I Spit On Your Grave, I Spit On Your Grave 3: Vengeane Is Mine (2010, 2013, 2015)
Directed by: R. D. Braunstein, Steven R. Monroe
Written by: Adam Rockoff, Daniel Gilboy, Neil Elman, Thomas Fenton
Starring: Jeff Branson, Jemma Dallendar, Joe Absolom, Sarah Butler
I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION
ON BLU-RAY AND DVD: 5TH OCTOBER, from KALEIDOSCOPE HOME ENTERTAINMENT
I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE , I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2 , A SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 3: VENGEANCE IS MINE 
Novelist Jennifer Hills travels from New York City to a rented cabin in Louisiana to work on her next book in privacy. On the way she’s given meandering written directions by Earl who rented her the cabin, then gas attendant Johnny tries to flirt with her. When the cabin’s plumbing becomes clogged, it’s fixed by Matthew who’s mentally challenged. She rewards him with an abrupt kiss of gratitude, and Matthew then tells Johnny and his friends Andy and Stanley. Johnny, whose ego was bruised after the gas station incident, decides that Jennifer is snobbish and needs to be taught a lesson….
I remember very well when this was coming out. The word was that it was a significantly better film than its 1978 predecessor. Then, when more and more people got to see it, message boards were full of horror fans debating which version was better and, even though a slightly larger number of folk preferred the remake, the original had many staunch defenders too. As expected, mainstream reviewers tended to either ignore or hate on it, Roger Ebert considering it to be as totally worthless as the original, though there were a few more who liked it than I expected. I eventually sat down to watch it with great interest – and was soon disappointed. It was apparent right away that Steven R. Monroe’s film was made on a larger budget and was therefore far slicker. It has better acting and cinematography, and was overall a more enjoyable piece of cinema as long as you didn’t mind very graphic violence. And yet, it lacked the original’s raw intensity, its realistic feel. I was always far more conscious that I was watching a film. Now these points at the end of the day are just a matter of opinion. However, I also felt, and still do, that this remake is a bit dumbed down and gets rather silly. And I’d also go as far to say that it’s possibly more offensive, certainly more misogynist. Sound weird? Probably, but I can back up my points even if you may still disagree with them – and by the way I do still like this remake. But hear me out.
So the plot is fundamentally the same, with a few tweaks and expansions in this rather longer [by 15 minutes] film. It seems that Monroe and screenwriter Adam Rockoff wanted to correct one of the oft-heard criticisms of the original; there being far more rape than revenge. So they opted for less rape and a great deal more revenge – but is soft-pedaling the rape in order to focus more on the revenge less exploitative or actually more exploitative? As a viewer, I liked this and felt like cheering as the rapist scum were being tortured and killed – and yet I couldn’t help feeling that this degeneration into Saw-type stuff is far more simplistic than the ambiguous attitude to revenge that Meir Zarchi’s movie had. It also turns our heroine into a super woman with incredible strength, ninja-like stealth and expertise in torture devices. Whereas before the methods of revenge were plausible with the possible exception of the final one, here they’re really over the top and make us feel like we’re watching the wish-fulfillment dream of a rape victim rather than actual revenge. But there are other, more genuinely problematic issues, like the way the mentally challenged character is all-but reduced to being little more than just another rapist, meaning that there was no point in having this person be this way except for the fact that there was a similar character in the original. And then there’s the way that Monroe just has to make sure that Sarah Butler looks hot even when she’s being sexually assaulted. Can’t have that much blood and dirt on her can we? By contrast, Camille Keaton just looked absolutely awful even after just one of her three rapes, her total nakedness not being sexy whatsoever. Now you tell me; which of the two is more honest and which is more questionable?
