I Spit on Your Grave 2: “Why bother?”

LAURA MEE

It’s rare that news of a remake or sequel going in to production surprises me, but the announcement that Anchor Bay and Cine Tel are set to release I Spit on Your Grave 2 later this year came somewhat out of left field. The 2010 remake of Meir Zarchi’s controversial 1978 rape-revenge film certainly has its fans (me included, *shameless plug*) and undoubtedly found its audience on DVD following some initial festival buzz and a limited theatrical release. Yet it had a pretty negative critical response and the wholly anticipated backlash from many fans of the exploitation original – which doesn’t immediately leave the property screaming for serialisation. Initial comments on horror site Bloody Disgusting’s report suggest a general response of “meh, why bother?”, echoing many reviews of Steven R. Monroe’s remake which labelled it ‘worthless’, ‘unnecessary’, and as ‘pointless’ as “being in the Guinness Book of Records for eating a wheelbarrow of your own shit” (ironically, the comments on BD largely praise the remake itself).

I’m surprised anyone really has to ask “why bother?” I could discuss at length the merits of Monroe’s film over Zarchi’s, including its far less problematic portrayal of Hills’ femme castratrice and its interpretation and enhancement of the supposed feminist message of the original. I could mention the superior acting (notably Sarah Butler as the film’s victim/victor Jennifer Hills and the underrated Andrew Howard as vile Sheriff Storch), script and cinematography that many of those reviews that dismissed the remake also observed. I could even give some consideration to the suggestion that Anchor Bay are pushing: that they “had a great experience working with CineTel on the remake”, and that “fans and critics alike loved the film”. We could argue that all of this suggests scope for continuation or development. Yet the most obvious reason for any studio to produce any film is unquestionably to make money – and the same audience who ask “why bother?” will dominate both the intended and eventual audience for this sequel.

Producing any form of remake, reboot, sequel or prequel ensures a profitable safety net in the shape of a guaranteed audience, familiar with an original film and curious to see how a new version or continuation turns out (or keen to critically tear it to shreds, in the case of some more zealous fans). If an adaptation offers something ‘new’, something previously unseen or an improvement of sorts, and can be marketed to an audience unfamiliar with the original – even better. In the case of genre cinema, and particularly horror, there’s usually an even wider loyal audience guaranteed to seek out new releases which fit their tastes, known title or not. Asking why this film is being made results in one resounding (and simple) answer: it’s a relatively cheap production with an assured market and the potential to draw in significant profit.

Perhaps a more interesting consideration is the decision to label this a sequel and title it I Spit on Your Grave 2. A brief plot synopsis doesn’t suggest the narrative continuation that ordinarily signifies a sequel (not that this is unheard of, for example take a look at Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Really, do. It’s a riot). Instead, while writer Jennifer is replaced with model Jessica, and the story takes place in the city (New York) not the country (at least until she’s “kidnapped to another country”, then all bets are off), the plot largely seems like a repeat of the 2010 film:

“…what starts out as an innocent and simple photo shoot soon turns into something disturbingly unthinkable! Raped, tortured and kidnapped to a foreign country, Jessica is buried alive and left to die. Against all odds, she manages to escape. Severely injured, she will have to tap into the darkest places of the human psyche to not only survive, but to exact her revenge…”

Curiously, it’s a somewhat similar strategy to the ‘unofficial sequel’ to Zarchi’s film, 1993’s Savage Vengeance – which featured Camille Keaton (who originally played Hills) as simply ‘Jennifer’ who, mentally recovering from an attack years earlier is again raped before exacting her revenge. Here, the potential for continuing Hills’ story, giving consideration to what happens after she dispatches the five rapists, how she comes to terms not only with her ordeal but the inevitable results of her own actions, and thus the possibility of furthering the slightly progressive message of the remake, is sidelined for more of the same. Rape, revenge, repeat. Furthermore, granted, it’s a short synopsis which has to hold something back for the film’s eventual release – but what seems like an emphasis on the “disturbingly unthinkable!”: Jessica’s rape, torture, severe injury, being buried alive, her dark psyche, over her escape and revenge, suggests a return to the exploitation roots of what both Cine Tel and Bloody Disgusting are now referring to as “the franchise”, in place of the more balanced approach I found in the 2010 film.

