Interview: Meir Zarchi, ‘I Spit on Your Grave’

In a recent interview with Meir Zarchi, the horror director spoke openly throughout about the film that sealed his place in cult film history, whilst also explaining how his passion for cinema is still going strong, thirty two years on from making his cult classic I Spit on Your Grave (1978), or Day of the Woman as he calls it himself. What was meant to be only a fifteen minute interview quickly became an hour long conversation and could have quite easily gone on all night…

Russell Cook: Firstly and most importantly, what was your inspiration for Day of the Woman or, as it is better known, I Spit on Your Grave, and why did you feel it was necessary to depict the scenes of rape and violence in such detail?

Meir Zarchi: OK. We’re talking about something that happened a long time ago and is still with me today. I was about 39 at the time. I came across a girl as I was driving home. She looked like the living dead, like a zombie. She was bloody and covered in mud. She had been raped. I still feel the impact of this today. This could have been my sister or even your sister. How do you respond to something like that? Do you let a judge decide how to deal with these people in a court?! No, you get angry. The most human elements kick in; self preservation and a desire for justice. The only real justice is true revenge and that is what this film is about.

RC: How do you feel about the response made by film critics like Roger Ebert, who labelled I Spit on Your Grave as a “vile bag of garbage” and as a film “without a shred of artistic distinction” that lacks even “simple craftsmanship”?

MZ: I love that man! He was the single best promoter of this picture that ever existed. If Mr Ebert had not reacted in the way he did this film may not have been so successful. So how can I not love him? I do truly respect him though, he is a great man who knows film and loves film. I also know that Mr Ebert will be there for the film’s release of the remake of Day of the Woman.

RC: What would you say to those who see I Spit on Your Grave as a ‘misunderstood feminist film’ (Michael Kaminski – Obsessed with Film, 2007), and would you agree with this view?

MZ: I would say that it is misunderstood to those who misunderstand it. If you do not understand what a film is doing, or why it is doing it you will misunderstand its overall purpose. Film is subjective, and everybody is entitled to their own opinion on it. It comes down to taste. So regardless of what I meant to say or do with my film, a person’s own understanding of it is what counts. We all take into account our own taste, whether we are watching film or listening to music. For example, I love classical music. I listen to it all day long, every day. However, I do not like Mozart or Bach. I am a primitive guy – their music does not impassion me – they do not do anything that makes me feel something, and for me that is everything. So with a film, like Day of the Woman, an audience will understand it based on their own inferences.

RC: How much influence on contemporary film do you think that I Spit on Your Grave has had? Do you think the films’ legacy is visible anywhere in modern day cinema?

MZ: Well, I have to stay humble about this. I can only go by what other people tell me or say about the film. It has been said that Day of the Woman changed the way women were represented on-screen. It made it possible for films like The Accused (1988), and even Thelma and Louise (1991) to come to the forefront of cinema. It could be argued that Day of the Woman, made it possible for film to depict women behaving in the most primal of human ways by enforcing their own form of revenge, even if that means them being portrayed as sadistic. This film opened a lot of doors.

RC: Since making I Spit on Your Grave have any films shocked you in the way that your film still shocks many today?

MZ: Shocked, no. Perhaps that is the wrong word for my own response to film. But I have seen some truly terrible movies. In fact I recently saw Inception (2010) and I didn’t even make it half way through the film before choosing to leave the theatre. It made me feel sick for days, like food poisoning or something. It did not shock me but it certainly had an unsettling effect upon me. Another film I saw recently was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), and even this did not shock me. However, it was very powerful. Many people have told me that they see the influence of Day of the Woman upon that movie – particularly during the scenes of rape – which is very flattering indeed.

RC: What do you think film should do for its audience? What kind of impact should it have: should it merely be a means of entertainment or should it sometimes serve a more meaningful purpose?

MZ: Good question. It depends. Sometimes, I want to come home after a hard day and just see a half stupid movie – something to refurbish my mind – I want to escape. Then there are other moments where I want to look for a good movie, something that will get me through an experience and take me on a journey. I want to be absorbed by that movie and be taken into somebody else’s reality and feel what they feel. I think it is important for film to do this as it generates empathy and understanding within people. I do not always want to escape, I want to feel something powerful even if it upsets me and unsettles me.

RC: How do you feel about the film being remade, and why now?

MZ: I never dreamt it would be remade. I always envisaged some sort of sequel, but I never imagined it would be remade. I am very flattered by it. Also, to be involved as an executive producer was great but there was a limit to what I could and could not do; the main producers were to always have the final say; that is how it works…I was contacted and told that a company were very interested in remaking Day of the Woman, and that they had the intention of also making a sequel. I think the remake will make it possible for a sequel now.

RC: Finally, how do you think people will respond to it?

MZ: My honest answer is, I don’t know. But I do know that the remake will breathe new life into the legacy of the original – in fact they will feed from one another – and bring the film to the attention of the public once more.

Russell Cook