I Spit On Your Grave is one of those movies that I've known about for years and years but had never seen before, mostly due to its unavailability. The film was released in theaters under a bunch of different titles (like Day of the Woman, Rape and Revenge of Jennifer Hill, The, and my personal favorite, I Hate Your Guts ) and was apparently considered an underground classic in its time, but for decades was impossible to find on video.
I can certainly see why. I Spit On Your Grave is not the most graphic film I've ever seen, nor is its subject matter all that original (although it may have been when the film was originally released), but it certainly can be difficult to watch. The plot of the film is quite simple, and could probably be told in a short enough time span to fit into a half-hour TV show, but the filmmakers seemingly knew what they were doing by stretching out their premise as much as possible. This young woman's agony just gets increasingly worse as the movie stretches on and she's assaulted again and again and again, and I actually fond some of this somewhat hard to watch. Going into the film you know that the woman will get revenge on her attackers, but even that knowledge fails to lessen the impact of watching a gang of rednecks more or less destroy an innocent young woman. In that aspect, at least, I Spit On Your Grave deserves its stature as a cult horror classic.
The blood and gore is actually quite minimal, leaving me to guess that the film's notorious reputation arose strictly from its subject matter. There's nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but these days rape is not uncommon in film, nor is revenge. I Spit On Your Grave's themes might have seemed groundbreaking at the time, but now they are a bit tired, and the film lacks anything substantial to back itself up, particularly in terms of character.
As unsettling as the rape scenes are, they are lessened by the fact that we're not as close or sympathetic to the character of Jennifer as we should be. Additionally, the gang of young men who assault Jennifer are even more underdeveloped. With the exception of one lackluster scene around a campfire, we see very little of the men, forcing them to come across as one-note villains. The revenge Jennifer executes would be much sweeter if these men had been a little more exposed.
It was groundbreaking at its inception and there are some fairly disturbing scenes throughout (certainly enough to warrant calling the film a good cult flick), but overall I Spit On Your Grave lacks the well-rounded crafting and visceral punch of true 'underground' classics. Not necessarily bad, but certainly not extraordinarily good, either.