AVAILABLE ON REGION 1 DVD AND AMAZON PRIME ONLY [at the time of writing]
RUNNING TIME: 102 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
The story of the conception, filming, effect and legacy of one of the most controversial movies ever, from the son of the director….
So at last I’ve got my mitts on I Spit On Your Grave: Deja Vu, but the day before I post my review of the sequel, I thought I’d also, as a companion piece, watch and review this recent documentary which I was originally just intending to watch – yes, it seems like it would be a natural for this website, but if I reviewed everything I watched that I thought might be of interest to readers in addition to all the screeners I receive, I wouldn’t have a life. Anyway, I’ve stated my opinion on I Spit On Your Grave so many times elsewhere that all I’m going to say here is that I’ve usually found myself having to defend what I genuinely believe to be a film of worth and intelligence, even if I can understand why so many people have problems with it. You can read my old review of it here, though I’d probably go deeper into the film if I wrote it now and would clarify my points more – and one day when I’m ready to sit through it again [I’ll never ever argue that it’s not very hard viewing], I may do that. The film has actually been quite well served on home viewing, with multiple releases, some interviews and two audio commentaries, though I still find it ridiculous that over here in the UK the BBFC still insist on cuts to the film [the Blu-ray release adopting that horrid ‘repeating of shots and slowing footage now’ device] when you can easily import or view the uncut film elsewhere. However, none of the releases have had a comprehensive ‘making of’, even though it was obvious that such a film would make for a great documentary with so many stories to tell – well, until now.
At last we have this offering from Terry Zarchi the director’s son who narrated, edited, directed and is undoubtedly the major force behind it, and the fact that it hasn’t had more attention considering the fame of the film that it’s about might lead one to believe that it’s not very good, but this is far from the case. It has its minor issues that needled me a bit, such as different title cards popping up every few seconds as different things are discussed – for goodness sake, one of them just says ‘About Tent, Connecticut’ which was where the film was shot. But it’s generally well paced and edited, and I have to say I learnt a lot – though granted I haven’t yet read any of the books about the film [much like movies, for me it’s often a case of too many books not enough time – especially if the books are about films]. Some of the information I’d heard in Zarchi’s DVD commentary, but I didn’t know, for example, that the script which cast members read had a pretend female name as author to soften their response, that most of the technical staff were volunteers, that actor Gunter Kleeman kicked star Camille Keaton for real and injured his back while throwing himself into a rape scene, and that critic Roger Ebert’s hypocritical, small minded [he based much of his review on the disturbing way some audiences members reacted to the rape scenes during the viewing he was at] campaign against the film was so extensive that it halted its release in many American cinemas – even though said review no doubt added to the film’s success on video, and the film has most definitely lasted so Zarchi and co. definitely had the last laugh.
It begins unsurprisingly with the different viewpoints and various questions asked about the film, such as whether the revenge justifies the rape, and what were Zarchi’s motives in making it. I knew from Zarchi’s commentary that he was supposedly inspired by picking up a rape victim while driving by a park with some others, and that the reaction of the local cops was so unsympathetic. But it’s nice to now see this being told, and in more detail. I don’t remember hearing that Zarchi began typing a screenplay the same day he arrived home after the incident. Keaton, Kleeman, and Eron Tabor who played another of the rapists [and who was chosen over someone else because Zarchi’s mother thought him to be better looking], soon show up as we move through the conception of the project. I’ve always admired the way Keaton continually supported I Spit On Your Grave even when she split from Meir Zarchi after a brief marriage in 1981. I guess haters of the film who are still curious about watching this documentary will find it baffling when she talks about her love of the part when she first read the script, but then it’s a fact that plenty of women have praised and defended the film, possibly more than men. Special effects man Nouri Haviv, plus a few others including Meir’s daughter Tammy plus Terry himself, soon turn up as we go through the filming and we hear how, for example, Keaton had a minor breakdown when asked to roll off the rock [fans will know the one I’m talking about] onto a tree and how only Zarchi doing it himself naked got her to do it, and how the effects were done. Seeing as it’s a dying art, I always love hearing about how low budget practical effects were done in the days before CGI, especially when the solutions seem absurdly simple.
For the most part, it seems like a good time was generally had during filming, which was obviously a far cry from the tension-filled, genuinely uncomfortable shooting of Last House On The Left. As we go into the release and distribution of the film, fans may learn a bit less, though the suggestion that Demi Moore’s behind is what’s on the iconic poster, something that I found so ridiculous I didn’t even bother to mention it in my review of the film, is surprisingly addressed for some time and I do now wonder….. Distributor Jerry Gross’s prominent role in the success of the picture now is rightfully given prominence, even if Zarchi still hates his re-titling from Day Of The Woman, and then we get a lot of rather-too-quick snapshots of various people discussing the film and often bringing up some very good points. Much as I’m a fan, I did think, for the sake of balance, that we should have been shown more folk attacking the movie than one sole guy and some excerpts from Siskel and Ebert, plus Ebert at a later programme. But hearing and seeing a rape victim’s positive reaction is probably worth far more. And then the documentary ends with a coda of Meir Zarchi reuniting after many years with Keaton and Haviv who sadly died six months after agreeing to do the cinematography on the sequel. Some might find this material to be unnecessary or at least too long. I thought it to be rather touching, though personally I’d have placed this stuff at the beginning of the documentary if I’d made it.
One may have wished for just a few things. For me, I really wanted to see and hear from Richard Pace who played the extremely difficult part of Matthew, the mentally challenged teenager who’s all but forced into joining in the raping [a role drastically simplified in the dumbed down remake and actually made more potentially offensive] – though of course it’s not the fault of Terry Zarchi or indeed anybody else that they couldn’t get him. But overall I think that Growing Up With I Spit On Your Grave, which only contains small clips from the most graphic scenes and in fact hardly shows any rape at all so shouldn’t have problem getting distribution in more censorious countries, should delight fans and may even get some decidedly non-fans who are nonetheless curious enough to watch the documentary, to check out the film again and maybe re-evaluate their opinion it, though some fans of physical media who still like to actually own the things they like watching will be disappointed that there’s no Blu-ray option and that the DVD could certainly be cheaper, especially considering that it has no special features. I’d have loved to have seen fuller versions of some of the interviews towards the end which were obviously cut down.
Anyway, it finishes with a bit about the remake and its sequels – and then some stuff about I Spit On Your Grave: Deja Vu, the script of which Meir Zarchi wrote some time ago. Ah. Deja Vu. I’m now going to watch it. Check out my review tomorrow. I want it to be good, but unfortunately word out is that it’s terrible….