Eastman, Rodney (I Spit on Your Grave - Remake)
Concerning Dread Central’s 11/26 news item regarding CineTel’s Day of the Woman remake, this scribe caught up with actor Rodney (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 & 4) Eastman early last week, who confirmed his casting in the film.
Eastman also confirmed actors Chad Lindberg (as ‘Matthew’), Daniel Franzese (as ‘Stanley’), Sarah Butler (as the abused lead ‘Jennifer’), Jeff Branson (as ‘Johnny’), Saxon Sharbino (as ‘Chastity’), Andrew Howard (as the film’s sheriff, a character which didn’t feature in the original), and Amber Dawn Landrum; and he also provided us an extensive interview regarding the rape-revenge flick.
Having wrapped November 22nd in Shreveport, Louisiana (the film kicked off principal photography November 1st) under the watchful eye of director Steven R. Monroe from a script by Stewart Morse, the CineTel Films/Anchor Bay Entertainment remake is being executive produced by Meir Zarchi, who served as the original film’s writer and director.
“I was familiar with it only in name,“ said Eastman of the original film (which was released in 1978 under the title Day of the Woman, and then re-released in 1980 as I Spit On Your Grave), who accepted the role of one of the film’s rapists based on Morse’s scripted re-tool - before ever having seen Zarchi’s original. Prior to shooting, the actor did seek out the original flick, however, and Dread asked him what his response was to the exploitation classic (which is oddly heralded by some as a post-feminist film, but more on that later).
Centering around the character of New York Times writer Jennifer Hills (essayed originally by actress Camille Keaton), who in an attempt to finish her first novel rents a summer cabin away from the bustle of the city only to wind up the victim of a brutal gang-rape at the hands of a local quartet of rural thugs, the original film generated considerable controversy. Film critic Roger Ebert went so far as to describe it as “a vile bag of garbage” upon its initial release.
“That’s a tough question to answer,” said Eastman regarding his response to the film. “With all due respect to Mier, I thought that after watching the first film that it was really of the era (in which it was made). It was pretty exploitative. I thought though that there were a lot of devices in it that worked really well. The rape sequences were really effecting. I don’t feel like this will be offensive to Meir at all, as he’s involved in the new production, but the real feeling I came away with was that we had an opportunity to do a remake of a property that could be better than the original, and how often does that happen in the horror genre, or in any genre for that matter?”
As for whether or not he sees the property as a vehicle for female empowerment – writer Michael Kaminski in 2007 posited the flick as a “Misunderstood Feminist Film,” and the debate continues within genre circles, Eastman said, “The only way I can see them as seeing it as positive is that I wasn’t expecting to see her (‘Jennifer’) use her sexuality in order to draw the men in for her revenge. I can see the post-feminist movement latching on to (that). In horror to this day, most of the female victims in films are total eye-candy, so I think that her using her sexuality in order to turn the tables (on her attackers) is effective, but that’s certainly not the case in our film.”
According the Eastman, actress Sarah Butler as ‘Jennifer’ employs an altogether different strategy in luring her attackers to their demise and spikes her vengeful recipe, too, with the added addition of torture (given the increasingly brutal nature of modern horror cinema, we’re not surprised to hear this).
“Without spoiling it, this is where the film will really connect with horror fans,” said the actor. “I haven’t done a horror film in twenty-five years, and what was appealing to me about this project is that it really does read as a hard-core psychological drama, and the final act of the film will definitely appeal to gore fanatics because the revenge that she dishes out is super-gory. There’s definitely going to have to be a director’s cut on the
DVD version of this, because they are going to have to trim the film in order to get it below NC-17 (for the flick’s theatrical release). All of the characters' deaths involve a high level of torture, and she’s definitely not nice about the way she puts us down. I mean, obviously, we are the bad guys, but the way she goes about her revenge should also leave the audience wondering, ‘Who’s worse?’”
Dread questioned Eastman as to the degree of emotional disturbance he sustained in playing one of the film’s rapists – bestial characters to be certain - given the sheer brutality required of the role, and surprisingly he told us that in ways he found it somehow cathartic.
