May 3, 2019 Interview – Camille Keaton
Back in 1978, a film by the name of Day of the Woman made its way to rural drive-in theaters as part of a very limited release. Shocking and disturbing, it would not obtain any real distribution until a couple of years later when it was re-titled I Spit on Your Grave on its way to becoming one of the most controversial movies of all-time. Receiving a roasting at the hand of critics, the film became widely-known due to the surrounding negativity, and still remains infamous to this day.
Debatably a misunderstood production, the star of I Spit on Your Grave was a young actress by the name Camille Keaton, who at the time was making a name for herself in European genre films. Brave enough to take on the challenge of portraying Jennifer Hills, Keaton endured the backlash that surrounded I Spit on Your Grave, but never turned her back on the film or her role. That said, now a more mature lady, Keaton proudly returned to reprise her role in the official sequel, the recently released I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu.
Living up to its title, I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu is yet another chapter in the story that is not without controversy, yet it continues to create a buzz among the Horror community. Recently, Keaton took the time to chat about her beginnings as an actress, her decision to take the role in the original I Spit on Your Grave, the work behind the long overdue sequel, plus much more.
Cryptic Rock – Involved in entertainment for well over four decades, you have starred in a list of films. First tell us, what inspired you to pursue a career in acting?
Camille Keaton – I think it was when I was a small girl playing with paper dolls. At the time, you could make paper doll movie stars, but that came to an end over some lawsuits. Although, when I could make paper doll movie stars as a kid, I would say, “Oh gosh, I want to be her or wear that.” I said, I guess I have to be an actress and become a movie star!
Cryptic Rock – And you would go on to act and make a career for yourself. You would go on to star in a list of films, particularly in the Horror genre. Was that a conscious decision or did it unfold naturally?
Camille Keaton – It was something that unfolded naturally and picked me.
Cryptic Rock – Sometimes it happens that way. You have starred in a list of Horror related films, but around 1977 you were cast for your most well-known role, the part of Jennifer in I Spit on Your Grave. A very controversial film, how did the role come about for you?
Camille Keaton – They put an advertisement in Backstage. I called, made an appointment, and I went in to audition. I auditioned about three times, and I think they got it down to three actresses. The producer/director gained my trust, he told me what the movie was about, and he wanted to know if I would be able to do it. I was a little bit anxious about it, so I talked to him for a long time; there was a lot of trust there.
There were two other girls I was competing with, and I thought, “I really want to do this movie, I want to do an American movie.” At the time I had done Italian movies or Italian/German co-productions, and I wanted to do something American.
Cryptic Rock – Interesting. I Spit on Your Grave has become a classic and favorite for many fans. Often a misunderstood film, the character of Jennifer withstands a great deal of stress. What was it like playing Jennifer?
Camille Keaton – When you’re young like that you can handle things better – I wouldn’t be able to do that today. Physically it wasn’t that exhausting, it was more emotionally and mentally exhausting. It was just a job. If you’re a professional, you do a job. Everyone was professional and when the scene was over all of us went to our corners, or wherever we were hanging out, until we did the next take.
Cryptic Rock – It certainly sounds like you faced the challenges well. You would reprise the role of Jennifer in 1993 in the unofficial I Spit on Your Grave sequel, Savage Vengeance. What brought you back to the role?
Camille Keaton – They wanted to call it I Spit on Your Grave, but they couldn’t. I knew the director: he asked me if I wanted to be in the film, and I said okay, I know how to do that stuff.
Cryptic Rock – You have done many other films thereafter. Taking a break from film in the late ’90s into the 2000s, what brought you back to work in film in the new millennium?
Camille Keaton – What happened was I got married and I did one film when I was married, but for the most part I didn’t work in any movies. For the most part I didn’t work in any films during my marriage to Sidney Luft, and he passed in 2005. I thought, well, maybe I’ll go back to acting.
Cryptic Rock – So it picked right back up and you continued your journey as an actress. You have done other films beyond Horror, including Comedies. Do you enjoy the ability to play diverse roles?
Camille Keaton – I enjoy playing diverse roles. I enjoy doing Comedy and would like to do much more of that. Most of the time it’s either Horror or Thriller films, but I enjoy doing that too.
Cryptic Rock – It would be interesting to see you do different things.
