Thirty-two years after the release of writer-director Meir Zarchi’s controversial film Day of the Woman (retitled I Spit On Your Grave by its distributors to capitalize on a then-popular string of violent thrillers), Cinetel Films and director Steven R. Monroe present I Spit On Your Grave, an unrated remake of the classic 1978 original. Skeptic genre fans who continue to voice their dissatisfaction with Hollywood’s recent remake mania can take comfort in the following: this is not a studio release, but rather an independent production produced and directed by a team of filmmakers who are sensitive and reverent to the source material, and most specifically, who invited Zarchi back to the scene of the crime to consult on their production and provide his blessing. (Read my ***1/2 review here.)
I met with Zarchi to discuss his original drama-turned-cult classic, Monroe’s remake, and the mythos of the term “exploitation cinema.”
MC: So tell me about the Blu-Ray release of the original “I Spit On Your Grave.” What can we expect?
Zarchi: We’re doing a new DVD and a Blu-Ray. BLU-RAY!! I was there in the lab doing the visuals to prepare for the Blu-Ray. The sound as well – digitizing it. You’re going to get a wonderful, wonderful rendition of the original. Both movies will come out in Blu-Ray.
I’m sure remastering the sound was an undertaking!
Oh yeah! But we did it, sound by sound. Two studios. The visuals in the visual studio, and the sound in the sound studio.
Can you define your attachment to this new remake?
I was involved. I wasn’t “writing” the screenplay. But I was involved with the full drafts, and gave ideas as to what we should do, what we shouldn’t do. Dialogue-wise. Scene-wise.
What was your initial reaction when you were approached with the idea of a remake?
Well, throughout the years there were various companies that wanted to do a remake. I turned them down, number one because I didn’t want to do a remake – I wanted to do a sequel. I was interested in the sequel because the original was made already. But the companies that approached me wanted strictly to do a remake. I turned it down for various reasons; most of them wanted to do it for a quick buck. Eventually when Cinetel approached me to do the remake, I came to know and respect Lisa Hansen, the producer – from a woman’s point of view, the way she saw it. And Paul Hertzberg, her partner. I saw that they really appreciate the original, and respected it. They weren’t after the quick buck – they wanted to do something that would give respect to and honor the original. So I decided to go with them on it. I’m still digesting that I went forward with it. But it’s a beautiful dream, and it’s a lovely reality.
Do you think the release of this film will lead to the release of the sequel?
Yes. I gave Cinetel the option to do the sequel as well. We’re thinking seriously of doing it. Hopefully not too long after the remake, we’ll have a a sequel.
(*SPOILER*) The remake flashes forward after Jennifer is raped and left for dead, to months later when her attackers start getting their comeuppance. Was there ever a plan or discussion to show how it was that she survived her ordeal?
Fair question. This was just in the remake. I wanted to include this, just as it is in the original. They thought it may not be needed, because “everybody knows the original,” and maybe it would be redundant. I thought we should keep it – maybe not to the extent of the original, but sure – how DID she survive? Did she eat mice? Did she eat fish? Maybe not all of it, but SOME. But they were against it, and this is where they had the last word. It’s interesting that the audiences I saw it with in Montreal, and twice in Los Angeles, didn’t care to see the transition. Maybe it’s okay that it’s not there. Who knows?
Well I certainly don’t think the film lost anything by not including it. If anything, it left those questions in my head – how did she get out of the swamp? Did she find help? Did she do all this on her own? You can make up your own story about her journey.
Well, and maybe that second half can be taken as a fantasy. So, she may have ended up down in the river dead, and that was the end of the story – and the rest is our imagination of her revenge.
I’d like to think she lived and her revenge happened.
And there’s a case where it really DID happen! There was a woman who was raped, and she killed three or four of the rapists! True story!
There seemed to be a string of films in the late 70′s/early 80′s about sexual attacks and revenge – “Death Wish,” “Last House on the Left,” your film.
Well, even far before that with “Virgin Spring.” “The Bravados,” by Henry King. Gregory Peck chasing four men who raped his wife – wonderful twist at the end, I don’t want to tell you what it is.
I’ll check it out! But I mean, there was a string – “Straw Dogs” – the Everyman getting vengeance. It was like a genre that exploded.
I know when I made my film, it was based on an experience with a girl that was raped. I discuss it in my commentary. I could tell you about it, but I don’t think you have enough tape there… But in short, I came across a girl who was viciously raped. I took her to the police, and to the hospital. She was gang raped, beaten, broken jaw – almost slaughtered. I witnessed something like that. If you can get hold of the “Millennium Edition” of “I Spit On Your Grave” – it’s no longer in circulation – you can hear my commentary about that. And Joe Bob Brigg’s commentary as well! It happened in October of 1974, and I shot the movie in August of 1976. So if there was a string of those films – I only know why I made my own.
What do you think about the term “exploitation cinema?” Certainly your film has been slapped with that.
Exploitation. Well let me ask you – what is “exploitation cinema?” What does that term mean to you?
Well that’s the thing – I’m not sure what it “means,” so much as I know what films I would expect to find if I went down to the “exploitation” or “sexploitation” or “blaxploitation” sections of my local video store. And whereas I’m sure it wasn’t your intent, I would no doubt find a copy of “I Spit On Your Grave” in the exploitation section. Despite the fact that I don’t think there’s anything necessarily “exploitative” about the film.
Well there you are! When people have told me my film is “exploitation cinema,” I ask them – what is “exploitation cinema,” and they cannot explain it to me! I ask them, “What is the border between creative and artistic, and exploitation! Define exploitation!”
