SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ Films on the Seat at the Back playlist right now: KIDS IN LOVE; JUNE; CURVE; WILD, BARELY LETHAL; GODDESS OF LOVE; THE VATICAN TAPES .. What a night in!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

I Spit On Your Grave 2 (2013) ~ LONDON FRIGHTFEST WORLD PREMIERE ~ "Unrelentingly shocks the senses until they go numb."

Some plot spoilers may spit in your general direction below ~ watch before reading!

"It's a god-awful small affair, to the girl with the mousey hair. . ."
(David Bowie/ 'Life On Mars')

If horror is supposed to be a genre that shocks and surprises, then I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2 certainly does both. This horror sequel (sequel that is to the 2010 remake of the 1978 shock cult classic original) had its World Premiere at the 2013 London Frightfest and played the midnight hour - the time when the authentic horror fans that hide in the shadows during the day come out to play, still hiding in the shadows, slightly worse for wear and expecting nothing less than full shock and absolute horror with their doubled-up squidgy plastic bottles of cold lager or blood warm  red wine from the Empire Leicester Square bar. So expect revulsion. And get it.

The fact this film describes itself as being a 'Part 2', means nothing much - it's a new cast, location and story here albeit with the same themes as before: rape, more rape, escape, revenge. The director of the fairly well received initial remake is back in the male castrationing hotseat for more - it's Steven R. Monroe who has directed some indie nuggets, notably 2009's Dennis Hopper-starring House of 9 among other, less appreciated TV movie fare: Ogre (2008); Mongolian Death Worm (2010).
In an introduction from the director at the start of the film's Frightfest screening, we learn that the success of the remake a few years back has meant an 'I Spit On Your Grave' franchise is now being developed. This latest movie is said by the director to have a more supernatural edge to it. There were some advance warnings too about extreme content at the start, done in a jokey, late night kind of way. The clue is in the title though with a movie such a this; it isn't a subtle piece of cinema and you get what you get at midnight, on Day Four of a horror film festival with a slightly jaded, but still bloodthirsty, crowd in attendance.

Actually, it's quite refreshing to have a movie screening that is causing something of a fuss in a festival that's had some absolute corkers this year (Willow Creek, The Borderlands, Dark Touch, We Are What We Are) but also a number of films that aren't really horror at all: The Hypnotist (Swedish psycho crime thriller), Hammer of the Gods (bleeding Viking mayhem) and R.I.P.D (Men in Black rip-off). Both The Hypnotist and Hammer of the Gods are great fun in their respective genres. But this is a horror festival and some of those attending were talking about crying out for something that may upset just about everybody: so welcome the main contender for doing so - I Spit On Your Grave 2! You really did upset just about everybody (including some hardened horror critics talking away in the aisles afterwards) and I can't help thinking that's it's some kind of a result in a festival that should celebrate cinematic excess as well as all its subtleties.

The script is from Neil Elman and Thomas Fenton. Elman gets my vote as being of most interest, having written one of my favourite b-movies - 2006's Caved In, with its ancient giant black beetles hiding out in a local mine killing off a criminal team that's holding caver-for-hire John (a likeable Christopher Atkins from The Blue Lagoon) Palmer's family hostage unless he helps them to recover some hidden treasures deep underground (excellent fun, and one of the best examples of low budget TV movie horror filmmaking I've seen; especially a chase between beetle, mother and daughter through woods).

I Spit on Your Grave 2 (and I'm going with ISOYG2 for short from now on!) starts off in breezy New York with the young and attractive girl about city; Katie (played by relative newcomer Jemma Dallender from respected British housing estate horror 'Community') replying to a promising-sounding ad from a photography studio for a free modelling portfolio (being an aspiring model it's perfect - hey; what are the chances?). Katie gets asked to send on some pictures by phone to the studio, by a man who already knows her name (I mean - oh come on girl!).


The clearly chronically naive Katie is - as expected - soon asked to remove most of her clothing at the already mostly bare apartment that she gets sent to, refuses, returns home, is paid a visit by one of the studio team to say sorry, raped and beaten in front of her dying neighbour, then woken up to find herself in Bulgaria (yes - Bulgaria!) where she is raped again, goes into hiding beneath an old local church and then sets about seeking bloody revenge on three hideous examples of mankind (and one woman) in variously disgusting ways.

"She could spit in the eyes of fools. . ." (David Bowie/ 'Life On Mars')

There are some moments of inspiration in the movie among all the rough sleaze and awfulness: the first man to attack Katie is Georgy (Yavor Baharov) who at first comes across as being her defender, visiting the girl's flat to say sorry for the way she had been treated earlier and returning all the photos that had been taken, before launching a vicious assault on her (after first stabbing to death her dishy neighbour).

The way this dying and helpless good Samaritan, who may even be Katie's lover (and in an anti-establishing touch of genius - has no other character introduction to speak of) watches with eyes that glaze over as the girl he rushed to protect suffers a horrendous assault while he lies there helpless, is authentically unnerving and deliciously cruel - rubbish man-friend or what? Then again, all men in this film come across as pretty hopeless, even the sappy nice policeman and the local priest, so what chance a metrosexual have-a-go hero?

