***Many spoilers follow, so if you’ve not yet seen the original ISOYG, skip this review
Of all the horror films to remake, 1979′s I Spit on Your Grave (also known as Day of the Woman) seems a somewhat unlikely choice. That brutal, rape-revenge film made waves upon its first release with the likes of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert who critiqued its prolonged scenes of sexual assault. It also featured problematic portrayals of the working class and mentally disabled. Though the linkage between lower-classness and sadistic violence remains acceptable mainstream fare, negative representations of disability seem more touchy these days. In short, an I Spit on Your Grave remake seems like a huge risk. Check out the original trailer and see for yourself:
Then again, I Spit on Your Grave does fit in nicely with two concurrent cycles in American horror: torture porn and remakes. As you can see in the trailer, the film involves the gang-rape of Jennifer, a big city writer renting a cabin in a rural area. After surviving her ordeal, Jennifer hunts down each of her attackers, dispatching them with gruesome precision. Based on the IMDB synopsis, it appears that the remake retains much of the original’s basic structure with a few adjustments that I will discuss below. But first, the trailer:
A few observations:
1) Night and Day Aesthetics – Hand-held camera work seems to have replaced the more detached cinematography of the original. The overall color-scheme feels darker than the original, with lots of night scenes and a heightening of blues and greens (probably through filters). This change interests me, given that one of the more shocking elements of the original was the way that the gang-rape occurred in broad daylight. From all appearances, the new film presents Jennifer’s rape as occurring at night and following a break in into her home. My guess would be that filmmakers felt these changes would be a) more realistic to today’s audiences and b) more creepy and atmospheric.
2) Context? – The original ISOYG contextualizes the violence against Jennifer in terms of tensions based on class and gender; the male perpetrators regularly make sexist remarks and criticize Jennifer’s urban sophistication. Surprisingly, the trailer for the latest ISOYG provides very little information about what motivates the rapists, instead focusing on Jennifer. I wonder if the remake will make these connections between misogyny and rape clear or merely assume them to be implied.
3) Targeting – Siskel and Ebert claimed that the audiences that attended screenings of the original consisted primarily of men who cheered on the perpetrators during the rape scenes. While I have some skepticism about Siskel and Ebert’s accounts, I imagine that it’s highly likely that men attended these screenings more than women due to the cultural presumptions about the appropriateness of violent films for women. The remake’s trailer, though, seems targeted primarily toward lady viewers by encouraging viewer identification with Jennifer (generally, Hollywood marketers assume that women identify with women characters and men with men). This doesn’t surprise me, given the recent marketing research that suggests women comprise the majority of horror audiences.
In the end, I am pretty lukewarm on this project, primarily because of my mixed feelings about the original. Given the involvement of the original film’s producers and director, I expect that the motivation for revisiting this material has more to do with cashing in than fleshing out the implications of the original. I hope the new film proves me wrong, but with the tagline “It’s date night,” I shudder to think.
“The crying woman is a scheming woman.”
-She (Charlotte Gainsbourg), Antichrist
Since hearing about Antichrist last spring, I’ve been eager to see the film and gauge the hype in relation to the content. This week, my “Gender and Horror Films” class was charged with watching the film after a failed attempt (technical difficulties) to watch it as a group. Tired from travel, I watched it in a daze which resulted in a very disturbing first viewing (note for future reference: slipping in and out of consciousness during scenes of genital violence burns these images into your brain). To be sure I’d grasped it in all its complexity, I rewatched the film a second time in the light of day. It proved less traumatizing and more easily digestible this time around, but still troubling for its ideologically problematic content. Find the film’s trailer below:
First things first, a brief run-down: the film opens with a highly stylized, melodramatic sequence in which a toddler falls from an open apartment window while his parents (Charlotte Gainsbourg, unnamed and credited as “She,” and Willem Defoe, likewise listed as “He”) have sex. Burdened with grief and guilt over her child’s death, She receives psychiatric treatment including powerful meds. He, who happens to be a therapist, disagrees with this regimen, insisting that She cut out the pills and focus on confronting her emotions. This inspires the couple to take a trip to their cabin out in the woods, a space that He identifies as one that She greatly fears. After several attempts to get her to face her fears, She seems to respond positively to the exercises claiming to be no longer afraid. Soon thereafter, however, He discovers some disturbing notes and pictures when looking over her research materials and She attacks him. After some grueling scenes of genital mutilation and torture, He strangles her before hiking up the mountain and away from the cabin. Following closely behind him: a swarm of women with pixelated faces, presumably out to finish what She started.
