Interview: Meir Zarchi, I Spit on Your Grave

Meir Zarchi (pronounced Myer Zarki) was the director of I Spit on Your Grave aka Day of the Woman (1978), which starred Camille Keaton, to whom he was married. He also directed, produced and wrote Don’t Mess With My Sister! (1985).

I spoke with him in late January 2011, in promotion for the re-release of “Spit” on to Blu-Ray and for the remake, which Meir executive produced. What can I say other than that this was one of the most unusual interviews I have ever done… it was a pleasure and an honor to talk to a cult legend, but strange in that he made every attempt to interview me instead!

DIscussions focus on “Spit”, but cover Zarchi’s biography, Times Square and his thoughts on critic Roger Ebert.

GS: Without getting too political, what was it like to grow up in Israel?

MZ: The most wonderful adventure of my life. To see the country being born, and having been born before the country was born… it was absolutely beautiful. Absolutely wonderful, I could write a whole book about it. Before we go on, can you tell me a little about yourself?

GS: Me? What would you like to know?

MZ: How did you get into reporting, interviewing, the website… where are you from originally?

GS: I’m from Wisconsin, and I’ve always been here. I don’t actually remember how I got this job. I know I was writing reviews, and the glorious Gregg Dumont offered me a job to write reviews and do interviews.

MZ: How old are you?

GS: I’m 30.

MZ: That’s fine. What city in Wisconsin are you from?

GS: Appleton.

MZ: Appleton, yes. That’s nice. Go ahead with the questions…

GS: You wrote the film on the subway on your way to your Times Square office. What work were you doing in Times Square?

MZ: I was there about a quarter of a century, twenty-five years. That was my business. I was running a production service there, doing production for films and post-production. Commercials, features, documentaries and the like… as well as producing “I Spit on Your Grave” and “Don’t Mess With My Sister” there.

GS: If you don’t mind my asking, you were married when you wrote this film, and ended up marrying the star, Camille Keaton. How did this happen?

MZ: Camille and I happened not during the filming, but probably during the editing. My marriage was, you could say, on the rocks a few years earlier. Obviously, Camille and I bonded while making the movie, and that’s how that happened, to give you a brief answer.

GS: Could the original film have been made with less nudity and explicit violence?

MZ: Why, Gavin, to appease who?

GS: Not to appease anyone… just do you feel personally that it could have been done?

MZ: Of course! I could have made the actors fully clothed as well. But that wouldn’t be reality. What would you prefer? Would you prefer to see the film with less nudity?

GS: No, not at all. My point is that with the way they remade it, toned it down, I think they took something away from the original.

MZ: Okay, that’s a nice comment. In other words, you agree with the way it was originally made rather than the remake?

GS: Absolutely.

MZ: Okay, that’s nice to know. I’m flattered to hear this. In what way did the remake take away the power of the original in your eyes? How did the lack of nudity and graphicness take away from it?

GS: First of all, you showed a more realistic rape scene, and that is disturbing. In the remake, I wasn’t disturbed at all. In your film, it was very powerful. I also liked how your film had the revenge be of a sexual nature. In the remake it’s just violence and gore. That’s okay, too, but I didn’t feel it had the same power.

MZ: It didn’t try to be exactly like the original. It stands on its own. But I can’t argue with you about which is more powerful. Some like the remake better, some prefer the original, you know? Obviously, I’m not going to give you my view of which is better or worse. Each stands on its own, and has its own merit. But I like to hear what you think, and I appreciate you speaking frankly about it.

GS: The area you filmed in was full of scorpions and snakes. Any incidents?

MZ: No, nobody was bitten. The only problems we had were with mosquitoes. We did see some snakes shed their layers, and saw some eagles… it’s their territory. Nobody was bitten, but we were very worried about this and scoured every area to make sure there were no animals. For example, when we had Camille walking in the marsh before the rape on the rock… she steps into muddy water that is usually flooded with snakes, but we chased them away. We shot it quickly, as quickly as we could. When we were shooting in the woods, Camille was bitten by thousands of mosquitoes. She couldn’t even work, but she didn’t want to go to the hospital. And, she came back after about two days and we continued with the shoot…

GS: You did end up bringing Camille to the emergency room at one point during shooting, didn’t you?

