Last year, Jamie Lee Curtis returned as Laurie Strode in the new HALLOWEEN, exploring what life might be like for a horror heroine 40 years after she faced down evil. But did you know there was another late sequel to an iconic slasher film from 1978? I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE DE JA VU (full end credits title: “I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE DE JA VU a.k.a. DAY OF THE WOMAN DE JA VU”) is a writer/director Meir Zarchi’s direct sequel to his infamous rape-revenge film, with Camille Keaton (WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE?) returning to her role as feminist writer turned violent avenger Jennifer Hills. It was filmed in 2015, but not released until disc and VOD last April.
Things seem to have turned out all right for Jennifer. She’s an author and counselor for rape victims. She doesn’t treat her violent past as a dark secret – in fact, she wrote a new best selling book about it. As the original film’s famous tagline predicted, “No jury in America would convict her!” And she’s close with her daughter Christy (Jamie Bernadette, MORTDECAI), a world famous model who’s thinking of retiring.
After catching up over lunch, mother and daughter encounter autograph seekers in the parking lot who suddenly drag them into a white van. Turns out they’re relatives of the men who raped Jennifer and then were killed by her 40 years ago. Tattooed long hair Kevin (Jonathan Peacy, uncredited extra in THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE III) is the vile loud mouth who seems to be pushing baby-faced Scotty (Jeremy Ferdman, RACE) and developmentally disabled Herman (Jim Tavare, THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT) into this revenge plot. But once they arrive in what I believe is supposed to be the same small Connecticut river town from the first film they’re met by the true mastermind, Becky (Maria Olsen, PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3, STARRY EYES, SOUTHBOUND), a recast version of the widow of Johnny Stillman, the gas station manager who raped Jennifer, told his friends to kill her and got his dick cut off.
Of course they plan to torment and then kill Jennifer, but she doesn’t like to be fucked with, and quickly turns the tables. Keaton looks like Samantha Bee now and moves like a normal woman of her age, not any kind of athlete, so it’s a little awkward how easily she gets the drop on them. I kind of like that though because it’s not like they’re experienced at this. They don’t know what the fuck they’re doing.
It’s weird that TAKEN 2, which has kind of a similar idea, seems more serious about depicting revenge as an unending circle. That’s not to say there’s nothing else going on here. But, as is appropriate for the official sequel to I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, it’s all blunt force. Whenever an interesting idea or hint of subtlety comes up (which is quite often) it will instantly be buried in ham-handed execution, on-the-nose dialogue and the broadest stereotypes that can fit onto a widescreen. There are several monologues and dialogue scenes that go on considerably longer than you expect. The redneck villains have an understandable grievance – they seem to be in denial about the crimes of their relatives, so of course they’re angry that this woman killed them and is not only free but promoting a book about it. Becky argues that Jennifer got off on her murders, that it literally made her orgasm. And it is true that she seemed to greatly enjoy her vengeance.
Earlier, Jennifer was interviewed about her book on the radio, and everyone wanted to ask her about using sexuality to lure the men in. If you look at my review of the first film I was uncomfortable with that aspect (and got some interesting feedback on it) so I like that Zarchi seems eager to address it.
Christy says that her mother is not a murderer, that a jury found her innocent, and Becky attributes this to it being a New York City jury. There’s something very real here to be explored about resentment between rural and urban Americans, but it’s hard to do when your rural characters are raving yahoo rapists complaining about “city folks” and “the big city” and always preaching a backwards judgmental Christianity more about superstition of literal demons and devils than any teachings of Jesus.
In fact, they visit a cemetery where the dead rapists are all buried together with cheap-ass roped-together crosses and a sign calling them “our men” who were taken away by a messenger of the devil. Though Zarchi has long hyped his original title DAY OF THE WOMAN (which it played under in small drive-ins for a few years), he thankfully embraces the retitle for this. Jennifer’s book is called I Spit On Their Graves, and a surprisingly high volume of literal grave spitting is depicted.
Here is a SPOILER of a turn of events that actually did surprise and shock me. Mother and daughter are separated. After Becky herself does some molesting of Jennifer, she chases her to a church and slits her throat. Christy escapes just in time to find her mother, decapitated. There is some pretty wrenching grief here, and though it’s clearly a rubber head it’s an effectively gruesome scene. It’s enough to make us understand why Christy would snap and commit a bloodbath just like her old lady.
So I naively thought we were gonna get to spit on some graves without having to endure a graphic rape scene. Wrong. Keeping with the philosophy of part 1, Zarchi makes it ugly and awful and unflinching. The more shocking thing: this is almost an hour into the movie. The most shocking thing: that’s not even halfway.
