The editors had the opportunity to take in some festival horror at the 2010 Toronto After Dark Film Festival. One of this year's highlights was the remake of I Spit on Your Grave (Zarchi & Zbeda, 1978; Hansen & Hertzberg, 2010). Falling under the 'rape and revenge' sub-genre of exploitation/horror, both versions of this controversial film test the viewer's endurance for brutal and malicious violence, each beginning with a detailed and horrific rape scene that lasts no less than 40 minutes. But there are rewards for those that make it through the sordid ensemble of painful and nightmarish images, as we watch our heroine (Sarah Butler reprising Camille Keaton's original role as Jennifer Hills) exact a calculated and immensely satisfying revenge against her assailants.
Whether she is doling out pampering facials with bubbling lye, moisturizing her assailant's eyes with fish guts, or hosting dinner parties with the guests’ own genitals as the main course, we are left hauntingly satisfied with our protagonist’s vicious and merciless revenge. But how could such a thing be satisfying? This is a controversial film for obvious reasons, but our shared experience as sympathizers with the victim shows us something bizarre about human evolution. Experimentally, it has been shown that individuals will punish defectors in a group, a demonstration of what has been called 'altruistic punishment'. In such studies, group members will readily punish cheats, defectors, and tyrants at a great cost to themselves, though they receive no immediate personal benefit (usually these studies involve money or food; see Fehr & Gachter, 2002). That is, revenge is prevalent in human society. In social groups, the presence of altruistic punishers provides strong incentive for even the most villainous to cooperate with the group.
We are not trying to suggest that the severity of the plot of I Spit On Your Grave reflects in any way the trivialities of human behavioural experiments in economics, but our satisfaction at the carefully exacted revenge in the film does hint at a very powerful human tendency: the tendency to desire and seek revenge, even at cost to oneself. After watching I Spit On Your Grave, we can leave with a feeling that justice has been served, knowing that the horrid acts of the maniacal perpetrators have been adequately countered with a punishment that tastes a bit like rotting rat carcass.
Check out I Spit On Your Grave - Day of the Woman (1978) here:
Check out I Spit On your Grave (2010) here:
Feher, E. & Gachter, S. (2002). Altruistic punishment in humans. Nature, 415, 10, 137-140.
Hansem, L., & Hertzberg, P. (Producers). Monroe, SR. (Director). (2010). I Spit On Your Grave [Motion picture]. USA: Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Zarchi, M., & Zbeda, J. (Producers), Zarchi, M. (Director). (1978). I Spit On Your Grave [Motion picture]. Canada: Cinemagic.