Camille Keaton really doesn’t need an introduction to genre fans, after getting her start in Italian cinema with such genre classics as What Have you Done to Solange? and Seven Blood-Stained Orchids. She later moved to New York, where she would land the lead in one of the most notorious rape/revenge films ever made, I Spit on Your Grave. I got to chat with Camille, who just starred in the first official sequel to the 1978 classic, I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà Vu, which just hit DVD/Blu-ray this week. It was surreal getting to chat with this horror icon about not only her experiences on Déjà Vu, but some of her early Italian work as well.
Dan: Hello, I’m a big fan of yours. I’ve seen most of your films.
Camille Keaton: Oh really? Which one was your favorite so far?
Dan: Spit would have to be my favorite, What Have you Done to Solange? would probably be up there as well.
Camille Keaton: Yeah, that was a good film.
Did you see Tragic Ceremony?
Dan: That one I did not see yet.
Camille Keaton: Oh, you need to see that. That’s a good movie, that was done in Italy and Spain actually, it was an Italian-Spanish co-production.
Dan: How did you get started in Italian cinema?
Camille Keaton: I was in Italy and I needed to do something, and my choices were limited, and someone said well, you can model and possibly do some films. So I started out doing some modeling, and next thing you know I started doing extra parts in films and then I got the part of Solange in What Have You Done to Solange?
Dan: Speaking of Solange, do you have a favorite memory from shooting in Italy? I love hearing about what it was like shooting some of those films.
Camille Keaton: This goes back a ways. I think one of my favorite memories is knowing that I got the part of Solange and going in and talking to the producer, and I did not have an agent at the time, and the director Massimo Dallamano told me everything to say. He said, “He’s going to say this, and you say this,” and back and forth. He told me everything to say. So I went in there and talked to the producer, and we were in there for an hour, and I would not do it for less than a certain amount of money. Finally, I said, okay, well I can’t do the film.
I knew that the director really wanted me, so I get up to leave and so the producer he slapped his hand down on the desk and he said, okay, okay, we’ll do it for that.
Dan: What’s the biggest difference between doing something like I Spit on Your Grave and doing something like the Italian productions?
Camille Keaton: Well, every single thing you do is different. The films that I did in Italy, they were fun. The food was good. Italian food, you know, what can you say. It’s hard to say what the difference is.
Dan: So, last night was your first time seeing the film. What were your thoughts?
Camille Keaton: I enjoyed the film very much.
I’m still thinking about it. I thought it was really done well. I love different things that they put in the movie, like in the very last act where they have the older elderly couple that is beating the character that Maria plays. Yeah. And you know, the movie such as it is got a lot of laughs. Really here and there. I really liked that.
Dan: Yeah, the ending kind of comes out of nowhere and you’re kind of laughing, but you kind of feel bad for her at the same time at the end.
Camille Keaton: Yeah.
Dan: So what drew you to the original Spit?
Camille Keaton: Well, I had moved from Rome to America and decided to continue my career in New York. I saw this ad in the paper for a part, and I went and auditioned for it, and that’s how I got involved in it. They earned my trust because they were telling me what the film was about and I thought, “Oh my how are they going to film that, how are they going to do that scene?” They earned my trust and I’m glad that I did it.
Dan: Yeah. I actually got to see the documentary Growing Up With I Spit on Your Grave, before Déjà Vu.
Camille Keaton: Oh, you did?
Dan: And for me it kind of paints the portrayal of Jennifer Hills as something you struggled with during filming, due to the brutality of the role and what you’re forced to endure. It gave the character this truth that the film really hinges on, in my opinion. Looking back now, is it something that you think, that is the reason why the performance was as strong as it was?
Camille Keaton: Oh yeah. I did have a meltdown one day. It was not an easy film to make. It was not a fun film to make. How can it be fun to make? It’s not comedy. But it got made. I remember I made the director demonstrate to me how to fall off the rock after being raped and he did.
Dan: The film as a testament still stands to this day as one of the most brutal things ever committed to film, and I think a big part of that is your performance.
Camille Keaton: Thank you, I’ll take that as a compliment.
Dan: So, since this was the first official sequel, do you mind if I ask about the unofficial one, Savage Vengeance, and how did that affect your and (ISOYG director) Meir’s relationship?
Camille Keaton: Well, it didn’t affect our relationship really, Savage Vengeance. That was a long time ago too. Everything was. Everything is. No, it didn’t affect our relationship.
Dan: Did you ever see the remake or any of the sequels? I think this is the fifth Spit film.
Camille Keaton: I did see one remake with Sarah Butler, and Sarah was there last night and looking absolutely stunning and beautiful. I was so happy to see her. I liked the movie the she did.
Dan: So Déjà Vu has been in the works for a very long time. When did you know they were bringing you back, and what was it like when cameras were finally rolling?
Camille Keaton: This is what I can say about Déjà Vu: I had been talking to Meir about doing a sequel for years and years and years, and I finally gave up on it. After about 35 years, I thought I guess he’s not going to do one. And finally one day I get a call and he says, we’re going to do a sequel to I Spit on Your Grave called I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà Vu, I said well great. Then I read the script and I liked the script, and it was slightly surreal really. It was like going back in time almost, you know, and working with Meir again it was a great experience.
Dan: Did you have any input on the script or the fate of your character, to get into spoiler territory?
Camille Keaton: No.
Dan: Well that wasn’t very nice.
Camille Keaton: It’d be nice to be able to do that. And I know some actors do. No, I’m just an actress.
Dan: I loved how you’re not like the easy target for the kidnappers in the film. Is that hard to maintain that dance between empowerment and exploitation?
Camille Keaton: Well, I would much rather be empowered as a woman than not, but I have also been not empowered in films too so. I am a professional and I do the part that I am asked to play.
Dan: On Déjà Vu, did you have any advice for Jamie, who played your daughter, coming into this franchise and playing a very similar role?
Camille Keaton: I don’t think she needed any advice. She’s a great actress. She did an amazing job. Just amazing. I thought all the actors really did a good job. But the rape scenes Jamie did were done before I came on, so I really couldn’t have given any advice at all.
Dan: So were you surprised, given Mier’s feelings on the Spit title, that he put literal spitting on the graves in the movie?
Camille Keaton: (Laughs) I thought it was really funny. I mean it really got to be really funny towards the end.
Dan: I know how much he hated the title, but it’s the name of your book in the film and then the kidnappers, that’s what they do and that’s what everybody does in the movie. It’s kind of weird.
Camille Keaton: Yeah. I’m glad the movie had some fun stuff in it that made the audience laugh.
Dan: You need that levity to kind of like let out the steam. Otherwise it’s just, you’re just freaked out for two and a half hours, which it’s a lot.
Camille Keaton: Yeah.
This interview has been edited for clarity.