Lecture Notes for I Spit On Your Grave
Female Anger Eve and The Goddess The Mindset of the Rapist The Creation of the Other Overly Rigid Adherence to Gender Scripts Women Are Monsters Because They Are Women Women and Nature I Spit on Your Grave and Deliverance Rural Areas as Location for Horror Other Web Sites of Interest
Note: I Spit On Your Grave is also known by the titles Day of the Woman and The Rape and Revenge of Jennifer Hill.
Female Anger: While this is not the finest or the most realistic film I could have chosen for this class, I Spit On Your Grave is significant nevertheless. The film provoked much, both in the United States and the rest of the world, and was even banned in parts of Europe due to its graphic violence. It's not just the rape of Jennifer Hill that has drawn criticism, but her violent reprisal. More than likely, had Jennifer remained a passive victim, this film would not provoked such negative reactions from censors and critics. It is Jennifer's anger rather than her brutal rape that is most disturbing to many viewers and would-be censors. Female anger is particularly disturbing in a patriarchal culture (see Carrie and Ginger Snaps), and is often represented as the result of hormones or feminine irrationality rather than a justified response to external stimuli. I Spit On Your Grave is so disturbing to some because Jennifer Hill's anger is completely provoked and justified.
Eve and The Goddess: Jennifer Hill is represented as both a goddess figure (Diana, Artemus, both virgin huntresses, the word virgin here meaning "a self contained woman" rather than "a woman who hasn't had sexual intercourse with a man") and Eve. When she first arrives in town and has her groceries delivered by Matthew, the slightly retarded member of the rape gang, he comments that she comes from an evil place, New York City. Jennifer laughs, gives him a tip, and then an apple, a visual allusion to Eve. Although the encounter is relatively innocent, Matthew later brags to his friends that he has seen Jennifer's breasts, implying that she seduced him. Jennifer's youth, slim build, and flowing wavy hair also give her the appearance of both Eve and Diana or Artemus. And perhaps it can be said that she is perceived as Eve by her rapists, but behaves towards them as Diana or Artemus would, hunting them down and killing them. And finally, Eve and the goddess figures aren't really polar opposites. Instead, Eve is the daughter of the earlier goddess figures in that her myth is most surely based on theirs. Eve embodies all that a patriarchal culture would find frightening about these goddess figures. She is a temptress who leads men to hell precisely because she is female. It is she, not Adam, who is tricked by Satan. And then Eve uses her sexuality to ensnare Adam where Satan could not.
The Mindset of the Rapist: Matthew, Johnny, Stanley and Andy all have the stereotypical rapist mindset, that women, especially ones who come from the big city and are unfortunate to be found attractive to them, are fundamentally different from themselves. While the four fish, one of them wonders if attractive women defecate the way they themselves do, thus musing about their basic humanity. It's obvious that the four see raping Jennifer Hill as a way of proving that she does indeed shit, or rather, that if she is different from them, then that difference comes from a position of inferiority rather than superiority. Matthew, Johnny, Stanley and Andy aren't that different from serial killers (and they even leave Jennifer for dead). They rape in order to redefine the victim as something they can control, and something ultimately deserving of their abuse. Johnny even believes that Jennifer enjoyed the abuse, as is evidenced later when she picks him up at the gas station and he quips that he thought she'd like it here.
The film emphasizes that rape is a crime of violence rather than a crime of passion. First, there is nothing terribly sexual about Jennifer's rape. Instead, it is sickening and brutal. Also, the film touches upon some of the excuses that rapists have given for assaulting their victims. One excuse is that the rapist has no other sexual outlet. While Stanley, Andy and Matthew have no sexual partners, Johnny is married and so cannot make the argument made by some rapists that he was driven to commit his crime due to sexual frustration. Another excuse often given by rapists is that the victim was deliberately seductive and flaunting herself. The film is at times ambivalent about this second excuse. Jennifer is very attractive, and she dresses in ways that show off her body. However, her manner of dressing is not terribly different from what would have been worn by a young woman at this time. Yet we as viewer are put into the situation as voyeur. We see Jennifer in a private way that perhaps she does not even see herself. We are "spying" on her when she undresses, and we see her through the eyes of Johnny and his friends when she is sunbathing and unaware that she is being observed. The lack of music or any other artificial sound in these scenes make them ambiguous since there is no aural cue that "tells" us what we are to believe about her. Are we to see Jennifer as someone who brought her fate upon herself, perhaps unknowingly, by provoking others when she exposed her body, or do we feel anxious for her when she is so exposed?
