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Shallow Grave(s): Revenge Twice Told in Zarchi’s Landmark “I Spit on Your Grave” Blu-ray Box Set Review

Chances are, if you’re familiar with grindhouse/exploitation films of the 1970s or the output of later auteurs these titles influenced, you’ve heard and likely experienced the 1978 provocation I Spit on Your Grave (aka Day of the Woman). Although it shares the English language title of Boris Vian’s earlier I Spit on Your Grave(s), a steamy pulp thriller published in 1946 about a Black man who can pass for white and decides to take vengeance for his brother’s lynching by seducing as many white women as he can in the sweltering heat of the racist American South, Meir Zarchi’s sensational debut became part of the zeitgeist, absorbing all the references—and mostly for the extremely negative press it received.

A rape revenge melodrama, spackled together in such a way it looked more like the steamy slices of misogyny proliferating any genre of exploitation cinema, Zarchi’s intentions as a masculine derived version of female empowerment, aimed to be horrifying rather than a horror film. Lambasted for decades by Roger Ebert as one of the worst films ever made, and nabbing the number one slot on the UK’s infamous ‘video nasties’ blacklist of the early 1980s, it generated a queasy cult following of admirers who liked it for all the wrong reasons alongside those who appreciated Zarchi’s ability to capture the trauma experience by survivors of rape and sexual assault.

It’s story is a simple one. A comely young woman named Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) leaves behind the hustle and bustle of New York to write a manuscript in a quiet home in rural Connecticut. She quickly courts the attention of a quartet of miscreant men led by Vietnam vet Johnny (Eron Tabor) and they set about raping her all throughout one grueling day, leaving her for dead. But Jennifer lives, recuperates, and sets her sights on retribution.

Camille Keaton, who previously had generated a unique filmography in Italian giallo productions, most notably the fantastic 1972 title What Have You Done to Solange?, in which she starred as the little seen but titular lass for Massimo Dallamano, is transfixing onscreen. It’s a performance of scant dialogue, but throughout her bedraggled and eventual cathartic vengeance, she’s reminiscent of 70s era Isabelle Adjani as an ethereal beauty pushed to a point of no return (and content wise, becomes a prototype of similar territory explored via Isabelle Huppert’s character in Verhoeven’s 2016 Elle).

Zarchi’s refusal to place a musical score or focus on Keaton as a titillating object of desire adds to a sense of complete discomfort in long, unyielding sequences from which there’s no escape. Unfortunately, nearly every other aspect of filmmaking is absent from the production, including cohesive direction of the four rapists, including the brooding Eron Tabor, who is reminiscent of someone like a Michael Nouri (presence, not character) in Flashdance (1983).

I Spit on Your Grave Déjà vu

The box set sidesteps both the 2010 direct remake of I Spit on Your Grave and it’s loosely related 2013 sequel to instead showcase I Spit on Your Grave Déjà Vu (aka Day of the Woman Déjà vu), which Zarchi wrote and directed forty years later, reuniting him with Keaton (whom he married and then divorced shortly after filming completed on the first film). Unfortunately, there’s not one redeeming element of this perilously woebegone and utterly tasteless sequel, which is simply cashing in on a last gasp of notoriety thanks to the continual reputation of the first film.

Like Tommy Wiseau trying to helm a Rob Zombie script, this trash/grunge falls well below even the ripe entertainment value of camp. Timewise, forty years is actually too long for how the parameters of this story even makes sense, which picks up with Jennifer Hills as a vaunted author thanks to her tell all book on her trauma (we learn, in passing, a jury acquitted her of murdering all four men) and is now the mother of the world’s highest paid and most famous model, Christy (Jamie Bernadette), apparently modeling since she was ten-years-old (but is clearly shy of being anywhere near forty).

As with every tawdry, shameless cash grab, all the stops are pulled when the relatives of the murdered men come to exercise kismet on Jennifer outside of a ‘swank’ restaurant (Santa Clarita standing in for New York and Connecticut?), led by snaggle toothed hillbilly Becky (Maria Olsen), widow of Johnny. In rather quick succession, we learn Christy is supposedly the daughter of Johnny, and mother and daughter are separated, with the younger Hills woman going through the exact same motions of vengeance after an even more crass depiction of rape and sexual assault (including at the hands of Becky).

Whereas one can make an argument for how I Spit on Your Grave is misunderstood, this pointless sequel, which has the audacity of being two-and-a-half-hours long, is egregiously and unapologetically, a sexploitation flick. Keaton and Bernadette are terribly written, as are the band of low lives harassing them. Maria Olsen is obnoxiously over-the-top, and Zarchi seems to have directed everyone in the cast to scream their lines (perhaps the worst of all is Jonathan Peacy as Kevin, whose performance plays like Shia LaBeouf engaged in a caricature of Tura Satana in 1965’s Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!).

Growing Up with I Spit on Your Grave

While it does wash away the extremely putrid aftertaste of Déjà vu by reverting focus back on the original, the documentary Growing Up with I Spit on Your Grave, directed by Zarchi’s son Terry, suggests this is simply not a family adept at filmmaking, whether it’s narrative or documentary feature. Playing like a throwaway bonus feature, there are fascinating little tidbits, such as the film’s strenuous journey to theatrical release (which explains both its titles), and even confirming the appearance by Demi Moore’s derriere on the film’s infamous poster, this is for either the Zarchi family’s own enjoyment or extreme fans of the film. Camille Keaton remains an interesting personality, and one wonders what a more objective documentarian might have coaxed from her, however.

Disc Review:

Ronin Flix presents this limited 5,000 copy release with several bonus gifts, including two mini magnets featuring the poster art of both films, and then double-sided poster art prints from the film. A booklet featuring liner notes and an essay on the film is also part of the boxset. Both features are presented in Master Audio 5.1 with the first title in high-definition widescreen 1.85:1 and the sequel in HD widescreen 2.39:1. The new 4K scan of I Spit on Your Grave is perhaps the real star attraction of this set (though if you like Joe Bob Briggs, he supplies an audio commentary track on both features).

I Spit on Your Grave
Film Review: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

I Spit on Your Grave Déjà vu
Film Review: ★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Growing Up with I Spit on Your Grave
Film Review: ★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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