Day of the Woman (1978)


According to director Meir Zarchi, in October 1974, he was driving to a park with his eight year old daughter when they came across a traumatised young woman wandering along the side of the road. Stopping to find out what was wrong, Zarchi learned that the woman had been raped by two men. Dropping his daughter at home, Zarchi took the terrified woman to the nearest police station and was horrified by their reaction - rather than treat the woman with compassion and understanding, they tied her up in police red tape, forcing her to file a report even though she was clearly in no fit state to do so.

This, Zarchi has claimed, was the springboard for the most notorious film of his note exactly prolific career, Day of the Woman, better known under its re-release title I Spit On your Grave. Zarchi decided to re-tell the woman's story but this time she wouldn't go to the police - she'd take her own revenge.

Day of the Woman was originally released to a handful of drive-ins but was given a wider release when it was picked up for distribution by the legendary Jerry Gross (it was also screened in some locations as The Rape and Revenge of Jennifer Hill). Gross allegedly snipped a few minutes of dialogue from the film, retitled it I Spit On Your Grave (a title previously used as the Stateside title for Michel Gast's controversial J'irai cracher sur vos tombes (1959).

It was under this more offensive and exploitative title (Zarchi dislikes it) that the film first started running into trouble. In the States, it fell foul of influential critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel who lobbied viewers of their TV shows to boycott the film. Ebert dismissed it as "a vile bag of garbage... without a shred of artistic distinction" but all they managed to do was draw more attention to a film which wasn't doing terribly well at the box office. I Spit On Your Grave had opened at the Anco Theatre on New York's 42nd Street but was struggling to find an audience.

It was on video that the film became the great cause celebre - in the States it was a huge success on tape, despite the storm of controversy that was gathering around it. Some of the criticism was so ill-informed that star Camille Keaton was moved to write a letter in response to the Los Angeles Times pointing out the inaccuracies in columnist Lewis Beale's review and defending both herself and the film.

Controversy of a different kind was whipped up when people started to realise that the supposed R-rated version of the film that was showing in theatres and had been released on tape (it allegedly had to be shorn of seventeen minutes to get the MPAA rating) was in fact the fully uncut X-rated version. Once they realised what had happened, the MPAA moved to punish Gross and Wizard Video, who were distributing the video version, but by then a year had passed and the damage was done.

The film never played theatrically in the UK, arriving instead on video courtesy of both Astra Video and Wizard Video. The print used displayed the R-rating but was in fact the fully uncut version. Inevitably, it fell foul of the 1980s 'video nasties' farrago and was one of the first films to be prosecuted for obscenity, a successful prosecution being brought against in Croydon, South London in September 1982, following successful prosecutions against Abel Ferrara's The Driller Killer (1979) and Tobe Hooper's Eaten Alive (1977) at Willesden, North London the month before. I Spit On Your Grave became almost a byword for unacceptable violence in cinema and was regularly held up as the nastiest of the 'nasties' usually by tabloid writers who hadn't actually seen it.

The film remained legally unreleased in the UK until it was submitted the British Board of Film Classification in 2001 after being refused a certificate at an earlier submission in 1998. This time, it was awarded an 18 certificate but with 7 minutes and 2 seconds of cuts to the multiple rape scenes, mostly achieved by reframing the image (the notorious assault that takes place over a rock in the woods is so badly reframed and cut that it's not at all clear what's happened, and the bottle scene is almost completely missing), slowing down footage either side of the cuts and substituting footage. The film remained in this bowdlerised version since, even turning up on the cable television channel Zone Horror in late September 2006.

Controversy dogged the film in other territories too. In Australia, the cut version of the film was submitted to the censors in June 1982 and distributors Video Classics were awarded an R18+ certificate though for reasons as yet unknown, they failed to release the film. It was subsequently released several times on tape but only ever in various cut versions, the full version having been refused a certificate in February 1984. In July 1987, the censors reversed their decision and the fully uncut version was released though it changed its mind again in December 1997, this time ruling that the film should be refused a certificate. An attempt by Force Entertainment to release the uncut version in May 2004 was thwarted when the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification refused to change their stance but to everyone's surprise, it was unexpectedly awarded the R18+ rating just a month later. A complaint by a member of the public in October 2004 (to the bizarre effect that the film "condones sexual violence against men"!) came to nothing.

Elsewhere, the film was banned in New Zealand, Ireland, Iceland, Norway and Canada though in 1998, the various Canadian provinces were allowed to decide for themselves if they would allow a video release.

I Spit On Your Grave has even been responsible for ending one man's teaching career. In 1998, Marvin Caswell, a teacher in Tallahassee, Florida, screened the film to students as part of his social studies class. One of the students was so offended that they complained and Caswell and the school were taken to court. Despite professing to not being fully aware of the film's contents, a grand jury investigation decided that Caswell had exercised "extremely poor judgement" in showing the film. Caswell was transferred to the school district's curriculum development department and hasn't taught a class since.

Last Updated: 1 January, 2009


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