Speculation on the film’s potential issues aside (I will, as always, reserve my judgement), we can conclude that this film is certainly not a sequel in the sense of continuing Jennifer’s story. Rather, it is a sequel in so much as that is how its producers wish to label and sell it. One film and a remake do not a franchise make – and yet this pretty much entirely unrelated (name aside) film is being discussed as something that will help to “shape the franchise”. Perhaps this indicates an intention for further, future installments. Yet it seems more likely that calling this film I Spit on Your Grave 2 and labeling it part of a series instead attracts an audience via the notoriety of both the 2010 film and Zarchi’s before that. Rape and revenge are not uncommon cinematic themes, and rape-revenge cycles are apparent in exploitation, vigilante movies and contemporary horror alike. This film would find an audience. Yet not one as large as that provided by perhaps the most notorious rape-revenge film of all.

4 thoughts on “I Spit on Your Grave 2: “Why bother?”

  1. I am typing on a phone, so this could go wrong.

    Some thoughts:

    It should really be taken as a given that this is how exploitation cinema has always worked. The original I Spit is a brand in many ways: a formula that transcends different films and franchises in a way not too disimilar to the Death Wish films. The ‘unrelated sequel’ is not as unusual as some people think and has for many years operated even within franchises as you point out (think the later F13 sequels). It has never been about much other than branding (though Hammer were perhaps more sympathetic towards film to film continuity than producers in the 1980s).

    Zombi 2, Cannibal Holocaust II, Alien 2.

    It was mastered by the Italians and American distributors in the 1960s and 1970s and has recently found a new outlet on DVD (with films like 8mm 2)

    • Good examples. I totally agree, unrelated (narratively speaking, at least) sequels are certainly not uncommon – there’s often either some connection via a central character (i.e. Jason in the later, otherwise unconnected F13s) or some similar common denominator that links the films; or in the case of the Italian stuff like Zombi 2, Alien 2, etc, distributors rip off an entirely unrelated product that they weren’t initially involved in for (often successful) commercial purposes. I think what’s particularly interesting in the case of ISOYG2 is it’s the same producers, the same director (I forgot to mention that!), effectively the same plot, but no other continuation – that the producers are calling this a sequel, “shaping a franchise” (directly calling ISOYG a franchise), but really it almost appears like this is a sort of remake of the remake. I’m not sure I have any definitive answers, I just find it interesting that this sort of thing confuses preconceived notions of what a ‘sequel’ or a ‘franchise’ actually is, and it’s notable that (like I’ve argued in the case of The Thing), it’s filmmakers who shift and bend those definitions. LM

  2. And: on the contrary, I do think that a negative fan and critical response screams out for a sequel to be made. Especially for home formats. It reminds me of an interview with Adam Green in The Dark Side who was lamenting a remake dominated Hollywood. ‘Everybody’ hates remakes, but in a market supersaturated with horror product, they are the films the fans (or anti-fans) will continue to pay and see. In other words, originality might have kudos, but it does not command the same kind of curiosity.

    • Just as a follow up – I probably should have been a little clearer, my references to the negative response to the remake weren’t to suggest that I feel that’s a reason not to produce a sequel – rather, that that’s often something cited by critics and fans when these things are first announced: e.g. “why bother, no-one liked the remake”. I don’t think that a negative response ultimately makes any difference to whether something is made or not – because I doubt that producers really care, as long as it has a market! And I agree, despite the complaints, (anti-/) fans will be the first in line to see/buy remakes/sequels – they provide a guaranteed market, making sequels and remakes low-risk, quick and cheap to produce (you already have a story, a basis for a script, initial production design, cuts down masses of pre-production costs!) and thus potentially very profitable. LM

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