I think of a movie like “Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song” – written, directed, and cast with black talent – and how it gets slapped with the term “blaxploitation,” which while cherished by some now, was probably used in a derogatory, “throw away,” “strictly midnight cinema” fashion back then. Or “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill,” which while despite its groundbreaking all-female gang of tough protagonists, and the fact that it doesn’t have any nudity or graphic sex, got slapped with “sexploitation.” Today I see the term “torture porn” applied to some movies, and it just seems…it seems intent to diminish. Somebody who for whatever reason did not like the film, or was offended by it, coined the term, and then an audience who’s as unenthusiastic about such films adopts it and starts using it too. There’s a fantastic French film called “Martyrs” that might be one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen, and certainly has its share of graphic torture, but I’d never minimize it by slapping it with such a meaningless term as “torture porn.” I would imagine your film had to deal with some of the same.
Initially, everybody attacked the movie. Eventually – little by little – people started to embrace it. Remember – the movie was made in 1978, before internet. Little by little, intellectual, educated people – professors, doctors, literature, cinema – discovered the movie, and they are the ones who really appreciated it. Not the mainstream – not the Ebert’s and Siskel’s. You know…it’s simply in the mind of the beholder. The eye of the beholder. Some are so disgusted they want to dismiss it as “exploitation” – some look at it and think, this is the work of a genius. Let them call it whatever they call it. A rose by any other name… So me, personally – if you think it’s exploitative, it is. If you think it’s not, if not. Others do a better job than I do defending this movie. As long as they’re arguing about it – it’s a positive sign. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but there are in-depth analysis – books! – written about this movie. Carol Clover discusses it in the book “Men, Women and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film.” A good sixty pages of the book are devoted to “I Spit On Your Grave,” and she expresses that it’s not an exploitative film. You’ll find that people who attack the film can’t tell you WHY it’s bad, or WHY it’s junk, while those who defend it will spend sixty pages on why it’s a good film. It’s very easy to be negative, and very hard to be positive. Define to me why something is junk! Define to me why something is bad! It’s hard to DEFINE why something is junk.
I think of a movie like “Irreversible,” which features a graphic and prolonged rape scene, and reviews I read about it that used words like “irresponsible,” “gratuitous,” “perverse,” and, yes, “exploitation.” I think some people confuse “disturbing,” or “visceral,” with “exploitative,” or “gratuitous.” If it gets under their skin – if it unsettles them – then somehow, that’s “bad.” Despite the need for that experience to the greater impact, message, theme of the film. It’s almost like they’re angry with the filmmakers for taking them into that dark place. Even though the impact of that film is stronger expressly because of the impact that this scene had on the audience, that you can relate to this person in this situation – as close as you would ever hope to relate to this person in this situation. In the case of your film, its catharsis would be lost without the experience of what comes before.
Exactly. “I Spit On Your Grave” came out in the UK again recently, and the word “exploitation” was brought up again. They said the scene was “too much for the audience to take.” I said, “Let’s take a ‘respectable’ film like Spielberg’s ‘Schindler’s List.’ There is a scene where a Nazi offer goes behind a row of people, and he shoots them in the head, and then goes through and shoots every other person – should this scene be shown?” They said, “It should! Because it’s real! It really happens!” And I said, “The girl was raped also. What they did to this girl – happened also. It’s happening now, while we’re sitting here and talking. Every five minutes there’s a rape case in the United States alone.” And they didn’t know what to say. To the girl from the BBC I said, “If I were to make a movie about the Nazi blitz on London, or whatever the Nazis did to the British people, would that be exploitation?”
People will always find a reason to attack. Even “Schindler’s List” was accused by some as being obscene. While “Life is Beautiful” was attacked by some for not being obscene ENOUGH.
I’ve known two people who were characterized in “Schindler’s List,” and they told me that what we saw in the movie was a piece of cake – that the reality was much much worse, and was glossed over in the film. And they still call it exploitative.
Your film, while classified by some as “horror,” was very dramatic. That seemed to be the trend of the great horror films of the 60′s and 70′s – they were dramas, sometimes even more than horror. Films like “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Exorcist” – they were about characters, well-written, deliberately paced, quite often serious. The 1980′s gave birth to fast and bloody films that took horror from character-study to roller-coaster ride. Do you attribute that shift to anything?
“The Exorcist” is an excellent movie; “Rosemary’s Baby,” very good movie! Well…I think the 80′s movies were made by kids, often with no experience of real life. The people who made the movies back in the 60′s and 70′s – they went through wars. Whether it was WWII, Korea, Vietnam. The depression of the 20′s. They saw death, they saw suffering, they saw starvation. The people from the 1990′s on, their life experience is: other movies. Polanski went to a concentration camp; there’s absolutely no analogy there. He was lucky to survive the war. So he knows how to make movies – he can relate to drama, to human suffering. Plus in the 70′s, we didn’t have cable – we didn’t have video. Little by little, the audience got thinner when people could watch movies at home. There are so many means and ways and media to see movies nowadays. So who actually leaves their homes to go out to the movies now? Those who want to break away from their homes. And who’s that? The younger audiences – teenagers, early 20′s. Maybe 35 at the most. They make the movies for them. That’s it.
It seems many of the greatest horror movies in recent years have come from oversees. Certainly at the independent level, like your remake, there are still quality films coming out – hopefully the audience can catch them, and see them. But do you think that can ever happen again at the studio level here?
From time to time, the studios do come out with a good, mature film. But very rarely. Remember: the movie studio is a money-making machine. And they have stockholders. And the stockholders don’t care – make a movie that makes money, so my stock is worthwhile. So the independents are more daring. Thank God for the independents.
-Diego Mena speaking with Meir Zarchi
September 27, 2010 – Los Angeles, CA
On Assignment for Tonight at the Movies