The question for me: can Antichrist possibly be interpreted as a feminist film in any sense? On the surface, I would say no. The film clearly aligns women with nature and its indifferent (scratch that, evil) power, suggesting that women compulsively harm men. The primary female character even recognizes this essential female evil after researching witchcraft for her master’s thesis (thank god I didn’t take my thesis topic so literally). Can a feminist reader work around these problems to develop a coherent progressive reading?
The misogyny is self-evident from the plot trajectory, but the narrative structure also lends itself to this interpretation with flashbacks that suggest She watched her son approach the window before plumetting to his death. He also discovers multiple pictures taken by his wife in which She put her son’s shoes on backwards (an accompanying flashback indicates this caused her son pain, as does a medical examiner’s report that notes foot deformities in the child). This newly-aquired knowledge on the viewer’s part puts earlier scenes in which She expresses regret for her son’s death in a different light.
Still, I’m willing to entertain the possibility that Antichrist contains the seeds of an alternate reading. One of my fellow classmates suggested that Antichrist could be read as a “reimagining” of the Charlotte Perkins Stetson short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” That tale also features a wife treated for depression by her husband. His insistence that she remain confined against her wishes leads to her madness, despite her protests. Re-reading “The Yellow Wallpaper,” I can see my classmate’s point: like the husband in the short story, He regularly dismisses his wife’s concerns as irrational, calling upon his authority as a therapist and as a husband (He in Antichrist: “No one knows you better than I do”; the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper”: “It is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so wise, and because he loves me so.”) to disempower his wife. For these reasons, the husbands cause their wives’ psychoses more so than the initial depression.
But while “The Yellow Wallpaper” generates sympathy for its female protagonist by showing how her madness results from her treatment for post-partum depression due to its cruelty, Antichrist seems to suggest that by forcing her to confront her fears and embrace nature, He awakens a dormant evil inherent in all women. As a result, the film tranfers blame from the husband specifically to womankind as a whole. Few films have depicted a hatred for women so blatantly.
The only means of salvaging the film for a progressive reading would be to suggest that either a) the violent expressions of She consitute an act of resistence on the wife’s part or b) the events that unfold late in the film represent a kind of projection on the part of the husband. In both cases, the film might be seen as a critique of the very thing it portrays. The interpretative acrobatics required to make these readings work, however, weaken their plausibility.
Of course, I would welcome others to see the film and tell me what they think about it. Please post any of your ideas in the comments section below!
My dad is what communications theorists call an “early adopter“–always on the cutting edge of technology, he purchased video cameras, computers, and VCR’s long before these items were standard in American households. For a brief time before I could fully appreciate it, my family subscribed to HBO from which my dad would record movies for all of us to watch. Growing up, these tapes served as our primary video collection, since purchasing manufactured videos cost triple what it does today. To get the most bang for the buck, there would often be three films on a single tape and movies would be recorded over.
This technological savvy and frugality led directly to one of my more frightening movie viewings, Jagged Edge (1985). I must have been about six years old when I decided to watch an old tape of The Nutcracker ballet. Static cut into the movie about twenty minutes in, and the HBO introduction played. Curious about what would follow, I continued to watch the tape. I remember an establishing shot of a house on a dark hill, before cutting to an interior shot of the house. In a bedroom, a woman slept peacefully when suddenly, a masked man emerged from behind her headboard wrapping ropes around her neck.
