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Rape vs. Revenge

By Dustin Rowles | Industry | July 14, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | Industry | July 14, 2010 |

Yesterday, I wrote what I guess was an inflammatory post on the new movie poster for the remake of I Spit on Your Grave, and it not only hit a nerve with many of those who agreed with me (thanks, y’all!), but it also brought some defenders out. Specifically, I exchanged a few emails with a very nice gentleman high on the pecking order over at Anchor Bay (the company distributing the remake) who was patient enough to address a lot of my concerns with the film and the poster despite the fact that I’d wished him a slow death by housefire. Today, Cinematical also addressed my outrage with a defense of their own.

While I still maintain my position on the matter, minus the housefire and the barstool rape, in the spirit of fairness, I also think I should at least outline their contentions. Mr. Anchor Bay (I won’t use his real name, as I didn’t get permission to do so, and he may not appreciate it) didn’t try to defend the sexual nature of the movie poster; he asserted, instead, that it was sexualizing the avenger and not the rape victim. A reasonable person might come to that conclusion, although I would still contend that audience the poster was targeting probably would not (though, Mr. Anchor Bay did note that the vast majority of viewers enjoy revenge and deplore rape; I should hope so. I still think that the movie poster was aimed at that minority, as is the repugnant tagline, which TK alerted me to: “It’s Date Night!” How is that geared toward the avenger?). Mr. Anchor Bay also shared quite a few details from test screenings, which suggested that the movie fared much better with women than men, and that a lot of the women who viewed it felt empowered by the film. Finally, he did note, too, that the rape scene in the movie was only 15 minutes long (and I say only because my recollection of the original was that the rape scene encompassed a very large portion of the movie; that was TK’s recollection, too. In both our cases, it might have been that the rape scene just felt that long).

As for the Cinematical piece, I guess I’m not really sure what Alison Nastasi’s issue with my piece was or how I “missed the mark,” or even how this could be considered a “controversy” based on one post on one movie website (sounds more like some profanity-fueled asshole has issues than an actual “controversy,” but so it goes). She writes, in part:

The greater issue here is why is anyone surprised that an I Spit on Your Grave remake is exploitative in the first place. The original film has been banned and vilified over the years and a remake seems designed solely to cash in on its infamy with an entirely new generation of film fans. It is, after all, an exploitation movie — a subgenre of film that doesn’t always have artistic merit at the top of its list of objectives …
What does all of this mean? Essentially that exploitation films are still a niche subgenre of cinema. While they’ve gained mainstream recognition and acceptance over the years, they’re hardly the kinds of films with universal appeal. Taking something like an I Spit on Your Grave remake to task for featuring a poster that sexualizes its main character — who’s first a victim and then an avenger — seems at least somewhat misguided. One could argue that maybe the world doesn’t need an I Spit on Your Grave remake (and I’d be inclined to agree), but to expect it — or any other exploitation film remake — to be something radically different than the film that inspired it feels like missing the point. Don’t trash the poster for being “reprehensible” while arguing that the original was somehow less controversial. Trash it because it’s just not a very good piece of art.

I’m not exactly sure what Ms. Nastasi’s main point is, or why it’s misguided to take a poster that sexualizes a rape victim to task, but the implication seems to be that exploitation films have been around a very long time and that this sexualization has been assimilated to some degree into mainstream film culture, and therefore should be accepted because it’s expected? Because it’s an exploitation film and some people like them? Truthfully, I wasn’t surprised at the exploitative nature of the new movie poster, but my lack of surprise didn’t make me any less disturbed by it. I wasn’t particularly surprised by Mel Gibson’s telephone rant, either (given his history), but it was still no less disturbing to hear it. Note, also, that I didn’t give the original poster a pass, or I didn’t mean to suggest that I was giving it a pass, though Nastasi is very insistent that I did mean that (as it fits her hypothesis better, I guess); I was merely suggesting that the original poster highlighted the revenge element significantly more than the new one, though the old one was also gratuitous in its sexualization. And not that Ms. Nastasi would know unless she’s a regular of the site, but I’ve expressed my qualms with the original plenty enough.

Look: I haven’t seen the remake, and maybe I should reserve judgment on that movie until I see it (or not see it and keep my stupid mouth shut). But the problem I had with the original was the same problem I had with Captivity: They were movies that highlighted the torture and rape, while the revenge aspects comprised a very small portion of the film. To say that you’re not trying to market to an audience that might enjoy the rape scenes seems a little disingenuous. I don’t remember much about the revenge elements in the original I Spit On Your Grave, but I do remember the harrowing, horrible, prolonged rape scene. That was 15 years ago, and it’s still seared in my mind, Especially the boulder. God, the boulder. Likewise, the final girl aspect of Captivity lasted about five minutes; everything else in that movie involved her rape and torture, including a scene where she was forced to drink the blended remains of another victim. In both cases, the revenge felt tacked on as a convenient way to make a torture porn movie while excusing the rape and torture by claiming it was a female empowerment flick. It doesn’t carry much weight with me. If Jaret Leto and Jennifer Connelly had cleaned up and gotten married in the final scenes of Requiem for a Dream, after the ass-to-ass episode, I doubt that anybody would call it a feel good romantic comedy.

I don’t disagree with Nastasi, either, about the proliferation of revenge flicks, even those that involve rape or torture, like Kill Bill, though I’m not sure what that has to do with the poster in question. The Kill Bill poster didn’t put Uma Thurman’s ass on full display. It didn’t essentially say, “Look at this sexy lady who just got raped! Hamana Hamana!” Meanwhile, the I Spit On Your Grave movie poster felt like it was specifically calling attention to the rape, in the same way that a movie poster for Boy’s Don’t Cry might have featured a half-naked Hillary Swank? Can you imagine? A poster like that wouldn’t have said, “Come see this emotionally painful, gut-searing movie about the rape and murder of Brandon Teena,” it would’ve implied something entirely different. And that’s my problem with the poster, regardless of how the actual remake eventually plays.

And speaking of the remake, why all this talk of the movie poster when the trailer is out now. And guess what? It’s not particularly offensive. Bland and generic, perhaps, typical of the way most horror movie remakes are. But at least the trailer highlights the revenge aspect of the film and not the rape. It also explains why “It’s Date Night” is the tagline.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.