There are few things I find more entertaining to read than a brutally negative film review. The only remotely enjoyable thing about watching the shamelessly lurid melodrama Precious recently was looking up the scathing write-ups about it linked on Rotten Tomatoes. I find it cathartic, reading savage reviews of shitty films. It’s like seeing the Yankees lose, or watching someone drown a baby.
No one is better at writing a good negative movie review than Roger Ebert. In fact, he’s published entire books of his “thumbs down” reviews over the years (I Hated This Movie and Your Movie Sucks are their titles; look them up). His brutal takedown of North in 1994 is the stuff of legend, but was neither the first nor the best example of Ebert ripping into a horrible movie.
Today I was reminded of one of my favorite nasty Ebert reviews when I saw that he had reviewed the remake of I Spit on Your Grave, one of the ugliest and most infamous pieces of torture porn ever made. The original, which depicts in bloody, lingering detail the horrific gang-rape of a young woman, and her subsequent revenge, was made in 1978. Ebert rates the remake at zero stars, but his review isn’t nearly as fiercely indignant as the one he wrote for the original when it played in Chicago in 1980.
Excerpts from that classic zero star review follow, but be sure to read the whole thing at RogerEbert.com.
The story of I Spit on Your Grave is told with moronic simplicity. A girl goes for a vacation in the woods. She sunbathes by a river. Two men speed by in a powerboat. They harass her. Later, they tow her boat to a rendezvous with two of their buddies. They strip the girl, beat her and rape her. She escapes into the woods. They find her, beat her, and rape her again. She crawls home. They are already there, beat her some more, and rape her again.
Two weeks later, somewhat recovered the girl lures one of the men out to her house, pretends to seduce him, and hangs him. She lures out another man and castrates him, leaving him to bleed to death in a bathtub. She kills the third man with an axe and disembowels the fourth with an outboard engine. End of movie.
[. . .]
How did the audience react to all of this? Those who were vocal seemed to be eating it up. The middle-aged, white-haired man two seats down from me, for example, talked aloud, After the first rape: “That was a good one!” After the second: “That’ll show her!” After the third: “I’ve seen some good ones, but this is the best.” When the tables turned and the woman started her killing spree, a woman in the back row shouted: “Cut him up, sister!” In several scenes, the other three men tried to force the retarded man to attack the girl. This inspired a lot of laughter and encouragement from the audience.
I wanted to turn to the man next to me and tell him his remarks were disgusting, but I did not. To hold his opinions at his age, he must already have suffered a fundamental loss of decent human feelings. I would have liked to talk with the woman in the back row, the one with the feminist solidarity for the movie’s heroine. I wanted to ask If she’d been appalled by the movie’s hour of rape scenes. As it was, at the film’s end I walked out of the theater quickly, feeling unclean, ashamed and depressed.
Now that’s how you shit all over a movie.