The rape-revenge sub-genre of horror is an interesting one, one that I’d have to say personifies the word ‘horror’ more than any other. A product of the 70s exploitation era, the formula for the rape-revenge movie is very simple, comprised of two contrasting halves that work together to form an equally horrifying and utterly satisfying whole. In the first half, a defenseless young girl gets attacked, tortured and raped by a gang of sick and twisted men. In the second half, she exacts her bloody revenge on the men, killing them all off one by one.
If executed correctly, the revenge portions of the film are as thoroughly satisfying as the rape portions are horrifying, and both aspects need to be on point for any given rape-revenge movie to truly be effective. As hard as it is for me to sit through brutal rape scenes like the ones that are typically on display in these types of movies, it’s the promise of revenge that makes enduring that sheer horror completely worth it. Since you’re by that point in the film very much on the side of the victim, and since her revenge is so wholly justified, the latter portions of these films are oftentimes pure bliss, we as an audience cheering along as the used and abused victim becomes an empowered killer. It’s a sort of interactive experience – us traveling through Hell with the victim, and then feeling every bit of satisfaction she does, when she brings Hell down upon her attackers.
The two most well-known rape-revenge movies are of course Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left, which came out in 1972, and Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave, released in 1978. Given their popularity, it was only natural that they’d both find themselves on the remake chopping block, and Last House got the remake treatment in 2009, followed by I Spit on Your Grave in 2010.
Though I personally found the Last House on the Left remake to be the more effective of the two, the same way I prefer the original Last House over the original I Spit on Your Grave, I nevertheless felt that Steven R. Monroe’s update of the latter was a pretty well done remake, one of the better ones we’ve seen in recent years. The rape portion of the film is as horrifying and repulsive as it by all means should be, and the revenge portion incredibly brutal and satisfying.
If I have any problem with the film it’s that the revenge wasn’t as hands-on and raw as I would’ve liked it to have been, which is the one thing that’s prevented me from really singing the movie’s praises these last couple of years. Jennifer Hills only actually kills one of her attackers with her own two hands, instead setting elaborate traps for most of them that feel like they’re ripped out of one of the Saw movies. The focus seemed to be on coming up with clever and over the top ways for her to dispatch the men, and it would’ve been much more satisfying to really see her get her hands bloody, and for the revenge to be more raw, real and personal. That one scene where she actually does do the dirty deed herself is the most satisfying one in the movie, and I wish we had gotten more of that.
But aside from that minor gripe, I overall dug the I Spit on Your Grave remake. Is it ultimately kind of pointless and unnecessary? Sure. But it’s well made and it hits all the notes that a rape-revenge movie should hit, so I’d have to consider it a success, within this exploitative little sub-genre.
And that brings us to this past Tuesday, which saw the straight-to-DVD release of I Spit on Your Grave 2, once again directed by Steven R. Monroe. The established name of the brand being used to tell an entirely new rape-revenge story, the sequel reads on paper more like a rehashing of the remake than a true sequel – which it essentially is, only with a change of location.
Jemma Dallender stars as Katie, an aspiring model who has recently moved to New York City. So hungry is she to achieve her dreams of being a professional model that she gets involved in the shadiest scheme of all time, falling for a too good to be true ad that promises her free modeling photos. Katie shows up at the location of the photo-shoot and quickly realizes that something’s not quite right, finding herself alone and surrounded by three fairly creepy brothers. After snapping a few shots, the photographer gets a little too aggressive and asks Katie to take all her clothes off, and she smartly storms out of the place unharmed.
Shortly thereafter, one of the men breaks into Katie’s apartment and brutally assaults and rapes her, killing her friend in the process. Once he realizes what he’s done, the man phones his brothers, who make the decision that they have to get the hell out of town, and can’t exactly leave the girl’s body behind. Naturally, they decide to get her hooked on ketamine, turn her into a prostitute and ship her off to Bulgaria, a heavy influence from Taken finding its way into the plot. From there, it’s on to more rape… and more rape… and even more rape, before Katie finally gets to have her fun.
Pointless is a word I used up above to describe the 2010 I Spit on Your Grave remake, and it’s a word that fits this pseudo-sequel a whole hell of a lot more than it even does that film. Again, though the location is changed and some minor little additions are added to the story, I Spit on Your Grave 2 is ultimately nothing more than a regurgitation of everything Monroe already gave us in the remake, an exercise in exploitation and excess that’s pretty much the epitome of cinema pointlessness.
Though the whole film runs a tad bit too long, the rape portion in particular drags on so long that it actually becomes quite repulsive, and not in a good way. True, the whole idea of a rape-revenge movie is that we have to first witness an utterly horrifying rape before we can get to the revenge, but the rape sequences in this one go on and on, to the point that it almost becomes a little too cruel. I found myself becoming numb to everything that was happening, moreso than I even found myself itching for Katie to get her revenge. Quite frankly, I just wanted to turn the movie off and be done with it, rather than even wait to see the bad guys get their comeuppance. There’s a fine line between disturbing us enough to properly lay the groundwork for revenge and stripping all humanity away from the proceedings, and I can’t help but feel that Monroe crossed that imaginary line with this unnecessary sequel.
As for the revenge, I was so turned off by that point that I didn’t even really care. Some nasty shit happens, as you’d by all means want it to, but the focus is again on creativity and shock factor, rather than on raw animalistic revenge. One thing I didn’t like about the remake was the way Jennifer became this sort of superhuman killing machine after her ordeal, and that aspect carries over big time in the sequel, with Katie essentially turning into a badass one-liner spouting action star – leather jacket and all (and Dallender is far less convincing at playing badass than Sarah Butler was, in the remake). What I love about the Last House on the Left remake was how sloppy and raw the revenge sequences were, as you could clearly tell the parents had never killed before and didn’t really know how to do it, an idea that seems to be lost on Monroe. As a result, the revenge just doesn’t feel satisfying or cheer-inducing, despite how much pain is inflicted upon the rapists.
Above all else though, the movie is again just plain pointless, nothing new brought to the table and no real attempts made to distance the film from the remake we all already saw. It’s almost like they just took the same script, changed a few things and spit it all back out, in an attempt to cash-in on the moderate success of the remake. Even the characters are all basically the same, only with different names. If that’s not the definition of pointless, I don’t know what is.
I wouldn’t feel right calling I Spit on Your Grave 2 a terrible movie, it’s more a matter of it being very much inferior to what we already got out of its director, just a couple years ago. It’s the kind of effort you’d expect from a hired gun, rather than a guy who should by all means have known better than to try and recreate a film he already made.
In the end, the film does nothing more than confirm what I believed going into it; I Spit on Your Grave is a standalone horror movie… not a franchise.