I'm gonna transcribe a little bit of a David Hess interview on my DVD where he talks about the infamous rape scene in the movie:
"In this scene... um... she was like a lox. There was no reaction from her. For hours we tried to film this scene. So the reaction that you see on the screen is that I scared her. I ripped her pants off during the filming... and she probably thought that I was gonna penetrate her. I had no intention of doing that, absolutely not. But that's the reaction you see on the screen, and that's why people react to it so much in terms of the violation of a woman. But at the same time, it's a film. It's a film. I'm an actor, and I'm wanting to get something from her which wasn't coming. I mean, you either do it or you cut the scene."
The actress who plays the victim is called Sandra Peabody, and she doesn't appear in any of the extras on the DVD. In the documentary about the film, the cast say that Hess was a method actor, that he behaved in an arrogant and distant manner, and that Peabody was frightened of him and the other actors. Marc Sheffler, who played Junior, retells a story in which he threatens to throw her off a bridge if she didn't hit her scene. Wes Craven chuckles that as a first time director with no credentials running a skeleton crew in a forest, Peabody might well have been scared about how far they would go.
Sounds to me like she was put through some horrifying experiences in the process of making this film, and I'm amazed that the people involved can laugh about that, and that they are not called out on it. I mean, I don't want to sound like a lawyer, but isn't this kind of harassment criminal? It's strange that the controversy surrounding this film revolves around the effect it MIGHT have on its audience, rather than the effect it DID have on some of its actors...
The film itself is more a piece of history rather than a piece of art. It is made by amateurs, and it shows. Wes Craven talks about wanting to put Vietnam footage in the heart of America, as well as processing a certain amount of anger at his upbringing, which led him to shoot horrifying sexual violence in cinéma vérité style. My feeling is that the audience is both implicated and distanced from events, and that the film does not escape glamourising its murderers, or sexualising its victims. Its position is confused, and its messages miss their mark. I would have liked Craven to have found another way into the movie business, and I suspect that, quite often, he would have liked the same.