Joe Absolom (most fondly remembered still as the vulnerable and wronged Matthew in EastEnders - probably the best and most genuinely edgy character the BBC TV soap ever had) is suitably sick and twisted as the leader of the gang - Ivan, and has by far the most crowd-pleasing final on-screen moment in any other horror movie across five long days of Frightfest. Trust me, you will probably never see what I saw happen to Joe Absolom at the end of this movie  in any film ever again (unless it starts a genre in itself). If that's reason enough to want to watch this - so be it. This is, after all, 'a horror'.

Joe Absolom

There's also some decent support from Valentine Pelka as Father Dimov, looking to save Katie from herself and her use of torture implements on those who did her wrong and Peter Silverleaf too as Valko, a rich and powerful good time guy with a gourmet appetite to match his other excesses and who pays his way to have fun with the captured girl in that house next to the church. Mary Stockley as Ana, who offers help and assistance to Katie when she finally escapes - is clearly a franchise addition to the plot, offers a touch of class to the guttural gungy stuff and I look forward to her return, should there be another sequel.

Cinematography from Damian Bromley is especially effective in conveying darkness underground with the warm light and glowing safety of the church above. Katie scurries between both (so much that she is soon known as 'Little Mouse' by the puzzled Priest) as she takes on a kind of Phantom of the Opera-ish persona and plan of action.


There are some crazy plotlines in this movie that it's hard to defend and also a lot of inference that a country such as Bulgaria is the best place to be dragged off to if rape, murder and abuse is your thing, although many of the cast and crew are from that same country, so if they don't mind, maybe we shouldn't either. 

All that 'watch out New Yorkers - these people are after your most pretty women to drug, rape and carry home with them' (quite how they got the girl through customs though I won't even try and figure out) does wear a little thin though. Or is it patronising of us to consider that there are racist undertones to the Bulgarian bastardisation? After all - plenty of modern British horror focuses on violent drunken yobs from small town covens as their 'monster'. Next movie then, can we have an Eastern European girl kidnapped and tortured by an evil, warped bunch of New Yorkers just for a change - like in those old Death Wish sequels? I've missed those crazy guys!

But before we get too internationally righteous, there could be a wisecrack and dig against the 'Eastern European as evil rapist' genre in many modern horror films in a standout moment (though uncertain whether deliberately so or not) from ISOYG2 when New Yorker Katie wakes up in a horribly damp and dimly-lit room and asks where she is, only to be told  she's now in Bulgaria. The traumatised girl opens her eyes wide, sobs uncontrollably and cries out: "Nooooo.."! I think we are being urged not to take some of the plotline too seriously here, despite the seriousness of some of the abuse being almost unwatchable (and the death of one character from swelling infections is almost as unbearable as the awful humiliation and torture of Katie, which is unbearable too).

"It's on America's tortured brow, that Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow. . ." (David Bowie/ 'Life On Mars')

I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE ~ The original!

The original I Spit on Your Grave from director Meir Zarchi (that starred Camille Keaton as the female avenger) is a classic of grindhouse payback cinema and offered enough redemption and girl power to originally be titled 'Day of the Woman'. It's a film that's still not available in the UK in an uncut version. The remake also suffered censor cuts at the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and the latest instalment may also have been presented (according to growing rumour on the night itself) at Frightfest in a 'Special Version' - one that has already been edited by the film-makers so as not to have to suffer any further cuts at the BBFC (unconfirmed at time of writing). Dressed - so to speak - more appropriately by 'dad' before heading to the all-night party at the Empire Leicester Square! Even if cut, it's still very strong stuff.
And then, of course, we have to mention a fearsome and tough central performance from Jemma Dallender as Katie, who takes on a gothic kick-ass, revenge-driven cool as she treads the underground tunnels beneath the old church like a wild-eyed Phantom of the Opera - her form of revenge (certainly of survival too) has an almost spiritual blessing to it at times.

This movie is far superior to the 2010 remake of I Spit On Your Grave that overdid style for substance and was a little bland in execution. There's nothing bland about any of the execution of this follow-up and it's a whole different ball game. In one case, quite literally.

More than that, the film reaches into areas deeply rooted in the classic horror tradition too often to be ignored; there's a Grand Guignol feel to the dreamy, 'City of Lost Children'-like scenes set in the underground caverns and catacombs where the night people of the city seem to live and where Katie finds a kind of inner peace between her bursts of brutal revenge. The journey towards this new lease of life, having been left for dead, also reminds of Poe's short story, 'The Premature Burial'.

While not an enjoyable film as such (maybe it's just too brutal to be truly loved) and one that is probably only for hardened horror fans (who may also be outraged), this is still a movie that works as a sharp kick up the butt of the senses to remind us that - sometimes - horror films shock. And are supposed to. This film unrelentingly shocks the senses until they go numb.
Which doesn't have to mean films like this one are, in any traditional sense of the word - 'good'. Some films, including I Spit on Your Grave 2, are supposed to be 'bad' and are born that way. That's what horror sometimes is as a genre: cynical, upsetting, outraging, cruel - or just plain nasty. If you don't like it - cover your eyes, or don't buy a ticket. Or you could hate it without even seeing it - like in the good old video nasty witch-hunting days of old. The worst result for any movie though - especially a horror movie - is to cause no opinion at all.

Words: Mark Gordon Palmer

1 comment:

  1. Sr, I tried to find something about Jemma Dellenger but I didn't find any. Do you have any site to read about her?!