The Video Nasties #64 – I Spit on Your Grave (1978, Meir Zarchi)


‘You’ve got great hands…God bless your hands.’

I love nature. Taking the dog a walk in the countryside, a good hike through a forest, going camping – what I’m saying is, if I was in a horror movie, I’d have died a thousand times.


It really started with Deliverance, that classic yuppies in peril story, which warns of the dangers of them thar city folk meddlin’ in the affairs of country folk. I Spit On Your Grave (has there ever been a more evocative exploitation film title?) follows in that film’s muddy footprints, spinning a nasty little yarn about writer Jennifer Hills’ vacation away from the Big Apple. On her second day, she is raped by four local yokels and left for dead. Jennifer seeks vengeance, and like the tagline says, ‘No jury in America would ever convict her.’


I Spit On Your Grave’s reputation precedes it. One of the most well known and reviled titles on the list, and it’s a hard film to watch. The protracted assault sequence goes on for an almost unbearable 30 minutes, which should be enough for most people to condemn the film there and then. For once though, there’s more going on. I’m not going to try and argue that this is a feminist film as some critics have, though I will argue that its intentions are in the right place.


In some of the Nasties, rape is presented in a glossy, titillating way designed to arouse the viewer. Not so here. Director Meir Zarchi claims, in an awkward and stilted DVD commentary, that the film is based on his real experience of helping someone who had been assaulted and being disgusted by the way the police handled it. He certainly does not encourage identification with the rapists, who are shown to be a bunch of losers with childish fantasies of ‘going to New York and fucking every broad.’ The rape itself is presented as a filthy, degrading spectacle, often shot from Jennifer’s POV looking at the ugly, sweaty faces of her tormentors. Outside of the real life death in Faces of Death, this is probably the most disturbing sequence in any of the Nasties. The BBFC, upon classifying the film in 2001, cut 7 minutes of ‘eroticised violence’. Even today the film is still cut by almost 3 minutes. It’s hard to fathom what part of the rape can possibly be seen as erotic; Jennifer is filthy and muddy and screaming, while the men show off their hairy arses and flaccid penises. It’s the opposite of erotic, so I guess the BBFC examiners are perhaps hiding some dark, secret fetishes.


It’s made all the more uncomfortable by Zarchi’s bold choice to not feature any non-diagetic music. He uses the sound design to simple but great effect, puncturing the devastating silences with the roar of an outboard motor, always heralding an act of extreme violence.


The lack of a typical movie score increases the realism further than most people are willing to accept. Compare it to it’s closest counterpart, Last House On The Left, which had a great but pretty on-the-nose score that left the viewer in no doubt of how to feel.  But sometimes quiet can be emotionally louder than any music. A shot of Jennifer’s canoe floating down river is haunting in it’s eerie calmness. The silence also contributes towards one of the most effective jump scares I’ve ever seen, where Jennifer has a phone suddenly kicked out of her hand once we finally think she may be safe.


When it comes time for revenge, Zarchi delivers. Unlike Fight For Your Life, which bungled it’s baddies’ comeuppance big time, I Spit On Your Grave takes its time meting out a delicious revenge on the four rapists. Once seen, the bathtub castration is never forgotten.

It’s a crowdpleaser of an ending, but the most significant portion of the film may be act 2. For once, we actually follow the victim through her recovery. She showers, she cries, she goes to church, she plots revenge. It’s integral to the movie, and the part of the film that the amazingly ill-judged remake glossed over.


Look, it’s a tough film to watch and an impossible one to enjoy in a conventional sense. But it is a well made film with occasional moments of artful beauty amongst the ugliness. If you’re willing to take the plunge, then there is definitely more going on beneath the surface than it’s reputation would suggest. Just avoid the remake and it’s sequels.


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The Video Nasties #63 – I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses (1978, Murray Markowitz)


‘All she’s got is that face, those tits, 

and an ever open door of a cunt.’

I try and go into every film hoping for the best, but sometimes your gut instinct is right. I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses is as bland and innocuous as its title. If you’ve ever watched an episode of Columbo or Murder, She Wrote and wished for a bit more necrophilia and swearing, then you may be able to wring some enjoyment out of this dull courtroom drama/whodunnit, but I simply couldn’t.


Based on the true story of the murder of Christine Demeter, the film opens with Magdalene, played by Euro starlet Elke Sommer, being bludgeoned to death in her garage by an unseen assailant. Her husband, Charles, is a wealthy businessman who years earlier had escaped from a war-ravaged Hungary. What follows is his trial intercut with numerous flashbacks. It just about manages to hold your interest for the first half, but once the trial takes over it just becomes lawyers interrogating suspects, which is one of the least cinematic movie tropes imaginable. I began to lose track of who was who, and by the time a necrophiliac serial killer was introduced as a suspect I just gave up trying to follow.


It’s not a total dead loss; there’s some talent behind the camera, including the first movie score by Howard Shore, who would go on to work on most of David Cronenberg’s movies as well as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s a humble beginning, but his score is the best part of the film, adding atmosphere where there would otherwise be none. Another key Cronenberg collaborator, art director Carol Spier, also worked on the film, though the scratchy old VHS that I watched hid much of her work. In front of the camera, the actors perform perfectly adequately, and Donald Pilon’s final monologue is actually quite touching, though star Elke Sommer doesn’t speak a full line of dialogue until about 20 minutes into the movie…


It’s a real head-scratcher why this of all films was ever deemed liable to deprave and corrupt. There is footage from a real life chicken slaughterhouse (what was our fascination with slaughterhouses in the 1970s?) and the ending shows poor Elke having her brains beaten out about five times in a row, showing each of the suspects performing the deed. I’m just surprised that the DPP managed to sit through the preceding 80 minutes to get to that moment. It’s not a bad film, just one that has no place on the Nasties. It’s a slightly boring Canadian courtroom drama, and if that idea sets your pulse racing, then by all means, track this one down. Just don’t invite me over to watch it with you – I’m busy that evening.

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The Video Nasties #62 – Faces of Death (1978, Conan Le Cilaire [John Alan Schwarz])


‘Prepare yourself for a journey into a world where each new step 

may give you a better understanding of your own reality.’

If there’s one film I could happily have left off this list and never reviewed, it’s Faces of Death. At 106 minutes it’s one of the longest Nasties, and yet ironically it’s the one about which I have the least to say. Do you enjoy watching actual footage of dog fights, seal clubbing and chickens having their heads cut off to the tune of Old McDonald Had A Farm? What about nightmarishly disturbing footage of the aftermath of a road accident involving a cyclist and a lorry, or watching a parachutist plummet to his death? If so, Faces of Death is all yours.


It purports to be some kind of semi-serious documentary about pathologist Dr Frances B Gross (see what they did there?) and his collection of ‘faces of death’. The apparent seriousness of the endeavour is undercut not just by the hammy narration of the ludicrous ‘Dr Gross’, but by such musical choices as having a song count-in a suicide jumper with a ‘1-2-ah-1-2-3-4’ before she leaps to her onscreen death.


It’s the cinematic equivalent of slowing down to look at a car crash. Actually, forget that, it’s the equivalent of pulling over to the side of the road and taking photos of the corpses. The only way the film could possibly have been watchable would be if the whole thing had been staged, like many of the death scenes are. A ridiculous crocodile attack and even sillier bear mauling might raise a chuckle if the footage surrounding it wasn’t so utterly depressing.


I actually watched the making-of documentary on the DVD and was initially relieved to see that a monkey brain eating sequence was faked. However, then the fucking asshole fx guy starts laughing about how the monkey kept trying to bite the rubber mallet they were hitting it with. How about we trap you in a table and hit you pal? Still funny?


It’s dreary, miserable garbage and I hated almost every second of it. There’s a goofy song at the end (sample line – ‘Life goes on, flowers die; Then a newborn baby cries’) over footage of a woman giving birth, but it’s too little too late. I’m not gonna waste any more time talking about Faces of Death, because – in the words of Dr Frances B Gross – ‘It occurred to me how short life really is.’

Amen to that, you fucking creep.

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The Video Nasties #61 – The Evil (1978, Gus Trikonis)


‘Disturb not he who is held here in chains.’

The most striking thing about The Evil is its similarity to Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead. This film would have been released around the time that Raimi and his crew were going to the drive-in to research horror films, and I have no doubt that The Evil was one of the films they saw. But more on that later.


The Evil is a pretty bog-standard haunted house movie, in the vein of The Amityville Horror, The Sentinel and Burnt Offerings. Richard Crenna, best known as Rambo’s buddy, buys an old house and enlists a bunch of people that he helped to kick drugs to tidy the place up. Anything to save a buck, I suppose. What he doesn’t know is that the house is haunted, and when he opens a trapdoor in the cellar, The Devil himself is unleashed on the unsuspecting occupants. That’s right, The Devil.


It starts off promisingly enough. The location is good and spooky, and in the first few minutes a caretaker is burnt alive. Unfortunately, it’s one of those middle of the road movies that never gets too exciting, or too silly, or too weird – it just trundles along, no doubt passably entertaining on the bottom end of a double bill, but it’s never going to be anyone’s favourite movie. There’s a couple of creative deaths, a good scare or two, and Andrew Prine wearing disco trousers that are very tight around the crotch, but mostly the film is as generic as its title.


One weird thing – an hour in, a woman is chased by a dog and I swear to god, the sound effects for the dog are the same as those used for the TIE Fighters in Star Wars. Check it out if you don’t believe me.


So what about that Evil Dead connection I mentioned earlier? Well, we have a group of (mostly) kids trapped in a building. An old book and ancient artefact are discovered, and a trapdoor bursts open. People levitate, dead bodies suddenly rise up into frame and yes, a woman is stripped and possibly raped by a malevolent entity. Oh, I mean it’s not identical or anything, but it’s interesting to see the genesis of some of The Evil Dead. Probably.



The ending finally drags the film into batshit crazy territory, when Crenna and his wife venture down into the cellar and find themselves, I think, in Hell, which is a big smoky white room with a fat man on a throne. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…The Devil! The Devil turns out to be a bit of an arse, calling Crenna ‘scum’ and ‘a piece of vomit.’ Is that the best you’ve got, Devil? Just as he’s about to kill ol’ Richard, his wife appears from the smoke and stabs The Devil with a cross, apparently killing him. Does this mean that, with The Devil dead, all evil has been eradicated from the world? Because if it does, then that is one heck of a happy ending. I guess we’ll never know, and if you ask me tomorrow I won’t even care ‘cos I’ll have forgotten all about it. Such is the way with the mid-tier Video Nasties!

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The Video Nasties #60 – Dawn of the Dead (1978, George A Romero)


‘When there’s no more room in Hell…

the dead will walk the Earth.’

Dawn of the Dead brings us to the end of a weird phase of the Nasties, those well known, almost mainstream films that were included on the Section 3 list but have ended up as highly regarded early films from talented directors. The Hills Have Eyes, Martin, Rabid, Suspiria. Yeah, there were some other films in amongst them too, but forget about those ones. I already have.

Apart from you, Prey. I enjoyed you.


Dawn is Romero’s sequel to Night of the Living Dead, and is a giant leap forward in terms of filmmaking skill. Dawn is well known not just as perhaps the definitive horror/action picture, but as a scathing satire on consumerism. If anything, the film has become more and more relevant as time has passed, with the advent of that festival of fear known as Black Friday, which gives us a chilling glimpse into a real life zombie apocalypse every year. As someone who has worked in retail for a very long time and has become a committed anti-consumerist, the themes of Dawn of the Dead really resonate with me. ‘Why do they come here?’ asks Fran at one point, to which Stephen replies, ‘Instinct. Memory. This was an important place in their lives.’ In everything we do in our everyday lives, we are encouraged to buy, purchase, consume. It will make you happier! Your life will be better with this gadget, this gizmo, this doohickey. The same faces, day after day, wandering around numbly, picking things up and putting them back down again, looking for something to buy, something to fill the yawning chasm in their hopeless, empty lives. Some people say that they love to shop, but do me a favour – next time you’re out at a shopping mall, look at people’s faces and count how many you see that seem to be enjoying themselves. Y’know, smiling or laughing. I don’t believe people love to shop. They love to buy, sure, but the actual act of shopping? Nah.


It’s not just the zombies though. In Dawn, our heroes fall into the same trap. At first they grab the essentials, food, ammo and a radio. By the time the film ends, they are trapped in their miserable consumerist hell, dressed up in fur coats, pocketing money that they will never get to spend, because, ‘You never know.’


Sorry, I think I went off on one there. But that’s okay, what is there to say about Dawn of the Dead that hasn’t been said? It’s a fucking great movie, with some of the most exciting scenes in any horror movie and despite running well over 2 hours, it never feels forced or overlong. If I had to gripe about one thing, I would say that some of the library tracks on the soundtrack were poorly chosen. A couple of the orchestral pieces sound really dated and out of place, in particular the last scene of the film. Peter’s big moment is soundtracked to some kind of cheesy war theme and then the final shot plays out over something that could be the soundtrack for Casablanca. It’s a small complaint though, and the stunning Goblin score is still used often enough.


Wow, that was quite a run of horror masterpieces for a while there. No, Brutes and Savages, not including you, you bag of shit. I wonder if The Evil can keep up the run of good form…?

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The Video Nasties #59 – The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978, Fred Schepisi)


‘Tell the police I said I declared war.’

Well, well, well…just what the hell is The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith doing here? A highly regarded Australian drama about race relations at the turn of the century, the film won multiple awards at the Australian Film Institute awards, and was even nominated for Best Film. And yet it somehow found its way across the pond and onto the Video Nasties, where it sits alongside such cinematic disasterpieces as Love Camp 7 and The New Adventures of Snow White. Is there any justice in the world?


Mind you, it’s not a particularly great film. It follows Jimmie Blacksmith, an aborigine born of a white woman, who attempts to make a living in Australia after being raised by missionaries. Of course, literally every single white person he meets is a racist, abusive asshole and after more and more humiliations pile up, Jimmie decides to take his revenge.


I’ll be honest, I didn’t realise I would need a Bachelor’s degree in Australian history to write a blog about the Video Nasties, so I don’t have a lot to say about this one. It’s not even remotely a horror film, or an exploitation film, or any sort of genre film. It’s a worthy drama of the sort that I would never choose to watch, based on a Booker Prize nominated book from the author of Schindler’s List. So why are we even talking about it? Because of 30 seconds.


Halfway through, Jimmie finally loses it and grabs an axe, and he and his friend storm a house and murder the occupants, who happen to be two women and four children. Jimmie graphically hacks them up with an axe, including the kids. He spares the baby, which doesn’t really atone for much because he just murdered three pre-teens, but whatever. It’s a truly shocking sequence that comes out of the blue and is one hundred percent the reason The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is on the Nasties. Because of 30 seconds.


I can neither recommend nor not recommend this one. It’s an interesting film with a lot to say about race and politics, and is still relevant to this day. It’s also long, drawn out and poorly paced. Give it a spin if you like, but if you are bored after the first half hour then just stop there. It ain’t gonna get any better.

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The Video Nasties #58 – Brutes and Savages (1978, Arthur Davis)


‘Who are the brutes…and who are the savages?’

Here we go, guys. The pits. Rock bottom. As bad as any Nasty will get, save perhaps the similar Faces of Death. A laughable mockumentary that seems to exist solely to titillate viewers who get off on watching animals being slaughtered, Brutes and Savages is impossible to watch without completely losing interest. In a cruel twist of fate, I ended up watching the extended cut, which runs 15 minutes longer than the version that ended up consigned to the Nasties. Oh wicked fortune!


The films follows the noted anthropologist Arthur Davis and his crew on a whistlestop tour of South Africa and South America, stopping to film anytime someone starts brandishing a bladed weapon at an animal’s throat. We know Davis is on safari, because he wears a pink safari suit like some kind of utter dick. He and his group are listed in the opening credits as The Arthur Davis Expedition, which makes them sound like a prog rock band. Fittingly then, the score (by the talented Riz Ortolani) is a mixture of disco-funk and psychedelic guitars. It would be a fantastic soundtrack to a violent cop thriller. For a nature documentary…let’s just call it incongruous, shall we?


The film opens with a llama being decapitated, then 10 minutes of a native woman smearing oil on her naked body, while Zombie Flesh Eaters star Richard Johnson narrates a load of old claptrap. Guess his rent must have been due that week.

There’s a special thanks to The Institute of Primitive Arts and Cultures for their co-operation. Don’t worry, I looked them up – they don’t exist. Surprised? Not as surprised as you’ll be to learn that crocodiles can grow up to fifty feet! Fifty! You sure about that, Richard? Then, he even has the gall to have a go at the bloody Incas! ‘They were great builders, but not great artists.’ Well, it’s easy to say that when they’re not around to defend themselves, but I bet you wouldn’t have said it to their face.


There’s a semi-amusing scene that goes on too long where a man is attacked by a crocodile as part of a ‘manhood’ ritual, and some of the footage is very clearly filmed in a swimming pool with a different actor and a glorified crocodile hand puppet. Then, we are promised a ‘turtle wedding ceremony’ but don’t get excited, the turtles aren’t getting married, they’re being slaughtered. Apparently this whole ritual is being filmed in secret, which doesn’t explain the big close ups on people’s faces inside the house.


If I’m making this sound in any way funny or interesting, then please know that it’s not. It’s an absolute fucking chore to sit through. Every scene goes on forever, particularly the single shot of an eagle eating a snake, which carries on for almost 3 minutes. And if that isn’t warning enough, then don’t take my advice, take the advice of the narrator himself. Let me just leave this here for you, and then you can decide whether or not you want to watch Brutes and Savages…

‘Later, some of the men, under the influence of liquor, will engage in animal intercourse. Men are animals too…’

Guys, just say no.

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