Yet, as I said before, I do like this remake and some of the things in it. The first third is very good indeed and really got me excited the first time I watched this. We don’t see any shots of New York this time, we begin in Jennifer’s car as she speeds towards her destination. Now I consider the direction and cinematography of the original version to be okay for the film it’s trying to be, but there’s no doubt that, even if one still prefers the old slower rhythm to the new pacier cutting, we’re technically more advanced here, right from a very early shot of someone in silhouette materialising before a doorway. Johnny doesn’t seem to understand why his atrocious chat up line doesn’t work, but having Jennifer actually kiss Matthew in joy at him fixing her plumbing is an improvement because when he tells his ‘friends’ about this he’s not lying, unlike his counterpart in 1978. Of course it’s highly convenient for later that Jennifer finds a nearby shed with lots of deadly things in it, replacing the simple gun [Chekov’s] from before. This Jennifer also seems to require continual booze to get the creative juices flowing. Well, I’ve been there. The build up to the assault is highly effective; she finding a deserted house, somebody filming her in the cabin, a dead bird being left outside, a photograph of three of the guys on her laptop. Even the conversation between the guys is superior, being better acted and writing. Despite what I wrote in the synopsis, it seems that the fact that Jennifer kissed Matthew is also instrumental in Johnny’s actions; simple, pure jealousy, always the source of so much trouble.
When the four sneak into the cabin, they taunt Jennifer for ages before Johnny forces her to fellate his gun. Despite the far quicker editing, there’s still a grimy realism here, and the twist of a Sheriff arriving on the scene but definitely not to help Jennifer is neat, but it’s a shame that Matthew doesn’t take much persuasion to commit rape, so we hate him just like we do the others. In the original, it took forever for him to take part, and then he stopped. This meant that we had some sympathy for the character, making matters more challenging for the viewer, but Rockoff just seems to go for simplicity here, thereby makes the inclusion of a mentally challenged character seem very crass. The rape footage being far shorter undoubtedly pleases many. We even cut to black during the second assault, a scene which isn’t as horrible as Zarchi would have made it back in 1978, though Stanley recording everything with a video camera adds a cruel modern touch. Now Kaleidoscope didn’t have screeners of the remake trilogy, but I really wanted to review the entire franchise so I watched the later films anyway from my own copies. The BBFC cut 43 seconds from this one, and also zoomed in a few shots as well as repeating a few frames. While I haven’t seen that version, it seems that flashes of nudity and shots shown from the point of view of Stanley’s camera were what was mainly cut. While I still believe that watering down scenes like this is wrong, the several shots of Butler’s bottom in the uncut version can, I think, be legitimately being accused of being titillating, not to mention her pretty good appearance throughout her ordeal. And I’ll give the BBFC credit for explaining their decisions; their website is worth checking out for their comments.
This time around, instead of staying mostly with Jennifer, we hang with the rapists and tension nicely builds again as odd things happen like a video tape being sent to Sheriff Storch’s wife, while Matthew sees a vision of Jennifer as a J-Horror ghost. This is all fine, but when the violence begins anew things become ridiculous. There’s no doubt that [as long as you’re on board of course with what this type of film offers] much pleasure is derived from watching these awful men get what’s coming to them really slowly, and the way that the manner of their deaths matches their earlier actions. For example Stanley, the man with the camera, is tied to a tree, has his eyes pinned open with fish hooks, fish guts smeared on his face, and his eyes pecked out by crows. The effects are really good and the gore hound can squirm and grin in equal measure. But we’re supposed to believe that a girl who’s been raped, beaten almost to dead and nearly drowned in a river can, a few weeks later, drag and lift adult men so she can put them in torture devices. And turning the revenge into cartoonish impossibilities seems kind of wrong to my mind. Thank goodness then for Butler’s very fine performance here. It’s oddly iffy in the first half, with her character seeming to be more dazed than anything else, but it kicks into gear in these later scenes. Her more emotional playing is a nice contrast to Camille Keaton’s colder performance. Both seem believable, Keaton’s perhaps more sadder because one senses that all feelings have gone from her character, that she’s just numb, but Butler is tremendous when she finally loses her rag [sodomising a guy with his rifle, as you do], and is even allowed one smile when she’s pretending to be Storch’s daughter’s teacher, and a terrific half-one in the very last shot.
