Fans of xenophobic torture porn and gruelling rape scenes rejoice, it’s I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2. While I’m not sure Palestinian director Meir Zarchi’s 1978 original (also known as DAY OF THE WOMAN) could be described as a classic, time has been kind to the notorious exploitation thriller. Previously banned, it’s since enjoyed a new lease of life, and is viewed as one of the more significant of the ‘70s and ‘80s ‘video nasties’. It was only a matter of time before it was remade, with prolific TV movie director Steven R. Monroe at the helm. While far from a masterpiece, it was more than we had any right to expect from the director of SASQUATCH MOUNTAIN, MONGOLIAN DEATH WORM and THE 12 DISASTERS OF CHRISTMAS. Just as remakes are inevitable, so are sequels, and now, three years after his first offering, Monroe is back with part 2. So does he follow the established rules of horror film sequels and tell essentially the same story, only with an increased body count and more gore? Yes and no. While the story’s more than a little familiar and the cruelty has been dialled up to 10, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2 is more of a retreat than a step forward. It’s a throwback to the bad old days of HOSTEL, when Europe was nothing but a cesspit of crime and bureaucratic corruption, and shady foreign thugs preyed on innocent American women.
Would-be model Katie (Jemma Dallender) responds to an advert for a free fashion shoot. Shocked when the photographer suggests she pose topless (who’d have thought a free photo shoot would come with strings attached?), she leaves, only for one of the photographer’s brothers to show up at her apartment. She gets rid of him, but wakes in the night to find he’s broken into her bedroom. He attackers her and she screams, alerting a neighbour, who rushes to her aid. The intruder kills the neighbour and sexually assaults Katie...
To be fair, no one watches an I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE movie without knowing exactly what they’re getting (scenes of sadistic sexual abuse followed by sickening torture revenge). It may seem redundant to criticise a film for doing exactly what it says on the tin, but in this case it’s also warranted. Revenge has been a staple of drama as long as drama has existed, but seldom has it been portrayed in such a vulgar and cack-handed way. Monroe may have a few modest commercial successes under his belt, but he’s still a hack, and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2 exposes the worst of his excesses. It’s voyeuristic, violent to the point where it stops being wince-inducing and starts being funny, and as poorly put-together as any slapdash straight-to-DVD potboiler.
As you might expect, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2 is a film of two halves. The first, which for want of a better term we’ll refer to as the ‘rape half,’ is both the most harrowing and the least satisfying. Harrowing not for its content (although it is pretty shocking, in all senses of the word), but for the way leading lady Jemma Dallender is treated. I understand the argument behind the protracted and pitiless scenes of sexual violence and degradation (in order for the revenge to be meaningful we have to understand how deeply the victim has been wronged), but I also understand that implication can be a very powerful tool. I’m sure both Monroe and Dallender would argue otherwise (it’s their jobs, after all), but the prolonged scenes of nudity are there for one reason and one reason alone – to titillate. It doesn’t help that Katie is such a compliant victim, walking into one obvious set-up after another, or that her attackers are one-dimensional ‘swarthy foreign bad guys.’ Just as her credulous naiveté borders on the retarded, so their pointless, motiveless cruelty smacks of laziness on the parts of screenwriters Neil Elman and Thomas Fenton (the former of which was responsible for penning MONGOLIAN DEATH WORM).
The second half, the revenge portion, is just as bad, but at least its over-the-top ultraviolence provides a little (unintentional) comic relief. By thoroughly preposterous means Katie escapes her seemingly impracticable fate, and is reborn as the black-hearted offspring of the Crow and the Punisher. Formerly meek and mild-mannered, now she’s a whirling, screeching hurricane of death, gifted with superhuman strength and the bottomless appetite for depravity of Satan himself. This should be the really satisfying part, the part where the bad guys get their just deserts, but it’s so histrionic and unconvincing, not to mention unlikely, that it devolves into a kind of blood-spattered pantomime. Katie’s revenge boils down to parroting her attackers’ dialogue back at them and hurting them in the ways they hurt her, only more so. Monroe’s operatic overindulgence aims for guignol but falls a long way short, finally settling for grubby gutter bloodletting. And with villains this flimsy and inconsequential, who cares anyway?
There are other problems with I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2. For one thing, the script is (predictably) terrible. The dialogue serves the filmmakers’ agendas, foregoing any attempt at naturalism in favour of reinforcing how cool/cruel (delete as applicable) various characters are. Even when they’re alone, foreign characters speak in broken English. And while we’re on the subject, why are the villains foreign in the first place? Kidnapping an American national and shipping her all the way to Bulgaria, just so they can lock her in a basement and bury her alive, seems like a lot of expense and risk for very little reward. And why, when the second half of the film is all about female empowerment (or so those involved would have us believe), does Katie need to be saved by a man at the end?
Chances are you already made up your mind about I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2 before reading this review. Even if you haven’t seen the original or the remake, you know exactly what you’re getting, and you’ll have a good idea whether or not it’s to your liking. If it is, more power to you, and if it isn’t, this review is only going to reinforce how you already felt. Personally, I have no problem with revenge as a dramatic motivation, nor do I mind excessive violence or nudity in my horror. What I do object to is lazy plotting, terrible writing, paper-thin characters, exploitative titillation, and violence so artlessly constructed it’s more funny than shocking. But I suspect I’m in the minority. Chances are Monroe’s already fleshing out the details of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 3.