Steven R. Monroe Talks the Aftermath of I Spit on Your Grave and More!
DC: Some of the stuff you’ve done in the last few years has shown up on Syfy. Was working for them a good experience?
SRM: Yes and no. They were very tight budgets, very tight schedules, and their huge expectations are hard, but I like challenges. It kind of happened on accident though. I did one film that Syfy picked up as an original movie and they really liked it. Cinetel, who does a lot of Syfy stuff and also did I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, saw that and asked me to do one of them and then one turned into another and another and another. It’s a lot of fun because you’re dealing with stuff that is fun and exciting and intentionally doesn’t take itself too seriously, even though, unfortunately, people take them seriously and don’t get it, you know? [laughs] So, those are kind of the downfall of those.
The problem that happens is that you go in as a director and you’re hired to deliver a TV movie for the Syfy channel, but the people who made the film sent it to television on Syfy domestically and then sell it as a feature film overseas. So, when people rent the DVD, it’s not really presented as a Syfy channel movie, and that’s where I start to take heat for it. “Look at the crap this guy’s directed and now he’s doing I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE.” Do you know what I mean? So, it’s been pluses and minuses because it is a lot of fun and it offers good challenges… I mean, you get to deal with CG and monsters. It’s like being a kid in a candy store if you’re a filmmaker - you’re playing around with blood and you’re playing around with creatures and all kinds of fun things. However, there is a backlash to it, but whatever. You’ve got to brush it off and keep going.
DC: I just read about a Syfy movie called Piranhaconda.
SRM: Yeah. [laughs] Luckily, I haven’t done any of those combo things [laughs]
DC: Someone needs to take Roger Corman aside and say, “Ok, I think you’re done now.”
SRM: Again, this is something I wish people would get a little better… Everyone gets so worked up, but why this is such a big thing now is because SHARKTOPUS was huge. It was huge! So, that’s huge and that’s why producers are going to make a bunch more because everybody loved that and watched it. I love genre fans because I get the passion, but a lot of times they’re their own worst enemy.
DC: Well, I think people forget that sometimes you have to sacrifice a little revenue for quality. I mean, when genre films are good… they’re really good. But the genre often draws people who are either not talented enough to pull it off or they go after a quick payday.
SRM: Look, make no mistake… When I go and do television movies, I am not getting rich on those. [laughs]
DC: I’m curious, which of your films are you most proud of?
SRM: There are three of them. There’s HOUSE OF 9, which is a feature film that I did which has a little bit of an interesting back story to it. We did it in 2004. We were shooting at the same time as the original SAW was. When we finished shooting, the producers had a little bit of financial problems during post-production, so ours didn’t get released for about a year and a half. In that time SAW got released and the producers saw all the money that SAW made and decided to market HOUSE OF 9 as a SAW… which it wasn’t. It was not a horror film. It was not a torture/gore fest. It was a psychological thriller. So horror fans went berserk slamming it saying, “This is the most boring piece of crap I’ve ever seen in my life. People sit around and just talk.” [laughs] But, it’s had a very long life. If you look on IMDB, it’s still up there. It has as many hits as studio films has. I’m proud of it because I like the way it turned out. I have a handful of issues with it that I’ve never been able to get over because that’s just kind of the way I work. You’ll never hear me say, “I love that film. It’s perfect.” [laughs] There’s that one that I’m happy with… I am proud of a lot of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, and I’m proud of a little tiny, tiny little drama that I did called COMPLACENT. It’s on Netflix now.
DC: That’s a straight-up drama, right?
SRM: It’s a straight-up drama. It’s a little bit of a dark comedy, also. It’s just kind of a satirical dramatic look at horrible white suburban married couples and how they treat each other. [laughs] Just how Americans like that live in a little bubble in their own world.
DC: Let’s talk I Spit On Your Grave for a little bit. What drew you to the film? Were you a fan of the original movie?