This film takes place in autumn instead of summer. Monroe and his director of photography Neil Lisk could still have exploited the look, made it look pretty, but instead they make things appear forbidding and bleak, reflecting the events that we witness rather than being a counterpoint to them. When we’re outdoors, colours are muted and dominated by brown instead of all that lush green. When Jennifer flees through the forest, it’s through a stark forest of jagged ,leafless trees. Unfortunately, for the indoor scenes they also decided to add an ugly blue-green tone to much of what we see, the colour correction being so obvious and overdone. On the other hand the music score by Corey Allen Jackson is mainly long low drones and is only sometimes present, a leaning towards the ‘no score’ approach of the original. My overall opinion of this remake is that I enjoy it more than the original, and there are some areas where it does better it. However, it seems to me to be a distinctly inferior product overall. In simplifying matters, in [understandably] attempting to make things more palatable, much has been lost, and one can argue that some of the issues have been cheapened as a result.
Katie Carter is an aspiring model from Missouri who works as a waitress in a New York City restaurant. She answers an advertisement offering a free photography session where she meets three Bulgarian siblings, photographers Ivan, Nicki and Georgi. However, they want her to do be shot topless, so she refuses and leaves. That night Georgi visits her to give back the shots they did take, then binds, gags and sodomises her as well as killing her neighbour Jayson who tried to help her, then force-feeds her ketamine. Katie wakes up to find herself naked and handcuffed to a pipe in an old basement….
While its release in cinemas was limited, the remake of I Spit On Your Grave was a hit on home media. Back in 1978 sequels, while they certainly existed, weren’t quite so prevalent in the horror genre. These days, though, if something makes money it’s likely that there will be a second movie, even an attempt to create a series. I think it’s possible, without coming across as a sicko, to find it somewhat amusing that there should be be a trilogy of something like I Spit On Your Grave. It exists though, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that a fourth instalment was planned at some stage. Unusually, the third film follows on from the first, but this second one is a totally new story – well, it’s not totally new because it’s about rape and revenge – but it has no connection with its predecessor. I guess that they had trouble working out a good continuation of Jennifer Hills’s story, though they did eventually achieve this, for the most part, with film number three. But I’m getting ahead of myself and should be focusing for now on this particular movie, especially as I consider it to be definitely superior to the I Spit On Your Grave remake. It does a good job of following a familiar outline while offering some variation. And boy is it grueling, sometimes approaching the grimness of the 1978 film even if its rape footage is far shorter.
I Spit On Your Grave 2 is hugely intense and disturbing; and it’s also powerful and well made, which probably makes it even easier to hate if you don’t like this sort of film in the first place and consider most of them to be reprehensible trash. Again, this one has been cut at the behest of the BBFC, by 1.41 seconds. I’ve been mentioning this kind of thing because I feel that readers need to know that they’re getting cut versions, even if it’s not the fault of Kaleidoscope but the silly old BBFC who are increasingly irrelevant. A quick amount of research revealed that some nudity has been removed because the BBFC thought that it sexualised Katie’s humiliation [though to my mind anybody who finds it sexy shouldn’t be out on the streets], and the two main scenes of sexual assault have been shortened. The second one, in which a guy electrocutes Katie with her taser gun including between the legs several times, is truly hard to watch in its uncut form. I’d imagine that you’d still feel much of the terror and humiliation in its short edit, and this is probably largely down to the terrific performance of Jemma Dallender who makes the viewer feel the horror of every stage of her degradation. It’s really gut wrenching and her cries, whimpers and screams truly upset me on some occasions, more so in fact than the imagery that was unfolding before my eyes. Even if one appreciates, as I do, the more low-key approaches of Sarah Butler and especially Camille Keaton, Dallender’s more external acting does probably transmit more directly a sense of how horrible such an ordeal would be, and leaves the most lasting impression – but of course because it’s in a film which is called I Spit On Your Grave 2, it goes largely unnoticed and unappreciated.
