Exclusive: Director Steven R. Monroe Talks I Spit on Your Grave
Sordid, explicit and violent subject matter has long generated big bucks at the box office (while tame in the eyes of modern audiences, Tod Browning’s Dracula is a prime example, having saved Universal Studios from impending bankruptcy upon its release in 1931). As the years have passed, studios have continued to siphon from the horror well, filling their coffers with revenue generated by an ever-evolving cadre of increasingly brutal horror titles from Hitchcock’s Psycho to Paramount Pictures’ Friday the 13th series and beyond. 1970’s independent filmmakers, too, realized the financial possibilities and stretched the boundaries of horror cinema with such shocking productions as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Last House on the Left and The Babysitter Murders (aka Halloween).
In recent years all of these horror titles have been remade and released theatrically with varying degrees of success. Platinum Dunes lucratively re-explored Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw concept as well as the Victor Miller-penned shenanigans at Camp Crystal Lake, Lionsgate dusted off the cult flick My Bloody Valentine, Dimension Films revisited not-so-successfully John Carpenter’s slasher-template Halloween and Rogue Pictures courageously updated Wes Craven’s sadistic foray into horror, The Last House on the Left.
One title however remained seemingly too depraved to revisit: filmmaker Meir Zarchi’s 1978 rape-revenge grindhouse shocker I Spit on Your Grave. Maligned by many as an exercise in misogynist exploitation and over time heralded by some as a post-feminist film, the movie has remained a ‘hot-button’ topic, from its visually powerful poster art (possibly featuring a partially exposed and abused Demi Moore clutching a bloodied knife) to its all-too-real threat of gang-rape at the hands of the boys next door, and the subject matter has long been believed simply too gratuitous to be palatable to today’s audiences. But on October 8th of this year that will be put to the test as Zarchi’s produced remake of his own film (as directed by horror auteur Steven R. Monroe) will release theatrically to American audiences, and in a ballsy move by distributor Anchor Bay Entertainment, it will do so without an MPAA rating.
Written by Stuart Morse and based on Zarchi’s original screenplay, the impending I Spit on Your Grave update stars actress Sarah Butler as Jennifer Hills, a big-city writer who rents a lakeside house in rural Louisiana in order to pen a novel, only to find herself receiving the unwanted attention of four socially, sexually and economically frustrated country boys, who set out to teach her a lesson. As in the original, the tables eventually do turn, although Monroe’s remake features a few new twists and, in this writer’s estimation, while entirely brutal, communicates sub-textual undercurrents the original did not.
Director Monroe (who previously shepherded the horror flicks It Waits and House of 9, among others) sat down with Dread Central recently to discuss the film at length and to give not only his thoughts on the challenging production but also his feelings on test audiences’ response, his initial interest in tacking the subject matter and more.
“I grew up in the film business,” said the 45-year-old Monroe on his decision to tackle the redux, “so I was seeing intense films when I was very young. When I saw the original I Spit on Your Grave, it stayed with me, and I felt kind of ‘off’ for a couple of days, and to me when that happens there’s something to be said about the filmmaking and the film itself. When a film completely sucks and you feel like it shouldn’t have been made, you are done with it, but that didn’t happen when I saw the original. As I got older and as a filmmaker, and as I watched it over and over throughout the years, I saw a lot of things that I felt could really be updated and redone with the film, and realized that –- and Meir and I had these conversations –- the style of the filmmaking to me was very different than what I like. The fact that he had the guts to make such a story into a film was what was impressive. So it felt to me that in this day and age of things getting remade left and right, which is going to happen no matter what, because as long as people are going to put their butts in the seats, the studios are going to do remakes, we as filmmakers can either embrace it and try to make sure that they get done well, or we can leave it to people that’ll just make shit.”
“So I started to think about films that I thought could get remade, and I Spit was kind of on my list,” Monroe offered. “Of course I had other films on my list that shouldn’t be touched, like Straw Dogs [writer’s note: director Rod Lurie’s remake of that Sam Peckinpah film is now positioned for a 2011 release] and The Wild Bunch – films that you can watch now and they aren’t dated at all.”
Rogue Pictures' 2009 remake of The Last House on the Left is of course brought up, given the film’s similar subject matter to I Spit on Your Grave, and Monroe was queried on his reaction to the film, a flick which was embraced for the most part by audiences unfamiliar with the original as well as fans of it.
"People have asked me about my thoughts on the remake of that film, and that microwave scene bothered the shit out of me,” said Monroe, referring to the final scene of Last House. “It felt like the studio decided to add that to the end. I don’t know if that’s the case or not, but it didn’t feel like it was part of the same movie. My only other problem was that I felt like some of the bad guys were a little cartoonish, and what I wanted to make sure with I Spit on Your Grave was that the bad guys are believable. I felt like I was watching a movie with The Last House remake, whereas with I Spit I feel like the bad guys (as they are portrayed) are guys I’ve met, I’ve seen, and that I’ve talked to.”