I Spit On Your Grave director Meir Zarchi discusses his cult classic, the title change, his sequel idea and more
In 1978, writer-director Meir Zarchi released a movie entitled Day of the Woman, which was largely dismissed by critics. A few years later, it was re-released under the new title I Spit on Your Grave, and while it still didn't score any points with critics, it became a controversial movie that grew into a cult classic, which it still is to this day. I Spit on Your Grave was just released in brand new editions on Blu-ray and DVD on February 8 and I recently had the privilege of speaking with director Meir Zarchi on the phone about his experiences on this project. Here's what he had to say below.
When I watched the original again, I could be way off base here, but it almost seemed that Matthew was a Woody Allen knock-off character.
Meir Zarchi: No, not at all. That didn't come to mind when we did it. He may look like him and act like him or maybe remind you of him, but there was no relation whatsoever. Some compared this character to Gilligan's Island. There is no connection or no relation whatsoever. Maybe they resemble him.
Can you talk a bit about assembling the cast for this?
Meir Zarchi: I put ads in two industry magazines, weekly magazines in New York, in the spring of 1976. It said this would be a low-budget movie to be shot this summer, looking for characters and we described the characters and their approximate age, four men and one woman. We got thousands and thousands of stills and resumes, from all over the country. One of them was of Camille Keaton. I remember auditioning a few thousand men and maybe 600 women and as soon as I saw Camille's still, her black-and-white still, I felt there was something there. I called her in, we auditioned her for a few weeks and played her against selected men. Eventually, it narrowed down to Camille and the four guys.
One of the differences I noticed, from the remake to the original, is the four guys in your original, at first they seem more good-natured guys. In the remake they seem mean-spirited right from the get-go. Was that a choice you made, so when the rape happens that it seems like more of a shock?
Meir Zarchi: Yeah. My choice was to show them as simple human beings, not evil from the outset. That was my choice for the original and, obviously, when the remake was written, it was made a little differently and, from the first frame, they're a little more cynical and evil.
Another striking thing about the original is the lack of a film score. I read that you wanted to add in a score, but I think it adds a layer of realism to the movie. Do you think the movie would have benefited from a proper score, or do you like it the way it is? I love it the way it is, but it's a very unconventional choice to have no score at all.
Meir Zarchi: A score is a glue, an invisible glue to put together sequences that don't work, or to convey feelings that don't work without the music. Music dictates to you, what to feel and what to expect and what to prepare yourself for. Suddenly it's ominous and you know something will happen at any second now. Without the music, you don't expect anything to happen, so when it does happen, it's much more shocking to you. No music is much more effective than music.
Can you talk about the title change as well? I know you preferred the original title, Day of the Woman, although it really seemed to take off after it was re-titled I Spit on Your Grave. Can you talk a bit about the title change and your reaction to it?
Meir Zarchi: The very first title when I was writing the screenplay was The Housatonic Revenge. Housatonic is the river, which starts in Canada and flows through New England, especially Connecticut and flushes into the Hudson River. It's a beautiful movie where the whole movie was shot.
That's a cool title as well.
Meir Zarchi: Yeah, but when I was finishing the movie, I thought a more appropriate title would be Day of the Woman. I was trying to sell this movie and nobody wanted to buy it in the United States. It was a very strange movie, to them. Nobody wanted to pick it up, independent or major companies. I went to the Cannes Festival a few months after I finished, in May 1978 and we sold it as Day of the Woman to about a dozen territories. Then, I came back to the U.S.A. and tried to sell it and nobody wanted it until one independent distributor, by the name of Jerry Gross, who had a company called the Jerry Gross Organization in Los Angeles, saw it and got very enthusiastic about it. He made a contract with me to distribute the movie, but that gave him the right to change the title to anything he wanted, with me having nothing to say about it. One day, while they were preparing for distribution, he called me and said, 'We decided to change the title to I Spit on Your Grave.' I hated it from the moment I heard it. I said, 'What kind of title is that?' He said we tried to distribute the movie under Day of the Woman in the art houses and the drive-in theaters and it didn't succeed. I told him, 'Yes, but with Day of the Woman, the MPAA rated it R under the condition that we had to cut 10 minutes out of it.' He said that people remembered that Day of the Woman didn't make it so it was changed. I obviously hated that title, but, since 2002, when the movie was released on DVD for the first time, I insist that every time it comes out, it should also say, "A.K.A. Day of the Woman." That is how it has been to this day. Audiences around the world prefer Day of the Woman.
You endorsed and executive produced the remake. Were you ever approached before this new I Spit on Your Grave remake about doing another version?
Meir Zarchi: Yeah, there were quite a few of them. It's interesting because I wanted to do a sequel. We have an idea for a sequel that might soon go into production. We're working on it now. But yeah, there were a few major companies and a few independent companies as well, that wanted a sequel, but most of them wanted the remake. I said, 'Let's do the remake and then we'll do a sequel.' Marketing-wise, it did make sense. So, finally, when Citadel Films came to me with a good offer, I realized that they really respected the title, respected the movie and would get the best out of it. They did a really fine job. I don't expect it to be a mirror image of the original, but it has its own power and it stands on its own merits.
Do you have a script for the sequel then, or is it something you're still working on?
Meir Zarchi: It is written, yes. There is a great chance that Citadel and Anchor Bay will have the first priority to do that.
Is there anything you can say about how the story forms for the sequel?
Meir Zarchi: All I can tell you is that it is some years later and Jennifer Hills has written an autobiography, in which she conveys the details of everything that she went through, the rape and the revenge, how she survived, and, obviously, if there was a trial, what happened to her at the trial. Was she exonerated or not? The book becomes a tremendous best-seller and, obviously, the people in the little village where the events took place, are infuriated. She belittled them, so they get up in arms and seek retribution.
That sounds awesome.
Meir Zarchi: That's all I can tell you so far (Laughs).
I spoke with Chad Lindberg from the remake recently and he talked about how great it was to hear all of your stories from making the first movie. Can you talk about being on the set of the remake and watching this story come to life again?
Meir Zarchi: Yeah, it was a very surrealistic feeling, to be there. It's like a deja vu, going back 34 years ago. It was beautiful to see how the director, Steven R. Monroe, handled the scenes and handled the actors and the beautiful discipline of the crew and the entire engine, so to speak. It was beautiful to be there. I enjoyed every moment of it.
That's about all I have for you, Meir. Thank you so much for your time and best of luck with the sequel.
Meir Zarchi: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure speaking with you.