I was fortunate enough to have an extensive, and very candid, conversation with Meir Zarchi, the director of the original I Spit On Your Grave, aka Day of the Woman. We discussed the new DVD and Blu-ray release of his original film here in the UK, the attendant censorship issues, and how the upcoming remake version differs in both structure and subtext. He also tells a story about his trip to the UK to defend the film on television at the height of our “Video Nasties” scandal.
I was going to blend this interview with a review of the new Spit Blu-ray and its many special features, but I thought it a better idea to give Meir as much space as possible and will instead follow up with that review later.
Now. From here on out, it’s all Meir Zarchi, and it’s interesting stuff.
I was in England 27 years ago. In 1983 I was invited to go to Newcastle Upon Tyne for a live TV show called Friday Night Live. They were having a discussion and debate about “Video Nasties”. They invited guests from literature, movies, politics, etcetera and had a debate on the effect of “Video Nasties” on people, especially the young.
They called me a week in advance and told me they would like to invite me, all expenses paid, to discuss this issue. I looked at my calendar and had to say, “You know what, the day you are broadcasting this is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, and I’d rather not do it that day. Can you reschedule it?”
They said, “No, it’s already set, and a lot of people would be there”. They had invited a woman called Joan Austin and they said “She blames you for her son raping two women, he saw the movie I Spit on Your Grave and he blames you for what he did, so if you don’t come they’ll think that you’re trying to evade it.”
I told them “I’ll let you know”, and I called God on my special connection and said “God, God, they called me to come on the most revered Jewish holiday” and he said “Go, go my son, go. It’s a mother and mothers are holy people”.
48 hours before departing New York City, I had my crew, my people, my staff in the office, and a lot to prepare. A lot of work. I finally left on the red eye and when I finally reached Heathrow at 6am in the morning I was totally exhausted and delirious. Getting off of the plane, I saw some paparazzi and some journalists, and a friend of mine, Tim Myers, who used to write for The Sun. He came with his wife to get me and we took a plane to fly to Newcastle Upon Tyne, and when we got there, I saw a lot of paparazzi and newspaper people and TV, and I looked behind me to see who was the celebrity they were aiming at. And Tim said, “It’s you, it’s you”.
We arrived at the hotel and they told me “The show is on in 2 and a half hours” and I said “Then let me go and have at least a nap, I have to shower and refresh myself”. I went into my room, I collapsed on the bed with my clothes on and five minutes later, the telephone rings. “Mr. Zarchi, they need you downstairs. It’s an emergency. Joan Austin is waiting for you in the lobby”.
As I went downstairs, cameras were flashing, everybody was around me, light glaring into my eyes, and finally when I got my vision clear I saw Mrs. Austin sitting there in the lobby looking at me. I don’t know what made me do so, but I went to her and I hugged her and I kissed her, and she hugged me and she kissed me and we talked and became the best of friends.
The next day, all of the newspapers announced, “Meir Zarchi, the director of I Spit On Your Grave met with the mother who blamed him and they clashed and yelled at each other.” Obviously, nothing of this sort had happened.
Ten minutes after Joan Austin and I began talking, she told me “I’ll tell you the truth. You are nothing to do with what my son has done. He was 16, 17 years old and he was bad since he was 12, all the time getting involved with crime, he’s given me nothing but headaches and problems, but I’m the mother, and I needed something to blame so I blamed you.”
What I’ve just told you, I did mention on the show, when they were interviewing me. I didn’t want to hurt her but I did say that she had told me that her son was not at his best behavior before. I put it bluntly, but in a nice way.
Usually I take the British people to be very intelligent. I like the Brits, I love the British people but the censorship of I Spit On Your Grave there is artificial prudishness and immaturity. It’s like what happened with DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. That history, they keep repeating it.
I could say “Either they show my film in full or I don’t release it there at all” but I think even if it’s cut, it’s better to have the British people exposed to it even partially than not being exposed to it at all. I resent the cuts but it was seven and a half minutes cut, now it’s two and a half minutes cut and maybe it could come out in five years, say, and they’ll allow its full version. I haven’t seen new version with the new cuts yet.
It’s very peculiar. I know that they cut more mainly from the rape scenes than they did from the revenge. I don’t understand why – in the revenge scenes she’s naked and using her sexuality. Her crawling away in the rape scene I think is a horrifying scene – how can you touch this kind of scene? It seems like these bureaucrats are trying to justify their position, they’re afraid to be unemployed, so they have to do something. They can’t even justify why they’re doing it. Nothing bad would happen in Britain if they left the whole movie untouched.
A long time ago I owned a huge movie theatre in New York. 1,350 seats in New York City. I said, “Rather than have a movie theatre that will play ten thousand movies, I’d rather make one movie that will play in ten thousand theatres”. I have financed my own movies, I’m my own distributor, I’m my own everything. All I cared to do was one movie, but I’ve done two of them.
People come to me from time to time and offer me a good chunk of money to be the director of whatever screenplay they have, and I look at the scripts and they’re garbage, garbage, garbage. Making a movie it has to be something you can put your devotion and soul into. Luckily, finance has never been a problem for me. I never needed to make movies as a source of income.
I did not finance the remake, I was paid for the rights for them to be able to make the movie and I also functioned as executive producer. I was involved, literally from A to Z, with the entire process of making this movie, including the four drafts of the script and the editing but the final word was not mine. I could give them suggestions – some of them they accepted, some of them they did not. Having seen the final movie, I’m happy with the results, even though it’s a bit different in one important aspect to the original…
In essence, in the original she lures and traps the culprits with her sexuality and sensuality. It’s not that way in the remake. I don’t want to go into it and spoil it for people but I agree that tonally the films are very different. There’s no mention at all in the remake of men vs. women, or of how the sexes blame each other. There are lots of other small insinuations that are not even touched in the remake.
They asked me if I would like to direct the remake, various other companies that wanted to do the remake before, and I said “I can’t outdo myself”. But what they’ve done with the remake is they’ve tilted it more towards the more obvious elements of the horror genre. The first half, I think, adheres more to the original but the second half is more comparable to Saw or whatever.
Audiences should definitely go and see the remake and compare the two movies for themselves. I have a stake in it, but my opinion is not important at all. I’m not the guy who pays his ten dollars to see the movie. I think from now on, the original and the remake will feed from each other. You say that the original will keep going, and that’s true. Now that the remake is made it will bring attention to the original.
I hope he’s right. 101 Films have released I Spit on Your Grave to UK DVD and Blu-ray in the most complete form to ever pass the BBFC. Of course, this is far from ideal but it certainly remains a very tough and distressing experience, with all of its ideas still coming across loud and clear.