We’re in New York again, and Katie’s told by a friend that she really needs a portfolio is she wants to be hired as a model. These tend to cost a lot though, so whe answers a slightly oddly worded advertisement for ‘Free Photography On Modeling Portfolio’ on a noticeboard. Theshoot doesn’t go well though, and things then get even worse when Georgi comes round and proves that his pleasant manner is totally deceiving. There’s not much time spent on buildup here; the nastiness begins quite quickly. However, we also soon get the first of several daft moments where screenwriters Thomas H. Fenton and Neil Elman write themselves into a corner. Somebody should have told them that most drugs, including ketamine which Georgi, Ivan and Nicki force down Katie’s throat, don’t take effect almost immediately. We can just about buy that they can clean up all evidence of a crime in Katie’s apartment, but it’s stretching matters considerably that three men are able to sneak a body out of an apartment in the middle of the day, even in a box and then take it through customs all the way to Bulgaria. Katie awakes to find Nicki raping her, though Ivan stops her. It seems that the brothers are involved in the slave trafficking business, but this isn’t made clear. A bit later, an older guy named Valko comes to rape her, and I guess that he’s supposed to be a pimp or a crime boss, though he just has his way with Katie then leaves. It seems that the UK version removes a shot of her thighs being full of blood. Why? It’s a highly distressing sight but, in a film that deals with sexual assault, I just can’t see how it being such a highly distressing sight is wrong, likewise the shots of her naked, totally humiliated and vulnerable. But it’s all so full on that it’s still probably pretty harrowing even with the BBFC interference.
At one point Katie escapes and she runs down city streets crying “please help me” but is totally ignored in another very saddening scene. Eventually she bumps into Detective Kimil who takes to the local police station where we have to put up with another silly bit of writing. A presumably high up police woman turns up to supposedly take her to the American Embassy, only she’s actually – well, I’m not going to entirely spoil the surprise and go into detail but as soon as she appears I’d imagine that most viewers are immediately suspicious of her, so I will say that she’s central to one especially powerful scene where she’s sitting in a rocking chair holding a doll while opera plays in a variant on a not dissimilar scene from 1978. Thankfully the faint xenophobic feel [not actually something I tend to complain about because it’s basically just another way to create fear but it’s there] is mediated by there being two positive Bulgarian characters. One is Kiril who, typically for investigators in these things, takes a hell of a long time to realise what’s going on. Then there’s Father Dimov, who notices that somebody is leaving in the sewers under the church and periodically taking food. Initially the sight of him rightfully terrifies Katie. The character never becomes as interesting as you think he’s going to be though, and hints that a religious element will become important are discarded. And would Katie really let him know, by leaving a Bible for him open on a certain page, what she’s going to do? I suppose she thinks that, as the Bible has passages where vengeance is condoned, Dimov won’t tell the cops.
So Katie survives being placed in a box and buried alive when the ground beneath the makeshift coffin breaks and she falls into the sewer system below where she recovers and lives for a while. Plausible? Not terribly, especially when she looks far too good, and as before we’re asked to believe that a weakened woman can construct elaborate torture devices and place adults in them. But I buy it a little more in this one, largely because of Dallender’s intensity. For once, we have a rape victim who’s genuinely frightening at times when enacting her payback, who tortures and murders her abusers with relish. The violence is even more gloatingly extreme, including a testicle crushing that’s even nastier than the two castrations in the previous two films because we actually see it properly. In a way, though, I found a drowning in an unflushed toilet to be the most unpleasant kill because, I suppose, I could relate to it in a way that I couldn’t relate to, say, Katie electroshocking a man’s genitals with a stun stick, putting a large plumber’s snake into his mouth, turning it so it snakes its way down into his throat, then attaching electrical cables to the bed and rooter and electrocuting him.
Steven R. Monroe returned to direct this one. The sewer setting of much of the action is appropriately grimy looking and cinematographer Damian Bromley gives us a very gray-looking, uninviting Bulgaria apart from the church whose golden-lit interiors make a strong contrast with everything else. The largely Bulgarian cast all do a good job, making this, along with Dallender’s incredible turn, the best acted film in the series. It even flirts with becoming more complex than even the original film when we learn that another character was raped, and later on learn the circumstances of that rape, or rather multiple rapes. This person is evil but we have some sympathy because she’s been made this way. We’re asked to think of her in relation to Katie, who does seem to really enjoy her vicious business, and wonder if Katie will become like this. But of course I Spit On Your Grave 2 doesn’t exactly aim for sensitivity. Should it? It can’t help but provide queasy uncomfortableness. Are we watching sick exploitation or can it be considered okay to watch a woman being degraded and abused? If we’re watching horror for the catharsis of going to dark and disturbing places, then is graphic rape wrong or a legitimate portrayal of the grimness of such acts which occur in real life? These are hard questions to answer and I’m not sure that I can fully do that. But this film most definitely achieves all that it obviously set out to do, and is one of the best horror sequels of the ’00s.
