Color, 1978, 100m.
Directed by Meir Zarchi
Starring Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Pace
Anchor Bay (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), 101 Films (Blu-Ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL), Elite Entertainment (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DD5.1, Screen Entertainment (UK R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1)

Some people react violently upon even hearing a mention of this film, so let’s first examine it without lapsing into either a flat-out defence or condemnation of its treatment of the lead female character (Keaton). The plot is about as bare bones as you can get: New York writer Keaton rents a house in the boonies to work on her novel and winds up being raped (three times in succession) by four idiot yokels. When they make the stupid mistake of letting her live, Keaton tracks them down one by one and, to paraphrase the salacious poster blurb, cuts, breaks, and burns them beyond recognition. Actually there isn’t any burning (and the trailer claims it’s five guys!), but yes, folks, this 100-minute print is the same uncut version that’s been making the rounds since the golden days of Wizard Video in the USA. Incidentally Wizard also released this film in the early days of UK video, but this edition, along with the much more widely available release from Astra was duly banned in the video nasties heyday.

Originally titled Day of the Woman, this was reissued by Jerry (I Drink Your Blood) Gross under its current name (swiped from a 1960s racism drama imported by Radley Metzger) to great box-office and a controversial critical reception. Interestingly, the more critics denounced it (most vocally Roger Ebert), the more money it made. Given Ebert’s warm appraisal of Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left, you can probably gather that this film is definitely a matter of taste. The rape scenes are horrifically brutal and drawn-out, but it’s impossible to see how one could ever sympathize with the assailants. Keaton is the only recognizably sympathetic human being in the film, and the camera squarely situates her as the centre of almost every scene. Interestingly, the film features no music whatsoever, a startling contrast to the bizarre pop and country crooning that served as a counterpoint in Last House. In fact, if you look closely, I Spit, while hardly a fun or upbeat film, is clearly a descendant of the Russ Meyer sex and brutality morality tales like Mudhoney and Lorna, though here the woman is actually more empowered (she never “asks for it” and is never punished for dishing out revenge). Here, as with Meyer, you have a backwoods setting where a woman’s presence alone is enough to send men into a savage fury of conflicted sexual impulses, and the sexual tension winds up exploding into brutal, vigilante-style violence. At no point does Keaton ever enjoy the rape (which is a lot more than can be said of Lorna!), and her final boat ride is presented without comment or moralizing.

Unfortunately director Meir Zarchi does not drive all of his points home; by focusing so much on delivering the requisite exploitation elements (including way too much nudity during the seduction/murders of the second half), he fudges the issue, giving critics plenty of obvious ammunition. Criticism aside, Elite Entertainment gave it the scholarly treatment on DVD with a crystal-clear, ideally letterboxed edition, including the original US trailer and duelling audio commentaries with director Zarchi and drive-in staple Joe Bob Briggs. (Skip the first non-anamorphic edition, which only includes the trailer.) Not surprisingly, the first UK disc from Screen Entertainment (sans extras) runs seven minutes shorter, so beware; a reissue from Hard Gore carries over the Elite extras and cleverly approximates the original running time by reframing and slowing down the video while maintaining the original audio, reminding viewers of how short-sighted the law can be when it comes to determining what one is allowed to watch.

When the much milder 2010 remake came around, Anchor Bay snapped up the international rights to the original and outfitted in with slick new Blu-Ray and DVD releases. Despite its lavish packaging, the UK one is still drastically cut (though marginally less than before with only four minutes missing now) and has an exclusive director video interview, while the US one (with essentially the same extras as before) is complete and looks better than one could have imagined for this particular title.