Yes, believe it or not, this movie is 148 minutes long. 21 minutes longer than DAWN OF THE DEAD. 46 minutes longer than the first film. 40 minutes longer than REVENGE. An hour and five minutes longer than THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. Only 13 minutes shorter than ONCE UPON A TIME …IN HOLLYWOOD. This is the curse of low budget filmmakers having digital video now. Not only does the cleanness make the shoddiness less appealing than on film, but they don’t have to limit themselves in what they shoot. And that’s what kills this. The individual scenes aren’t necessarily deadly slow. There are a few parts that play out long without dialogue in a good way. But it’s way too much to get across way too little. It’s a lack of restraint that does a disservice to everyone involved. At a tight 80-90 minutes I think this would actually be a solid (if crude) piece of nastiness, and being forced to chop out the many chunks of awkward dialogue would make the entire cast look better.
And they deserve it. When Olsen as Becky has to go on too long, it starts to seem like regional theater. Trim some of that shit and there’s a standout performance in there. I like the way she vacillates from having somewhat of a point to over-the-top crazy. She’s often emotional and covered in snot, giving a long talk to her husband’s grave, revealing that she’s angry at him for his rape because it’s “adultery.” Also she wears an army helmet and drives around on a four-wheeler, even in a cemetery, which seems disrespectful.
Bernadette is pretty good, and gets put through the wringer. She ends up alone in the woods, beat up and wearing nothing but boots, and she seems so vulnerable. She approaches a cabin with laundry hanging on a clothesline, and it really seemed like she might ask permission before taking them. I imagined myself in that situation and thought about how she’s the one who’s been wronged here, she shouldn’t have to sneak around and steal. But that’s what she does, and when we see that the random jeans, plaid shirt and vest she snatched fit her perfectly and look good on her, it’s an abrupt jump from the ugliness of violence to the enjoyment of it. But she’s not as convincing saying the tough lines as she was with the earlier parts.
One of the things she does is really fuckin gruesome, but mostly she’s just homaging her mother’s kills without the willingness (or the FX budget) to show very much. I think especially after making us sit through that much setup Zarchi should’ve pushed it much futher. Should’ve gone a little RAMBO: LAST BLOOD.
In one of the more weirdly carbon copy aspects, Herman (father of Matthew, the mentally disabled grocery boy Jennifer lynched in her most questionable act of violence) is also mentally disabled, also seems less guilty and more remorseful than the others, and also is shown no mercy. Tavare has the most layered performance in the movie – he’s god damn Meryl Streep compared to the cartoonish Matthew in part 1 – and it’s interesting when Becky yells at Scotty for making fun of him and talks about him building his farm himself. Still, it’s a waste that Zarchi doesn’t seem to have any new thoughts as to how/whether it’s fair to treat someone like this exactly like her other attackers.
ANOTHER SHOCKING REVEAL: Christy has never been told it, but they all somehow know that Johnny is her father. She’s the product of rape, and related to some of these people. She has to try to come to terms with that. Which basically means she will have a line about it.
One part where I thought “this is getting kinda good” is in the last act when Christy goes to try to kill Becky and find out where she hid her mom’s body. There’s a kooky old couple we saw earlier, senile Henry (Roy Allen III, “The Shadowy Figure [uncredited]”, INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3) and foul-mouthed drunk Millie (Holgie Forrester, CITY HEAT). They show up and start beating the shit out of Becky, to the point that it seems to disturb Christy. Then they lead her to where they say the body is. Forrester in particular brings a TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 level of feverish derangement and things spin out of control and finally seem completely free of the part 1 template.
Other than Keaton reprising her role, the continuity with the first film isn’t all that convincing. The original Connecticut locations are replaced with somewhere in California I believe, and the use of flashbacks kept making me wonder “Wait a minute – what happened to that river?” Becky runs what’s supposed to be the gas station Johnny managed. It looks entirely different, but is not modernized. It’s now on a strip of closed buildings that looks like it’s normally used for shooting westerns.
Okay, that happens in slasher franchises. But also the ages of some of the new characters clearly don’t match up. Bernadette is nearly a decade too young to be conceived during the first film. And there is no fucking way Scotty is anywhere near old enough to have grown up with one of the adults murdered 40 years ago. Weirdly, they also have him dress and act like some kind of millennial semi–hipster. Like they’re not even gonna bother pretending he’s older.
There is a cool touch that Johnny’s young children (Terry and Tammy Zarchi) show up briefly as adults, but even if I was familiar enough with the movie to know what they looked like they’re never shown in close up here.
As someone who enjoys slasher movies and horror franchises and retains a morbid interest in I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (even if I would never watch the first half again), I found DE JA VU to be a very interesting artifact. But it’s a real shame nobody could convince Zarchi to trim it down to normal movie size. It could’ve been, at the very least, this generation’s RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP. But in this preposterously bloated form I can recommend it for scholars only.