Jennifer Hills now lives in Los Angeles and devotes herself between working as an assault hotline operator and going to therapy and group counseling under the name Angela Jitrenka. Jennifer’s scarring experience has left her highly distrustful and defensive towards most men. She develops a bond with one of the girls in her group, Marla, but the two start getting back at men they deem to be abusive. Then Marla dies under mysterious circumstances and no one is found guilty….
“They say rape is about power not sex, but that’s a load of bullshit” says somebody early on into this film. It’s the first of several good lines and dialogue exchanges that suggest a bit more thought has gone unto this entry. “After everything you’ve been through, you’ve learnt nothing” says unnamed Jennifer’s therapist to her, to which she replies, “I’ve learnt a lot”. One is even able to have a chuckle when someone, and I won’t say who, remarks, “he should be anally violated with a metal pipe”, because you know that, whereas such a thing would be unlikely to happen in any other movie, it’s highly probably in one of these. I Spit On Your Grave 3: Vengeance Is Mine has quite a lot of dialogue actually, certainly the most out of these films except for the absurdly flabby I Spit On Your Grave: Deja Vu which is something else altogether. It’s rather refreshing to have more of people engaged in actual conversations rather than mostly taunts and threats, especially when it’s a film that, while it never gets particularly deep, nor perhaps should it get particularly deep, does attempt a more nuanced look at the subject of revenge. I recall it disappointing many fans when it came out because it had far less action and no rape at all except for some very quick flashbacks to Jennifer’s ordeal in 2010 and a rape attempt which is interrupted very quickly, though I feel the latter change at least to be rather refreshing. Watching, say, the Friday The 13th films in quick succession doesn’t make it a bad thing for fans that they seem even more to be basically the same movie; that’s part of the fun. But graphic rape feels different to dispatching loads of teenagers in creative ways and I think that, yes, after three films of sexual assault, it was time for a change in this respect. Plus it meant that the BBFC wouldn’t cut it.
In fact there’s quite a bit that’s different in this one. I have no idea if the idea to bring Jennifer Hills back and continue her story was always what they intended to do, and seeing as I much preferred the sequel to the 2010 I Spit On Your Grave than that film itself, I’d have rather that they’d followed that one on. But then I suppose that one can also see it as a continuation of the original version if you want. In any case, it would be hugely crass and not even that believable to have Jennifer raped again, so they decided not to follow the franchise template so much and instead derive inspiration from examples of the very similar vigilante movie sub-genre. This is another type of film I tend to enjoy which tends not to be liked by critics, and I make no excuses for this; it certainly doesn’t mean that I think about being a vigilante in real life. Two of the best are Death Wish and MS. 45 and both of these seem to have influenced Vengeance Is Mine. MS.45 is especially interesting when talked about in context because writer/director Abel Ferrera partly made it as a reaction to the original I Spit On Your Grave, to show that a victim is very likely to go insane when enacting her retribution and may further her killing to include those who they deem to be deserving of death even if they weren’t personally harmed by any of these people. Vengeance Of Mine isn’t as nearly assured a piece of cinema as MS 45; in fact it’s rather flat and TV-like in look and the significantly lower budget can’t help but show. But it does try to be something a bit more than just ‘Woman Raped, Woman Kills Rapists’.
We quickly get a snapshot of Jennifer’s current life; constantly haunted by the rapes she suffered and very uneasy around men, even this nice guy called Matthew who she works with. It doesn’t help that wherever she goes guys seem to make passes at her or harass her. Is this believable? It’s possibly overdone, but then one can also interpret it as being more from Jennifer’s point of view, seeing as she sees every man as a potential predator, something which is true of many rape victims so I don’t see the film as being anti-male here. Likewise when she keeps on imagining that she’s carrying out bloody attacks on these guys, though the film ends up overdoing the device of showing us a scene of violence before then revealing that it’s all in Jennifer’s head, because it’s such an easy thing to resort to when you think your film could do with a brief bit of action to enliven a slow spot. Jennifer [okay she’s calling herself Angela but let’s call her Jennifer to avoid any confusion] seems able to open up a little bit to her therapist but not at all to this rape support group she begins to attend. Interestingly there’s one guy there, Oscar. His daughter was raped and the culprit released on a “technicality”, causing her to commit suicide. You won’t be surprised whatsover that this becomes a major part of the story.