Camille Keaton – Absolutely! I’m out here waiting for the opportunity to do that.
Cryptic Rock – You never know what will come out. The official sequel to I Spit on Your Grave, I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu, recently came out. When the idea came to you that there was going to be a new film, what were your thoughts?
Camille Keaton – I was really surprised because I had been on Meir Zarchi for about 30-35 years saying, “Why don’t you make a sequel to I Spit on Your Grave?” Finally I gave up, because it didn’t happen. Then one day I get this phone call, and what a surprise, we are going to do a sequel to the original film. Nothing shocked me more than that, because I figured by that time it wasn’t going to happen. (Laughs) I was happy they were going to do it, though.
Cryptic Rock – It was also a surprise to many fans, but it came out very well. It follows the original film, bringing the story into the 21st century. In this sequel, you reprise your role as Jennifer forty years later. You are dragged back into the past, but now have a daughter named Christy, played by Jamie Bernadette. What was it like working with her?
Camille Keaton – She’s just an exceptional actress and we got along fine. All the actors were really good; Maria Olsen was also good. We all got along fine, the three of us hung out together – Jamie, Maria, and myself. I think both Jamie and Maria have good careers ahead of them.
Cryptic Rock – Certainly. Both Jamie and Maria did a great job with their characters. The film was made around 3-4 years ago, so it took a while to come out. With that said, was there a level of anticipation among yourself and the other cast members wondering when it would be released?
Camille Keaton – We wondered about it a lot, yes. We talked about it and wondered when it would be coming out, and why it had not come out yet – but it finally did! Meir takes his time.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, and it is here now. In fact, the film is getting pretty positive reviews and topping charts on streaming platforms. How redeeming is that for you to see?
Camille Keaton – It feels great! I’m glad there are a lot of good reviews – I hope it keeps getting them.
Cryptic Rock – That is all very positive. Let’s look back on the original I Spit on You Grave for a minute. Obviously a very extreme and shocking film, what was the reaction from people in the industry to you after you played the role? Were there any walls put up about casting you, or were people more open to casting you?
Camille Keaton – I really don’t know, because I was out of the business for the while. If there were reactions, I didn’t know or hear about it. I know Siskel & Ebert didn’t like it: when Roger Ebert said what he said on his show, it hurt my feelings and I cried.
Meir Zarchi, who was my husband at the time, said to me, “That’s the greatest thing that could have ever happened to us. Now everybody will want to see this movie.” I took it personal, but after Meir explained how it worked to me, I said, ‘Oh okay.’ People want to see movies they are not supposed to see.
Cryptic Rock – That is true. Perhaps the original I Spit on Your Grave is a bit misunderstood. Some would look at it as a exploitation or brutalization of women, but that is not necessarily the case. Would you agree?
Camille Keaton – Yes, people do look at it as an exploitation film, but I think there is a lot more to be said about it than that. More and more women like the film all the time. I find it used to be women who shunned the film, but now more men shun the film than women do.
Cryptic Rock – That is fascinating to hear. The content of the film is uncomfortable to watch, but it’s something eye-opening and it does have a message surrounding it. The new film has an interesting story, as well. One feeling it gives off is that perhaps vengeance is not always the best retribution. Did you get that feeling at all?
Camille Keaton – I did a little bit, but I suppose when you can’t rely on the justice system to do what it should do, vengeance is another way.
Cryptic Rock – There is no denying that as a culture we are interested in the vigilante idea. Beyond I Spit on Your Grave, what are some of favorite films you were a part of?
Camille Keaton – I liked Tragic Ceremony (1972), as well as What Have You Done to Solange? (1972). I also liked Madeleine, anatomia di un incubo (1974), which was my favorite film. There is a copy in English out there that people can get.
Cryptic Rock – Those are some good selections. Aware of your various other works in the past, tell us about some other projects you have coming up?
Camille Keaton – I have a Thriller coming out called Cry for the Bad Man. It doesn’t have distribution yet, but it should soon.
Cryptic Rock – That is something to look out for. Last question. What about some of your personal favorite Horror films?
Camille Keaton – I really loved The Shining (1980) and The Exorcist (1973). When I was that age and those films came out, I couldn’t believe it. They were just so good!