SRM: I wouldn’t say that I was a fan, but it was one of those films - I saw it in 1980 - and it just kind of stayed with me for days and days. It was always one of those films that I would go back and say, “That film had a really disturbing effect on me.” I always have a lot of respect for filmmakers (no matter when it was) that go out and… That was at a time when you’d go raise some money and make a film as a filmmaker. You didn’t have ten producers looking over your shoulder saying, “You can do this. You can’t do that shot. You can’t let the actor act like this.” Meir Zarchi made a film that was very important to him and close to him and didn’t really care what anybody was going to say about it and I have a lot of respect for that. [laughs]
So, when I heard they were remaking it, I kind of stumbled on it. I was doing a television movie for Cinetel, and Neil Elman, one of the producers, has the Millennium Edition of the DVD sitting on his desk, and I said, “What the hell is this doing here?” I knew everyone there and none of them was watching it. [laughs] I asked to direct it and kind of lobbied for it for about a year while they were getting the first draft of the script together. They gave me the job, and it was a combination of a couple of things that interested me: The films of the ’70s were iconic to me and I liked the idea of remaking something from that time. I’m very attracted to dark and disturbing themes because to me that’s dramatic content and I am really, really attracted to dramatic content. Honestly, there was also a fear that this was going to be a low budget, small remake; and I wanted to get my hands on it so hopefully it could get done properly or at least get done well because I think there are a lot of people out there who don’t really care so much about how something comes out. They’re more concerned with doing what they want to do with it.
DC: Given the film’s subject matter, did you feel the need to tread lightly?
SRM: No. It was the exact opposite. When I met with Lisa Hansen and Paul Hertzberg telling them what I would do with it, I said to them, “I’m hoping you guys aren’t planning on backing off on anything because that’s not what I would want to do with it.” And they said, “No… no. We want to stay very true to it, and as a matter of fact, we want to amp up all the revenge scenes.” Their perspective at Anchor Bay was that the new horror fans that will come out to see this would be expecting it.
DC: Having heard of the film’s reputation and the buzz surrounding it.
SRM: Yeah, yeah… And also just, in this day and age, what people are more used to now and let’s face it… The original wasn’t really a horror film. It got embraced by the horror audiences when it got banned and came out on VHS. The revenge sequences in that movie - except for the great bathtub scene with Johnny - were really quick. They started and were over with really quick. They wanted to make a lot more out of it, and I said, “I don’t want to back off on anything in it.” So, that was kind of my mentality and they went with it even with me saying, “The way I want to shoot it is going to make it even more raw and more disturbing. We’re not going to have flowing steadicam shots and dolly shots [laughs] and things like that. And it’s not going to be shot like the original.” Meir liked to put the camera back and make things very theatrical and let it see everything almost like it were playing out on a theater stage. I felt like the camera had to be a character and be in there and be experiencing what she’s experiencing.
DC: The revenge stuff in your film is so satisfying. [laughs] Such a great job. [laughs]
SRM: I’ve tried to explain this and it’s been misunderstood a couple of time and some other people have completely gotten it, but the second half of the film - the revenge stuff - is almost a little bit of a fantasyland. You have to embrace that to not misunderstand it. It’s almost in the head of anyone who has had someone close to them - anyone’s mother or daughter or wife or sister - have something like this happen to… or the person it’s happened to. Everyone’s gone to this place in their head. “What would I do to these people?” I don’t care who the person is. I don’t care if you’re religious. [laughs] You’ve gone there. You’ve thought these things, and whether you’ve acted on them or not is a completely different ballgame.
DC: Tell me about your cast.