The Creation of the Other: When the four gang rape Jennifer, they are casting her in role as Other, in this case, unruly woman who needs to be defined and controlled, because in her current form, she threatens their existence. Jennifer Hill is able to come to their town, rent a summer home, and quietly write, while Johnny and Matthew toil at menial jobs and Stanley and Andy don't even have that claim to an identity through their work. When Johnny's wife is waiting for her husband to show up, as she is driving Andy and Stanley away from her husband's gas station, she points out that the two don't work, but just hang around her husband all day. Jennifer's presence in the town represents to them all that is wrong with their lives. If a woman has this freedom and class privilege while they do not, what does that say about them as men? Jennifer is suddenly to blame for all of the shortcomings in their own lives: Andy and Stanley's lack of gainful employment, Johnny's boredom with his wife and his working class life in a small town, etc.
Overly Rigid Adherence to Gender Scripts: Matthew, Johnny, Stanley and Andy are all rapists because they have an overly rigid view of masculinity. Johnny, Stanley and Andy all believe that Matthew must lose his virginity in order to be a man, and as Stanley is raping Jennifer, he says something about how he likes total submission in a woman. Jennifer submits for the moment, partly because she is overpowered, and partly because she perhaps believes that doing so might save her life. However, even this total submission doesn't satisfy Stanley as he feels the need to further beat Jennifer. And the four have equally rigid ideas about femininity, which Jennifer later uses against them. Matthew and Johnny are particularly vulnerable because of these ideas as they both readily believe that Jennifer would willingly have sex with them after what they've done. Jennifer pretends to be swayed by Johnny's protestations that she provoked the rape when she showed her legs to him, and that he couldn't help himself because he's a man. He's too ready to believe that a woman who wanted to shoot him a few moments earlier now wants to give him a warm bath (because women are inherently irrational in his mind, perhaps?). Jennifer survives the ordeal and is able to make the world a better place because she doesn't adhere to overly rigid ideas of gender. Johnny isn't the only person who would have held Jennifer responsible for her own rape, but Jennifer has too much sense to believe such propaganda.
Women Are Monsters Because They Are Women: In horror, women are monsters because they are women, because they have female bodies that can menstruate and reproduce, or because they have female hormones which can allegedly make them irrational. This is the case in I Spit On Your Grave. The rapists view Jennifer as a monster because she has a female body, one they are attracted to. But I Spit On Your Grave also represents men as monsters because of their reactions to women's bodies, and furthermore, it questions this reaction, something not done in earlier slasher films such as Psycho.
Women and Nature: Western concepts of femininity view women as more closely affiliated with the natural world with men, something that makes them dangerous Others. In this binary logic, nature is the opposite of civilization; it is chaos as opposed to the order and mastery over nature that civilization represents. Woman, as the embodiment of Nature, is a threatening figure who has the power to remind men of their own mortality. Her beauty is a mirror for his desire to this way of thinking, provoking bodily sensations that make men feel out of control. In Pornography and Silence: Culture's Revenge against Nature, Susan Griffin notes that pornography is full of associations between women and the natural world, and that in this genre, woman is mastered by man. "Where there is a horse, there is a rider. Where there is a lion, there is a lion tamer. And just as [the pornographer] imagines the natural world as chained and bonded to his will, so also he fantasizes that nature exists only to feed him” (Griffin 28). But in horror, which is about the monster's ability to cross boundaries, woman and nature cannot be mastered so easily.
Jennifer Hill is very closely linked to the natural world in I Spit on Your Grave. We see this when she first arrives in the small town where she is planning on vacationing for the summer. Immediately, she feels so at home that she strips down in the back yard and takes an impromptu skinny dip. Later, we see her quietly paddling her canoe along the lake, disturbing nothing as if she belongs there. When Jennifer is raped, she is stripped naked, bloodied and covered with mud, and finally reduced to crawling home through the woods as if she were a beast. Her attackers have clearly dehumanized her in their attack. When Jennifer takes her revenge on her attackers, she further demonstrates how she is at home in the woods. She is able to use the tree and the lake to help her dispatch Matthew, and later demonstrates her comfort in water when she kills Stanley and Andrew. Jennifer's attackers have no such affiliation with the natural world. While they may be more accustomed to hunting and fishing in the woods, they bring machines and other devices to master this environment. Their relationship with this environment is best represented by their loud motor boat.
I Spit on Your Grave and Deliverance: The plot of I Spit on Your Grave is similar to Deliverance (1972), except the victim here is a woman rather than several men.
Rural Areas as Location for Horror: Rural areas are also a unique location for horror. Cultural stereotypes hold that they are full of hillbillies and rednecks who wish to do harm to city folks. People from the city are further in danger in this area because it is unfamiliar territory to someone not accustomed to nature. In fact, the inhabitants are represented as little different from the animals themselves that populate this environment.
Other Web Sites of Interest:
The British Censorship Laws: aka the Video Nasties Laws
Female Serial Killers