I cannot remember anything else after that except my shocked reaction. For years thereafter, I feared that my room might be broken into and that I could be murdered. I also worried about a stranger hiding behind my headboard (which I now realize to be totally absurd since there’s not enough room behind it to hide). One time, my brother Paul hid under my bed and grabbed my ankle as a joke, to which I screamed and cried in response
Last weekend, I re-watched Jagged Edge over the internet, confronting the text head-on. The first scene (the only one I actually watched as a child) differs greatly from the way I remembered it. The killer does not emerge from behind the bed to strangle the woman, but rather ties up the victim with ropes before opening the front of her night gown and holding a knife up to her chest. I must have repressed this detail, because to me as an adult, it was the most frightening part of the scene. The next shots show the crime scene being examined by police officers. Above the bed, the word “bitch” is scrawled in blood, suggesting the killer’s misogynist intentions.
Click this link to view the trailer.
These overtly sexist details struck me most as I re-watched Jagged Edge. The film centers on the investigation of the crime the opens the story, with Jeff Bridges playing Jack Forrester, the husband of the victim and the prime suspect. Glenn Close plays Teddy Barnes, a high-powered San Francisco attorney who reluctantly takes on the case; however, soon enough she becomes convinced of Jack’s innocence, and the two sleep together as they prepare for trial. Information revealed during the trial tests Teddy’s faith in Jack’s innocence, but ultimately she believes him and successfully argues for his acquittal. After celebrating the verdict, Jack and Teddy have sex once again, but Teddy discovers crucial evidence in Jack’s home that links him to the crime. In the final scene, the masked man threatens Teddy with a knife, and she shoots him and before pulling off his mask to reveal Jack’s face.
This film clearly falls into eighties feminist backlash territory in spite of Teddy’s intelligence and success as an attorney. Ultimately, Jack manipulates Teddy into believing he is innocent before attempting to kill her, revealing that in spite of her power, she remains vulnerable as a single woman. What’s more, the film problematically contains several scenes in which Teddy’s two children openly complain about her separation from her husband. These touches seem to signal that Teddy is influenced by feminism to some extent, but they also suggest that she has put her career ahead of the happiness of her children, and, in part, her divorced status puts her at-risk for Jack’s manipulation. What might be most insulting about Jagged Edge is the implication that working women will put aside commonsense standards of professionalism (i.e. DON’T SLEEP WITH YOUR CLIENT…WHO IS ACCUSED OF MURDER) for the sake of romance. In summary, the film seems to be a product of its era in the vein of Fatal Attraction (also a Glenn Close film).
There’s also some interesting white guilt going on in the film. Teddy in part chooses to represent Jack to challenge an old colleague from her time as a DA named Thomas Krasny, who represents the state in the case against Jack. Early in the film, Teddy attends a funeral for a man named Henry Styles that she helped put away with Krasny but who she later found out was innocent. Henry’s mother, who is black, scolds Teddy for showing up at the burial. After the verdict is announced, Teddy proclaims Styles’ innocence to the press, explaining that Krasny suppressed evidence that would have exonerated Henry. While the film deserves credit for presenting an injustice by white people in power against a black man, it seems like the subplot’s primary purpose is to create tension between Teddy and Thomas, and to present Teddy as a principled person. The film does not explore the issue any deeper, nor does it explicitly mention race as a factor in Henry’s discrimination.
Still, I must admit that I enjoyed Jagged Edge in spite of its ideological problems. It captures a particular era stylistically and ideologically with a splendidly convoluted plot, melodramatic performances, and lots of sex and violence. The writer, Joe Eszterhas, also penned Basic Instinct (1992), a similarly problematic but pleasurable film. While Jagged Edge lacks the knowing wink of Basic Instinct, its twist-and-turns plot does offer some moments of suspense, and Close and Bridges perform the material well. It may not have aged well, but that’s part of the fun of watching it: you’re horrified by the ideologies, rather than staging of the murder.