When it comes to remakes I’m usually not surprised by the outcome. Most remakes completely miss the point and ignore those elements that made the original so appealing and unique. That’s why I was so shocked after watching the I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remake. The cast and crew came together to make a disturbing, intense remake of a notorious cult classic and succeeded. Director Steven R. Monroe pulled no punches and didn’t try and candy coat the subject matter. It’s only natural that if you saw the original I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978) that you’re curious as to how the remake stands up to it. Now I’m not going to do a comparison review here but let me get this out of the way: The I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remake is a superior film compared to it’s 1978 source material in every way. The acting, story arc, cinematography, and ending make this one a “must see.”
We all know the story: Big city writer Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) heads out to the secluded back woods in order to get some piece and quiet in order to get some writing done. There she inadvertently pisses off some, unbeknownst to her, sociopathic good ‘ole boys who then terrorize, humiliate, torture, and brutally rape her. Jennifer manages to survive and whereas she is physically able to recover from the ordeal mentally she has cracked and is hell bent on getting revenge on the responsible parties. My hat goes off to director Steven R. Monroe. Monroe didn’t compromise at all on his approach to the remake. He didn’t pull any punches or try and ease up on the disturbing material in order to make it more marketable for a general audience. The I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remake is a hardcore genre film made by a hardcore genre fan for hardcore genre fans!! I was introduced to this film last year at the Texas Frightmare Weekend where the cast and crew had a panel discussion about the remake. They all promised us a gritty and “hard to watch” remake that stays true to the original and which goes beyond it. Well I’ve heard all that before and lets face it, promises from the cast and crew of a film their promoting is tenuous at best. Well they weren’t blowing smoke up our asses!!
The first thing you’ll notice is the washed out look to the film that will remind you of old-school grindhouse films of days gone by. This really adds to helping establish the tone and feel of the film. There’s a tense atmosphere in this film right from the opening scene, but to be fair this might be due to the fact that you know exactly what’s in store for Jennifer. But regardless you’ll feel a sense of dread even before the opening credits are over. The acting, though, is the backbone of this film. Without real, believable characters this film would end up being a caricature of itself. But all the actors here out in strong performances. Sarah Butler deserves credit for putting in such a daring and emotionally taxing performance. She plays both sides of her character brilliantly. At first she’s the innocent, scared-to-death victim and then she becomes the avenging angel who exhibits no remorse, no pity, and is unstoppable in her focus. Butler does a really great job.
As we all know in most genre films what can make or break the film is the villains and here they are absolutely horrifying. First Jennifer is terrorized by Johnny (Jeff Branson), Stanley (Daniel Franzese), Andy (Rodney Eastman), and Matthew (Chad Lindberg), the retarded kid. Each of these guys has their own personality and is frightening in that they are “movie monsters” but “everyday monsters” that exist in the real world. Johnny is especially monstrous because he has a certain charisma and almost charm. He’s like a snake in which your slightest movement will set it off into “kill mode”, and Jennifer, unknowingly, sets him off. But Stanley and Andy aren’t just the cronies who follow Johnny’s orders; they too are monsters who are more than eager to initiate everything and in fact goad Johnny on and work him up into a frenzy. Stanley also likes to videotape everything and captures Jennifer’s degradation, torture, and gang rape on film … every small detail of it.
But just as we think we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel director Monroe gives us one more slice of evil in the character Storch (Andrew Howard, who’s quickly becoming this generations David Hess). Storch is a sadistic sociopath who doesn’t think twice about what he puts Jennifer through. Storch is definitely the ring leader here and he willingly drags the other guys down deeper into depravity. But what makes Storch a real monster and gives his character depth is that he’s also a loving family man with doting wife (Mollie Milligan) and a young, pre-teen daughter (Saxon Sharbino) who he calls his “little girl” and his “angel.” It’s truly disturbing watching him around his daughter after brutally raping and torturing Jennifer (when he says to Jennifer, “I’m a ass man myself” it’ll make you nauseous). Howard plays his character perfectly and sleaze just drips from his pores in every scene. Monroe did a great job putting together a great cast.
The first half of the film goes as expected but it’s in the second half where Monroe changes things up a bit. Jennifer still gets her revenge but it’s more satisfying and better doled out. At first Jennifer fucks with all their heads. She leaves pieces of her clothing at Johnny’s door, she mailed the film Stanley made of the rape to Storch’s home, and she generally gets into the heads of them all. At first the guys think it’s Matthew, the retarded character, being obsessed with Jennifer and messing around with them. Andy even points out, “I even think [Matthew] feels guilty.” That sent shivers down my spine!! To think these guys can go back to their daily lives not feeling any remorse or guilt over what they just did to Jennifer (and they think she’s dead). These are true monsters.
Jennifer though goes quickly from fucking with their minds to fucking with their bodies, and what I really liked here is that the revenge Jennifer dishes out is apropos to what each guy did to her. I’m not gonna go into details here but Jennifer’s revenge is brutal and bloody and you’ll be cheering her on all the way. That is until she possibly goes too far. She leaves Storch for last and really wants to hurt him (and believe me she does; she gives it to him up the ass good). But she really wants to hurt Storch so she goes after his family. Monroe raises a great question here: When does revenge go too far? As Storch regains consciousness bent over a table, he remembers Jennifer going after his family. He’s crying as he screams at Jennifer about his daughter, “She’s just an innocent girl.” To which she replies, “So was I.” What a gut punch
It’s hard to believe that the I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remake was made by the same man who directed such SyFy Originals as OGRE, STORM CELL, ICE TWISTERS, and MONGOLIAN DEATH WORM!! But hey, everyone needs to pay bills. Monroe here gives us arguably one of the best remakes to date. His focus on the source material and commitment to keeping it gritty, disturbing, and hardcore shows that there’s still some dedicated genre directors out there that won’t compromise on their vision. I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remake is well shot with a great pace, great acting, and a very satisfying ending after Jennifer’s revenge is over. The last shot in the film shows Jennifer just sitting on a tree stump staring blindly into space. The heavy question in the air being, “Her revenge is over. Now what?” She’s had her bloody revenge and the guilty parties have paid, but does that really change anything? Is Jennifer suddenly over the trauma just because the guilty have paid? I think we all know the answer to that queation.
The I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remake is a solid film that is not for everyone. It’s hard to watch (even the revenge parts) and will stay with you days after seeing it. But to me this is the mark of a really good film. I’m highly recommending I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remake whether you’ve seen the original or not.
Director: Steven R. Monroe
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 7 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer