Women in Horror Recognition Spotlight #2–Camille Keaton, “I Spit On Your Grave”

When you think of fearlessly dedicated performances you probably think of Robert DeNiro or Charlize Theron transforming their appearance en route to Oscar glory, or maybe Heath Ledger’s depression-inducing immersion into the Joker’s psyche, but many movie fans (even genre junkies like myself) often overlook Camille Keaton’s incredibly brave turn in 1978’s I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE.

Say what you will about Meir Zarchi’s saga of rape and revenge, but I find it a criminally underrated film that’s not nearly as crude or misogynistic as it’s sometimes portrayed (it simply doesn’t shy away from its crude and misogynistic elements, but that’s for another post). One of the reasons why is Keaton’s central performance. Not only does she subject herself to one of the most prolonged depictions of sexual and physical assault in cinema history–I’d commend any actress for having the guts to go through one of the attacks shown here, let alone the three in grueling succession Keaton endures–but she manages to convey her character’s mental and emotional breakdown, recovery, and transition to angel of vengeance without a single word of dialogue. Let’s see Meryl Streep do that.

Sadly, Keaton’s reward for her courage was to be typecast as a rape victim in a number of later roles, and none of them offered the same impact as this one. Whether she understood that the material was beneath her talents (SAVAGE VENGEANCE, anyone?) or had an inability, or understandable uwillingness, to return to that emotional point remains unclear, but Camille Keaton’s contribution to the grindhouse canon deserves to be lauded.

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