MZ: No. We wanted to take her to the emergency room, but no. We got some medicine, put it on her body, and that’s it. (At this point, someone is ringing the buzzer on Meir’s gate… he gets a little flustered.)

GS: Roman Polanski was a protege of your friend Alex Pfau…

MZ: Roman Polanski was a few years younger than Alex. Alex was a class or two ahead of Roman Polanski, and he would give advice to Roman and view his shots…

GS: And yet you clearly have taken a strong stand against rape. Obviously he is very talented, but do you have any thoughts on Roman Polanski?

MZ: Well, you know what happened in Hollywood… he was unable to control his whatever you call it. His tendencies. But he is still able to work, making movies in Europe. So, I don’t know if the charges mean anything to him. I’m sure he would love to come back here, and if he wants to, he will. The law wants him to pay retribution for the so-called crime. But who am I to judge? I don’t know. But I like his work, and I look forward to seeing any film he’s making.

GS: Can you relate your troubles with Wizard Video?

MZ: I don’t really want to go into it. Do you have the new DVD?

GS: Yes.

MZ: Did you see the interview with me?

GS: Yes, I did.

MZ: Perfect. So, whatever I said there, that’s what happened. There’s nothing to add to it beyond what I said in my taped interview.

GS: Okay, the only reason I ask is that you mention Wizard Video, but you never mention Charles Band by name. Was he involved?

MZ: Well… (laughs) How do you know it’s him? I didn’t mention it in the interview, and I would rather not mention it now, as well. You can guess who or what was behind it…

GS: “Don’t Mess With My Sister” has not fared as well as “Grave”… would you care to defend it?

MZ: What is there to defend?

GS: Well, defend might no be the right word, but what are people missing?

MZ: Well, it’s a different movie. You don’t expect your children to be the same, you don’t expect them all to be nice or to all be bad. It’s a totally different subject matter. The success is lacking, yes, but the film — also known as “Family Honor” — was sold all over the world, was released in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States multiple times. So, it had some success, and doesn’t have to be as successful as “I Spit on Your Grave”. That’s how it is.

GS: That’s all the questions I have today, Meir…

MZ: Come on, Gavin, you can fish out one more. (laughs)

GS: I don’t know if I have one… well, I guess you could tell me about conversations you had with Steven Monroe about what you wanted from the new movie.

MZ: No conversations whatsoever, really. Steven is a talented guy, soft-spoken. He hardly talks at all, everything he does is action. He’s smart and knew what he was doing. I tip my hat to him. He’s a hard-working guy, did the best he could, and he’s gutsy. It’s not easy to take the old film and redo it. No conversation whatsoever.

GS: I’m curious what your response would be to Roger Ebert?

MZ: Who is Roger Ebert?

GS: You don’t know Roger Ebert?

MZ: Tell me, who is Roger Ebert?

GS: He’s a movie critic…

MZ: I believe he’s the guy who “I Spit On Your Grave” made famous.

GS: That is probably true.

MZ: (laughs) That’s for sure! You know the beer, Schlitz?

GS: Yes, I do.

MZ: You know their old radio ads, that said “The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous”?

GS: Yeah.

MZ: “I Spit on Your Grave” is the movie that made Siskel and Ebert famous.

GS: So, you’re like Schlitz?

MZ: Well, the movie is like Schlitz, not me. (laughs) So what is the question about Ebert?

GS: I don’t have the exact quote in front of me, but basically he thinks the film is worthless, and he thinks the remake is worthless, too. (I’ve added sections of his review below for your reading enjoyment.)

MZ: I invite him to help me write “I Spit on Your Grave 2”. That’s the least I can do, I can do that. (laughs)

GS: I’m sure he would love that. Thanks, Meir!

MZ: Thank Gavin. I look forward to seeing this on the website.

Roger Ebert in July 1980 on the original:

“A vile bag of garbage… a movie so sick, reprehensible and contemptible… Attending it was one of the most depressing experiences of my life. This is a film without a shred of artistic distinction. It lacks even simple craftsmanship. I do not often attribute motives to audience members, nor do I try to read their minds, but the people who were sitting around me… were vicarious sex criminals. …at the film’s end I walked out of the theater quickly, feeling unclean, ashamed and depressed. There is no reason to see this movie except to be entertained by the sight of sadism and suffering.”

Roger Ebert in October 2010 on the remake:

He sums it up as a “despicable remake of the despicable 1978 film”.

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