“As an actor it was the most emotionally challenging work that I’ve ever done,” mused Eastman. “Something that happened that’s hard to put into words… immediately following the sequences where we sexually brutalized the lead character, I felt like throwing up and would have an overwhelming feeling of disgust, but in five minutes it would be replaced by this sort of actor’s elation. There were many times I forgot that I was in a movie and would be completely off in my character, and as an actor that’s what I’m always shooting for -- to really be involved in the reality of the scene we were shooting, and that happened repeatedly. I think every actor on this film elevated one another, and I think we all challenged one another to bring our ‘A’ games.”
As for getting to that dark place, Eastman told us that, “Anger and rage coupled with perversion are all emotions everyone has deep within them, but we rarely have permission to release them. This is going to sound strange, but it’s very similar to grief. When a tragedy happens, like when a loved one dies, you really try to hold those tears in, but once they start coming, that’s it, you’re done, and they aren’t going to stop until they’ve run their course. So when I would get into the fold, and have to play violence, and once I connected with that violence, I couldn’t really fake it.”
With the film wrapped, Eastman reflected that he now though is “the most mellow guy on the planet (because of those scenes). I got to let out so much anger in this film that I am now so sedate. It was therapeutic. To be able to go to set everyday and to be able to release your darkest demons in a safe place and have permission to do so is a rare opportunity.”
As emotionally challenging as Eastman found his role, Dread’s pretty sure Sarah Butler’s role of ‘Jennifer’ proved to be even more so and was curious as to the nature of Eastman’s relationship with the actress on and off camera, given the violence inherent to the script.
“We were all in a hotel just outside of Shreveport,” Eastman said of the actors’ accommodations, “and there was really nothing for us to do except to hang out together, so the five of us – the four male leads and Sarah – hung out off-set everyday, and I have to say that she is incredible. I think in terms of acting chops, and in going to those dark places, I’ve never seen a bigger fucking trooper on a movie set. She would just get brutalized, and thirty seconds later she’d stand up, dust herself off and say, ‘Let’s go. Let’s do another one.’ I never heard a complaint from her once.”
“I think her biggest challenge – from my perspective - was to switch from victim to victimizer,” continued Eastman. “We were lucky enough for the most part to shoot the film in sequence, and getting pushed around for two weeks has got to make someone pretty angry, but the first day we were shooting her revenge sequences, Sarah didn’t scare me. I didn’t see the range coming out of her, and we all had a discussion about her anger, and every guy in the room had an opinion about how she should play it, and I guess we pushed her buttons, because I was the first torture of the day, and she fucking scared me! She continued to scare the rest of the male performers for the rest of the shoot too. She really got it, and so did we!”
So is the remake simply a joy-ride into perversion, or will the film convey a subtext of social responsibility?
“This isn’t like a good ol’ boy’s romp in the woods,” clarified Eastman. “I think where we were able to demonstrate some social conscience, is that from the top, we all were instructed to play this as real as possible. Ninety-five percent of the film is shot hand-held (on the Red camera system, lensed by director of photography Neil Lisk), and the footage has a super documentary, sort of verite style. The rape sequences are unflinching and dark and hard to watch and super disturbing. And where the responsibility comes in, is that they (the antagonists) don’t get away (with their crime). You see the relationships of the four male leads breaking down, and the effect of their actions on their lives. They have their cake but certainly don’t get to eat it too. There’s a high price to be paid, whether it be administered by society or by Jennifer as an individual.”
In keeping with the realism, the actor tells us that the production team chose practical effects over computer generated ones for the most part as well, with Jason Collins of Autonomous FX providing a plethora of squirm-inducing practical gags – and one final act gag that's an over-the-top mixture of the two, which we can’t reveal here.
“There’s some real acting going on in this film,” concluded Eastman, who to this day is thankful for his place in horror cinema. “I think it will shock people for all of the typical reasons, and then for reasons that they don’t expect. We wanted to make this as real and ugly as possible, and I think that’s what we’ve done. I’m proud to be in this movie – the acting, the script, the social message – I’m proud to be part of I Spit On Your Grave. This is probably the most satisfying film I’ve worked on in twenty-four years as an actor.”
Check out an exclusive image below taken by Daniel Franzese and look for more on this film very, very soon!
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