There is an interesting back story to the film I Spit on Your Grave.  In 1974, film editor Meir Zarchi witnessed the aftermath of a brutal rape in a park and tried to help the victim as best he could.  Like many writers, the way that he chose to process what he had seen and went through was to write.  In 1978, he released the movie Day Of The Woman, a film with some heady notions of being empowering to women.  It had a few scenes cut to get an R rating and went on to fade into cinematic obscurity.  However, in 1980, the film was picked up by a distributor and re-marketed as exploitation cinema. The deleted scenes added back, it garnered an X rating, was given a new title, I Spit On Your Grave—complete with a sensationalizing poster—and went on to become 1981’s top-selling video release in the US.

The plot involves a writer, Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton), on a retreat from her New York apartment to a cabin in Connecticut, living out the writer’s fantasy of penning her Great American Novel.   Four local men harass, stalk, and rape her.  She returns as an angel of vengeance, doling out punishments fitting their crimes.  We’ve seen such a revenge plot hundreds of times.  However, it is the leering nature of the film which has earned it such infamy.  Of the movie’s 100 minute running time, the first 45 are spent lingering on the chase and rape, the last 30 on her revenge killings.  So basically the rape and killing are only separated by a scene of Jennifer in church to ask for forgiveness for the murders she plans to commit.

Like the briefly glimpsed witness who opted to not do anything to stop Jennifer’s assault, the viewing of this movie comes with certain moral responsibilities.  Horror too often prides itself on being the “lowest common denominator” genre, not built for rigorous idea exploration.  Rarely is there a true examination of the human condition. “I’m doing an analysis of man’s inhumanity to man” usually amounts to puerile masturbatory fantasies of rape and torture justified by someone getting their comeuppance in the end.

We all have to figure out what to do with our very real emotions of hurt, anger, and the need for justice.  We see the evil and injustice perpetrated around us, to people we love, and we cry out.  It brings to mind the idea of imprecatory prayers.  Imprecatory Psalms are those petitions for misfortune, or curses, on another; the righteous asking God to carry out His justice. They are heartfelt, often angry sounding pleas for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the wicked.

Imprecatory Psalms were recorded and preserved for use in public worship; a pattern for Israel as well as the cries of individual’s hearts.  For example:

“When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him. May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor. May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children. May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation.” Psalms 109:7-13

God big enough for us to be real with? We are called to be authentic. I don’t know if there’s any such thing as being too authentic, because since we are broken vessels, the fact that we are a mess is sort of taken into account. We do have to wrestle with is whether or not it is the loving thing to do to pray for God to crush our enemies. Religion does not have a monopoly on morality, and the desire to see justice done unites the religious and non-religious alike.

Radical hatred is the right response to radical evil. We need to be angered by evil, by injustice, by the wrongs of the world. Evil needs to be resisted, opposed, even wept over. Rage is a perfectly natural, valid first response. It is human way to deal with our pent up fury. It is doubly an appropriate response if we do it before God, the God of Love and Justice. We have to expunge these “dark emotions” from ourselves. Part of forgiveness process is us venting our grief, frustration, and anger, only then can we continue with the healing/forgiveness process. Imprecatory prayers help put things in perspective. The words are, and should be, shocking to hear.

We continue to move in a Christian response by looking at circumstances in light of Christ’s mission. There is a tougher idea to reconcile: no one is beyond divine grace. We are commanded to love our enemies, returning a blessing for a curse. While often shocking, imprecatory prayers allow us to put things in God’s hands. Ultimately our prayer becomes “God forgive them and transform us.” A Christian response is moving toward reconciliation, a forgiving of our enemy. Grace doesn’t preclude justice being done. Call evil deeds what they are: evil. We must protect the innocent. However, our actions must move toward redemption.

Not that anyone expected I Spit on Your Grave to be anything more than what it is.  Not especially bright characters portrayed by terrible actors.  Trite dialogue recited to unclear direction.  This isn’t a misunderstood feminist film, it’s violence and sexually exploitive imagery reveled in for its own sake.