by Valerie Thompson
For years, the film I Spit on Your Grave has been met with a mix of indignation and curiosity. While controversies come and go, the unshakable Jennifer Hills remains as strong and resilient as ever. With I Spit on Your Grave Deja Vu‘s release earlier this year it only seemed right to speak with the woman who helped Jennifer become a part of horror immortality.
I’m really glad to talk to you, this is really such an honor. I chose to highlight Jennifer Hills because she is a survivor. I’ve written a piece about Jennifer Hills and why that character doesn’t get the respect that she deserves. Her name deserves to be mentioned up there with Laurie from Halloween and Nancy Thompson from Nightmare on Elm Street.
I think so yes.
And it’s no small part because Camille Keeton played her. I watched the documentary that Terry Zarchi did. That’s a great documentary. It was full of so much information.
I love that documentary.
I never knew that he’s one of the two children at the gas station.
He’s in Deja Vu too.
I didn’t know that.
He and his sister, where they’re looking for someone who got killed, I think the mother. That’s them.
I watched Deja Vu and didn’t even recognize them. Something that really struck me was how much you fought to be in this movie. You were sayng I want to be in this movie. I want this role.
Oh, that is exactly how I felt. I told the director if you don’t put me in this film, you will look back someday and say why didn’t I put Camile Keaton in this film. I used this psychology thing you know.
This was not easy material. Reading the script, you had to know this is going to be difficult.
Yes, I knew it would be a hard film.
I’m wondering. Did you talk to any people who experienced sexual assaults? Did you go into this cold?
I knew people who had these kinds of experiences, so the first time I saw the film I was in tears for Jennifer.
I had some close calls when I was young.
Have you reflected on how this film fits in society now and how your character fits within the #metoo era?
I can see how that can happen.
Going back to the actual filming of this movie how did you approach those scenes? This is utter vulnerability.
Well, we talked about them a lot. Every night we would go over what we were going to do the next day. Like the bathroom scene, we’d go over it and talk about it. It just worked out.
Did you try to keep your distance from the actors when the cameras weren’t rolling?
The guys hung out together. I didn’t hang out with anyone. I just kind of hung out with myself.
Some actresses would not see you or talk to you during filming and some actresses would be like it doesn’t matter.
Yeah, it didn’t matter.
And you have a background in Italian cinema to some extent.
This material must not have been as strange a concept after doing giallo. Coming over here probably wasn’t that much of a leap.
Well, I wanted to do an American film and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do I Spit On Your Grave. I had reservations about it. The films I did in Italy, they were all dubbed.
What Have you Done to Solange is a great giallo.
Yes, it was German Italian co- production and we filmed mostly in Italy and London, England. It was great fun.
It sounds amazing.
I was terrified but I mean it was great being in England and I had a lot of time to see some things. The first day of the shoot, that day I was really nervous. I didn’t quite get what the director said to me. He was speaking to me in Italian and I did it wrong. He screamed at me. I was thinking oh no. The dialogue coach who was bilingual said take a deep breath. I know you’ve got a lump in your throat. Relax, it’s the first day and everybody is nervous. What he wants you to do is run that way and look and then go over that way. I said oh, okay got it.
Well it seemed to work out.
Yeah. Everything was fine after that.
But that’s a great education to be in Italian cinema.
It was a great education, working with the director of that film. He worked very closely with the actors and he taught me a lot.
I can only imagine. I wanted to jump to another film which is Deja Vu. How much input did you have on ending Jennifer Hills?
I didn’t have any input.
Do you wish she had made it through the entire film?
Oh, of course yes.
I have to admit I was a bit heartbroken to lose her.
I didn’t want it to happen.
She had been through so much. I wanted her to make it again with her daughter.
It seems like they could have done it in a way she could have helped her daughter get revenge or something like that. It’s not what they wanted.
I personally would have watched another film with Jennifer. Were you aware they were going to introduce that story line about your daughter being Johnny’s child?
I knew she was going to get raped and get revenge.
There are not that many scenes of Jennifer and Christy together. I wish there had been.
I do too.
You two played off each other well. It would have been an intriguing concept to see Jennifer and her daughter both dealing with the situation.
That’s the way I saw it too. I didn’t like the script and it was already written.
It would have been interesting if you had been included more in the input of it. I would have loved to see what you brought to the film. Over the years, have you been approached by anyone who has been affected by this film? Anyone who has had a story related to or connecting with your character?
Yes, I was approached at a convention by this young lady. We talked for 30 minutes. She did most of the talking and she was crying. She said you have no idea how much that film means to me because that happened to me. I could really tell she had been through a lot. It made me prouder of being in this film. I was thinking it does have some redeeming qualities.
Many of the critics of this film have been men and, what I have argued for a very long time, what I argue in this piece that I’ve written is that they don’t see the world that we do. What Jennifer goes through is a real horror that women every day endure in the world.
And if we can have half the strength and courage that Jennifer does under those circumstances…She’s an icon to me. She’s a survivor.
It’s interesting now to see so many female critics and women writers getting a voice in horror criticism as well as discussions on horror changing the narrative to reflect how important I Spit On Your Grave is.
Sure. Yeah, I’ve noticed that.
I think it really is perspective. I think a lot of women are seeing the film as yeah this is real life. I think that’s the legacy of the movie.
Yeah, I think that a good point.
This is in no way glamorizing the subject. This is very realistic and very raw and it brings out emotions in people.
I was shocked the first time I saw it.
Did you see any dailies? When did you see the original film?
It was 77 or something like that.
You probably saw a rough cut. Did you see a finished edit?
It was pretty much a finished cut. It was before we moved to Los Angeles and that was in 1980. It might have been 78 or 79. I can’t remember. To see it is one thing, to be working in it is something else.
That must have been a surreal feeling to see yourself playing that role and going through that.
Yeah, it was. I can’t believe I’m watching myself up here and all this is happening to me and I’m doing things too. Some of those things, those are favorite scenes. I love watching those and I’m so proud that I did those.
You were learning on the fly.
What would you like for people to take away from this movie or your character in this movie?
I’d like for them to see that justice can be had. It was unlawful but she did get her justice. Whether she would get justice through the legal system is questionable.
Which is something I brought up in the article. I wrote we live in a time period, even now, it’s not very much different from the time when the film was made. Women are questioned. Women are asked what were you doing? You are to blame. The legal system is not a guarantee.
Yeah. I didn’t realize it was still like that.
It is to a large extent. We still have a long way to go.
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