5/12/10

Don't Mess With My Sister (1985): The 'I Spit On Your Grave' Director Hocks Up One On The Big Apple

Strangely for a director with an infamous film like I Spit on Your Grave to his credit, Meir Zarchi only has one other film listed on his résumé. Eight years after his infamous 1977 rape/revenge film, he finally got around to making his second feature, the threateningly titled Don’t Mess with My Sister. On the festival circuit, the film made the rounds under the more benign name American Junkyard, but I suppose Zarchi’s connection to the film required a more intense title aimed at titillating the exploitation market. While Don’t Mess with My Sister does eventually take off into the land of violence, it takes quite a while to get there, and for the most part, the film is a working class family drama set in the gritty world of ‘80’s New York.


Steven (Joe Perce) works as a book-keeper in a junkyard owned by his wife Clara’s (Jeannine Lemay) brothers. After Steven and Clara got married, the brothers promised to make him a partner in the business, a promise they have failed to keep. Now, Steven keeps his job resentfully while attending night school to become a full fledged accountant. One night on the way home from school, he gives classmate Annika (Laura Lanfranchi) a ride into the city, and it happens to turn out that she is working as the belly dancer at his surprise birthday party. Steven falls for the blonde dancer, and the next day at school returns part of her costume she left behind. He drives her to see one of her clients, but when the man becomes too aggressive, Steven rushes in to defend Annika taking out all his pent up aggression on the rich pervert. The two begin a torrid affair, but when Clara and her brothers find out, they begin to tear Steven’s life apart until he snaps under the pressure.

Needless to say this is a far, far cry from the 40 minutes of rape and 40 minutes of revenge that make up I Spit on Your Grave, but that’s not to say that it was bad, just different. Lead actor Joe Pierce had very little film experience before or after this film. His only other appearances were supporting roles in films like Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45, the sci-fi film The Hidden, and Ridley Scott’s Black Rain. In this singular lead role, Pierce seems to be trying his hardest to give an Al Pacino type performance, but he falls short looking nervous rather than the pensive tortured soul that he seemed to be aiming for. The rest of the cast is full of mostly first time actors who never appeared in a film since, but they all give solid performances with few exceptions. No one really brings the film down, but there’s no performance that stands out either.

Don’t Mess with My Sister gains a lot of entertainment value from the vision of gritty New York. From the junkyard to the streets of the city, Zarchi and cinematographer Phil Gries give the film a seedy, depressed look that matches the inner turmoil that Steven seems to be going through in his life. The same can’t be said of the hacky score by Todd Rice. It plays on all the notes that one would expect, and I could almost predict when the ominous strains of synth would kick in. Overall, the film is directed with far more skill than I Spit on Your Grave. Rather than just being about the rote notes of rape and revenge, Don’t Mess With My Sister has emotional depth to it. What really hurts the film is the title that seems to imply that the film would be some kind of slasher that it is clearly not.

I Spit on Your Grave will probably find this second outing from the director very disappointing and not at all what they expected. It wasn’t what I expected, but there is something about films set in New York in the early ‘80’s that always tends to capture my imagination. The drama was fairly heavy, but well acted and the pay off in the last fifteen minutes of the movie makes the first seventy minutes well worth sitting through. So if you’re a fan of character studies, the Big Apple before it was sanitized, or if you are curious what Meir Zarchi’s other film is like, then check out Don't Mess with My Sister, but just don’t expect a repeat of his previous effort.

Bugg Rating

4 comments:

  1. It sounds interesting, I'm unsure of if I want to see it or not.

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  2. I had never even heard of this, so thanks for pointing it out. I would check it out just due to the fact that there really is nothing better than a gritty New York setting captured well on film.

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  3. That trailer looked pretty decent until the "Don't Mess with My Sister" title bit at the end. Kinda made it look silly then. Other than that it looks quite interesting.

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  4. Ive always been curious about this one, and I am a huge fan of SPIT so someday I definitely intend on checking it out. I got to meet Meir this weekend at WoH woo woo!

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