Jennifer befriends Marla who was once in a very abusive relationship. She’s now really confident, able to verbally disarm a threatening male by insulting his manhood and feeling that there’s nothing wrong with scaring an old drunk who made a lewd comment about women so he pisses himself. They hang out in bars and Marla begins to feel stronger being with her – but then Marla begins to take things possibly too far with her getting back at the three-legged species. Now I’ve read reviews that this film is misandrist even though it’s written by a man. I’ve noticed, and complained about before, a growing and highly unpleasant trend in recent cinema of bashing men, sexism obviously being considered to be okay and even cool if it goes one way. The worst example is that horrid second remake of Black Christmas, which even had a scene when a woman insulted men in front of her nice boyfriend and when he complained she threw him out of her room – and we were seemingly intended to support this! But I honestly don’t see Vengeance Is Mine as being like this; all the men who have nasty things happen to them are nasty people themselves and there are also three major sympathetic male characters who are not at all treated derisively. In fact I almost wish that the whole film, or at least much more of it, had consisted of Jennifer and Marla hanging out and terrorising one half of the local population; Sarah Butler and Jennifer Landon are great together for a start.
However, Marla goes off to see her ex-boyfriend about something. She says that she’ll meet Jennifer in their usual bar, but she doesn’t show up and her dead body is later found by the police. It’s really no wonder that Jennifer now goes into action, seemingly triggered by something somebody else in the group says – and then that person is blamed for the first killing carried out by Jennifer. One thing I really liked is that, for the first time since 1978, our heroine is a woman of ordinary strength and abilities; in fact this one has trouble carrying out two of her intended killings and has to saved not once but twice by Detective McDylan. She does carry out a bit of torture though not as much as we saw in the other two parts of this [sort of] trilogy; however we do get the most extreme example of the penis violence that’s a feature of this series; here, we get the lovely sight of part of a member being bitten off and then spat out, something that Wes Craven may well have wanted to show in Last House On The Left but just didn’t have the money. Well, here we get to see it, and it does look quite convincing though the blood in this film is clearly digital, and as we all know digital blood, especially in a cheap movie, tends not to look as good as practical blood.
A twist at the end doesn’t really add anything, but at least we’re left with the thought that we really don’t want Jennifer back on the streets, unlike Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey where we’re asked to find it amusing and cool that he’s now in another city but is clearly going to carry on wiping out bad people. The final part of this trilogy doesn’t seem to be in favour of vigilantism at all, even though we may enjoy seeing some of it being enacted. Some terrible people who should have been brought to justice have been gotten rid of, and more probably will be, but at what cost; it certainly won’t help Jennifer’s piece of mind. She’s clearly insane towards the end, and Butler manages to even frighten, yet importantly we still sympathise; after all, it’s really the actions of those five men back in 2010 which sent her on the path to destruction externally and internally. R. D. Braunstein’s direction is pedestrian, lacking even the spark that Monroe sometimes brought to his two entries, while Vengeance Is Mine never gets as incisive as it sometimes threatens to. It’s full of strong, well written and even well acted scenes. I haven’t yet mentioned the one when Jennifer is grilled by a female police detective and you know that she knows what Jennifer has done, and that she also both sympathises with her and disagrees entirely with her actions. But I do wonder if having a woman as the screenwriter or director would have helped greatly in this one seeing as it attempts a more psychological approach. In fact, if they do try to reboot this franchise – and I reckon it’ll happen eventually – lets have much more female input, especially as women seem to be partly reclaiming the rape/revenge movie of late anyway, and it also ought to lessen some of the criticisms that will take place such as the exploiting of sexual assault for entertainment.
Even with three of the films slightly softened, and one of them not being that great, Kaleidoscope’s boxset ‘I Spit On You Grave: The Complete Collection’ is recommended overall – if you think you can take it!