SRM: I got really lucky. It was the first time in my career that I actually got each person that I wanted in the film. Right off the bat, at my first meeting, I said, “We can’t put ‘a name’ in this movie. We can’t have a female celebrity play this lead.” There was talk about it on and off initially and luckily it went the other way. I said, “We really need to do open casting and find someone without a name.” Sarah Butler was actually the second or third initial cold audition tape that I saw, and within seconds of her audition I knew she was the one, and I just had to go and convince the producers and distributors that she was right for it. The guys… it was the same thing. Jeff Branson, I think, the second take of his audition I knew he was Johnny. Chad Lindberg just completely knocked Matthew out of the park. He couldn’t have done more exactly how I saw Matthew in my head, you know? We used to say he was a combination of a twelve-year-old boy and Billy Bibbitt [from ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST]. It was that kind of combo. Daniel Franzese and Rodney Eastman… Rodney actually came in last. That was the only role we were having a problem casting. He shared a manager with someone we’d already cast and they said, “Why don’t you look at his demo reel?” I looked at it and I said, “Oh, yeah… I know who he is. He’s perfect for it.” And that was pretty much everybody. Andrew Howard… Lisa Hansen is friends with him and when we were having trouble casting Andy, she said, “Look, my friend Andrew… I could get him to do this. Look at him for Andy.” I watched a film he had done, and within twenty minutes I sent Lisa an email and I said, “I see him as Sheriff Storch not Andy.” It took Lisa about two weeks and she suddenly said, “Yeah, you’re right. He’d be perfect.”
DC: He’s great in the film.
SRM: Yeah, he’s amazing.
DC: What’s so great about his portrayal is that you see the family man and then you also see the brutality of what they do to her.
SRM: You see the life that he is an actor in, so to speak, and you also see what’s really deep down inside of him and you can watch the conflict sometimes. I told all of the guys… I said, “Yeah, you’re the bad guys, but I don’t want bad guys.” And this is something that I knew was going to be very polarized. I think people either get it or they don’t. People either go, “Those guys were all terrible. They’re bad actors. I hate them” or they’ll say, “You know what? They were really good. They were believable.” There was all this controversy all over the web with people going, “I don’t understand. Are you supposed to feel sorry for these guys?” I’ve answered it many times and I’ve said, “If you feel sorry for them, you feel sorry for them.” I said to all of the actors, “I want at least one beat from every one of you guys that makes people go, “I don’t know how to feel about this. There’s a human being in there. People aren’t born this way. They’re taught hate. They’re taught anger. They’re taught violence. So, you guys were all somebody else once when you were young. You all had parents who probably fucked you up.” [laughs] I really wanted that. I wanted that question there. Everyone wants a black or white answer morally… and there isn’t one in a film like this. I keep having to say this over and over again, “I don’t want to make films that people walk out being told how they’re supposed to feel.” I have no interest whatsoever in doing that.
DC: There’s never any twisting of the moustache in real life.
SRM: “Moustache curling” was the term I always used. [laughs]
DC: There’s always that part of someone that makes them human because no one is “evil.” And even with these guys, they may be hicks and they may be sort of ignorant, but…
SRM: It’s the life they grew up in. I tried to show that and, again and again, it’s really polarizing. It’s funny… You get one chunk of critics/reviewers saying, “Oh, he spent too much time on these guys. I don’t care about these guys” and you get other people going, “I want more back story on these guys!” You’ve got to find that fence to walk on. You’re remaking a movie so you’re following a blueprint, so there’s only so much you can do. I really honestly tried to and felt that you got their atmosphere. You didn’t have to have a scene where Johnny’s father goes up to his trailer and beats him up or anything. Do you know what I mean? You didn’t need that. You got it. You can see who these guys are and, if you have any intelligence, you know how people become hateful and violent.
DC: The film is available on DVD and Blu Ray from Anchor Bay. So, what is going on for you next? I read something about a film called Jabberwocky.
SRM: That’s done. That’s shot and done. We’re just finishing post production, and that’s a Syfy original movie.
DC: Is there anything you’re sort of eyeballing?
SRM: You know, I’m eyeballing a bunch of things. I just had one project that I was very excited about die because the Governor of Michigan pulled the plug on the tax incentives [laughs] which was a comedy. Everyone keeps telling me I can’t do comedy because that’s Hollywood. I was excited about it, but it obviously has funding problems now. I’ve got a couple of things that I’ve been offered, but they’re not done deals yet so unfortunately I can’t really talk about them. I’m being very careful about what my next feature film is. Again, that’s another reason why trying to keep a television career is important, too. You can stay working and keep yourself sane by also working in television, but being careful about what feature films you do. So, I’m kind of looking for that right thing and hoping a couple of these right things that are out there [laughs] come through.
Our thanks to Steven for taking so much time to speak with us. For more visit the official I Spit on Your Grave website.
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