For better or worse, Roger Ebert influenced me more as a film commentator and fan than any other writer. What I liked … and still like … about Ebert was his ability to find merit in many films other critics found disreputable, specifically those that may contain extensive sex and/or violence. Ebert was one of the first major critics to find merit in the films of Russ Meyer at a time when Meyer was reviled as a pornographer by … pretty much everyone. Meyer returned the favor by hiring Ebert to write the script for “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” Meyer’s big-studio X-rated debut film, along with Meyer’s future films “Supervixens” and “Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens.”
Despite this, however, Ebert could be uncharacteristically persnickety about certain controversial films that one would think he would embrace. David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” is probably the most notorious of his slams. But his review of the notorious 1978 rape and revenge film “I Spit on Your Grave” is almost equally famous. Not because “I Spit on Your Grave” is a particularly good film. But because Ebert said these things: “Attending it was one of the most depressing experiences of, my life” and also ended his review by saying “At the film’s end I walked out of the theater quickly, feeling unclean, ashamed and depressed.”
A lot of things can influence one’s opinions of a film that have nothing to do with the film … one’s mood on the day they see the film, the venue in which once sees the film, the audience the film is seen with, etc. However, Ebert’s fevered reaction to “I Spit on Your Grave” was particularly memorable … and strange. Mainly because Ebert gave a good review to an equally notorious rape and revenge film of the early 1970s … Wes Craven’s “Last House on the Left.” Ebert made a point of using “Grave” as an example of the “worst of the worst” during his tirade about “slasher films” during the early 1980s.
While “I Spit on Your Grave” is not a great film, it’s not completely without merit. Hearing Joe Bob Briggs’s commentary on the “I Spit on Your Grave” DVD/Blu-Ray is one of the greatest critical counterpoints of all-time. Briggs goes through the film scene by scene … counteracting all accusations that this is a film made from the point of view of the vile male rapists and that the film actually follows lock-step with the arguments of some of the more radical feminist voices of the day (i.e. Andrea Dworkin). It should be pointed out the original title of this film was called “Day of the Woman.”
Look, I’m not about to recommend “I Spit on Your Grave.” Whatever merits the film does have do not balance out the sheer unpleasantness of much of the film. Despite his arguments for the film’s merits, Briggs does point out the many inept decisions director Meir Zarchi makes. “I Spit on Your Grave” is not a good film. But it’s not worthless. And Briggs’s wonderfully insightful … and irreverent … commentary makes this very clear. And it’s one of the best and most entertaining DVD / Blu-Ray commentary tracks of all-time.
For the record, I’m including a link to Ebert’s review here: