience SPOILERS fine with her living. Don’t be trying to mix in The Hills Have Eyes just to hide the fact that this is a lazy sequel. END OF SPOILERS

The film feels more exploitative this time out as they gratuitously show off and linger on her naked body and more graphic, but it was not at all challenging for me to watch. The kills are lazy and hardly shocking. They tried to make her less Jason Voorhees but instead just showed off what kind of actress (hint: it’s not one with range) they could afford and still didn’t manage to make her planning and execution any more interesting. Throw in the xenophobia which was thrown in because I imagine someone saw how much Taken made with its barely concealed xenophobia (though that film at least did the token corrupt people in the country the woman is taken from to show that everyone sucks and was successful more for the fact that it’s fun to see Liam Neeson shoot people and spout one liners) but couldn’t afford to shoot in Albania. This is a film that appeals to no one and is more or less just another one of the DTV movies I will talk about tomorrow trading on name to sucker people into this worthless piece of shit. I don’t care that Sarah Butler returns for the third film (meaning that there should theoretically be some connection to the first film which I didn’t even like), I have no interest in subjecting myself to it.

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Bonus Episode #8 – Exploitation: Jigoku (1960)
Directed by Nobuo Nakagawa

Sometimes something meant as exploitation turns out as something more and Jigoku is just that. Produced as just one of many low-budget films of ill-repute for Shintoho, it was unexpectedly popular. It’s been remade 3 times in Japan but it was not released in the West until 2006. From the director of the great Tokaido Yotsuya kaidan, we get this tale of sin and hell. The titles send a clear message early on with all the scantily clad women and random soundtrack of varying styles and screams and sirens while the film itself opens with some seemingly random shots of torment in hell and what appears to be a man standing on the shore of the River Styx. But the film is getting ahead of itself as it takes an hour before these scenes has any meaning.

Instead the basic plot of the movies is that two men are driving home when they SPOILERS hit and kill a yakuza gang member, driving away from the scene of the accident. The mother of the yakuza sees this and vows to get revenge. END OF SPOILERS What follows is some combination of dark comedy of errors and soap opera. The passenger feels guilty and tells his girlfriend who on their way to the police are in another car crash and his SPOILERS pregnant girlfriend dies. He seeks comfort in the arms of a woman who is later revealed to of course be the girlfriend of the dead yakuza. This alone is the stuff of melodramas (it’s rather close to The Crying Game) but the story just gets weirder.

Having fallen in love with him before she found out, she tries to kill him but trips and goofily falls off a high bridge trying to kill him. Then the driver attacks him trying to prevent him from doing anything rash and he too is sent flying off the bridge in the ensuing struggle and I start to wonder if this is now a Monty Python film. That comparison is only driven in more when later at a party, the people there (who have all been revealed over the course of the movie as awful) start dying from a variety of reasons (eating tainted food, death by misadventure, poisoning by the mother, shot to death, and finally strangled by the mother). END OF SPOILERS The whole movie is all so surreal and that’s before we even enter into hell.

I was not counting on it taking this long to get to hell as it is an hour before we even get the context for the opening shots and our protagonist winds up in Limbo, the river being the Sanzu River (basically the Japanese version of the River Styx). The plot feels almost secondary to mood although there is a ton of plot. This is probably the films biggest weakness as there is probably too much and it feels a bit too broad in its scope by focusing on the evils of everyone around our lead. This more psycological take on Dante’s Inferno is what the movie has been building up to and what I wish the focus had been more on. Enma, King of the Eight Hells of Fire and Eight Hells of Ice (take that Satan who only has nine circles of Hell to work with and not 16 combined), who serves as judge and replays all the past sins.

There’s a blue tinge to these scenes and the surreal imagery fits even more. The torment moves from purely psychological to physical as we descend into further layers of hell as the film starts to get a bit more gruesome though not nearly as much as I expected (remember these are bloody in comparison to 1960 standards). SPOILERS He (along with all those that died as well) is confronted by those he wronged as he continues to blame the driver for all that went wrong. The sins of his family (including those that allowed him to unwittingly wind up with his half-sister and getting her pregnant) feel a better tied to his story but almost silly in how soap opera-y their lives were. The rivers of puss and blood along with all the repeated punishments are wonderfully done and the punishments feel apt. This is probably also the only film where the happy ending involves a brother and sister being restored to life to continue being lovers. END OF SPOILERS

Jigoku is a messy, largely imperfect film. It’s tough to follow at times and it seems confused of what exactly the story it is trying to tell. It’s a season’s worth of a primetime soap forcibly compressed into about an hour and it shows. But it’s also a lot of fun and the imagery is great. I highly recommend the film but just don’t go in reading the plot synopsis not for spoiler related reason (they are very spoilery though), but because it is rather misleading on what most of the movie is about.

Next up: As I’ve been banging on and on about the past few days, I take a look at sequels to theatrical films which do direct to video by analyzing American Psycho II: All American Girl, one of the most notoriously unnecessary sequels ever made (I’d rather shoot myself before I ever watch S. Darko).

2017 Partial Schedule