Women in Horror Month (WiHM) is an international, grassroots initiative, which encourages supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries. Whether they are on the screen, behind the scenes, or contributing in their other various artistic ways, it is clear that women love, appreciate, and contribute to the horror genre. Psycho Drive-in is joining in by sharing articles – some classic, some new – celebrating the greatest women in the genre!
[Editor’s Note: Versions of this article were originally published on October 19, 2013 and October 25, 2014]
When it comes to amazing horror talent behind the camera, The Soska Sisters are the total package, writing, directing, acting, and embracing the fan community in ways that most people would be afraid of tackling.
I’m looking at you, horror-themed game show, Hellevator!
For the uninitiated, The Soska sisters, Jen and Sylvia, are Canadian identical twins who call themselves The Twisted Twins, and their 2009 feature film debut, Dead Hooker in a Trunk, proved they deserved that sobriquet. Dead Hooker in a Trunk was filmed with practically no money (maybe 2500 bucks), but with so much energy and enthusiasm (along with inspiration from Robert Rodriguez’s how-to book, Rebel without a Crew) that every trashy, exploitative, transgressive, crazy-ass moment is worth watching over and over. Especially if you’re wanting to make a horror film of your own someday.
The film is a series of incidents that make little logical sense, but are all horribly entertaining. The plot is bare-bones as twins Badass (Sylvia) and Geek (Jen), along with their friends Junkie (Rikki Gagne) and Goody Two-Shoes (C.J. Wallis) discover the titular dead hooker in their trunk. Since Badass and Junkie were too stoned the night before to remember if they killed her or not, they decide the best idea is to wait until dark and take the corpse to the woods and bury it. Along the way there’s necrophilia, drug abuse, bloody mutilation, fights galore, an arm torn off by a passing semi (and then sewn back on), and Geek loses an eye, all scored by local Vancouver bands.
It’s a pretty strong debut, if you can embrace the madness, and it caught the eye of Eli Roth. He asked to see a script for the next project they wanted to make and after a marathon writing session (they had no script, but pitched the idea for American Mary on a bluff) the rest is history. With a limited budget, a 15 twelve-hour day shooting schedule (!!!), and actual departments handling things like special effects, costuming, hauling cables, and feeding the crew, the Soska sisters crafted one of the most amazingly fresh horror films in decades. And it is all set in the world of body modification.
With no CGI.
American Mary tells the story of Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle), a medical student and promising surgeon-to-be. But Mary’s running out of money and desperate to stay in med school, so she applies for a job at a strip club. However, during the interview she is called upon by the club owner Billy Barker (Antonio Cupo) to save the life of a man who’s been tortured.
For a fat handful of cash.
After going into Detached Surgeon Mode, saving the guy and collecting her money, she bolts, trying to forget what she just did. But one of the dancers at the club, Beatress Johnson (Tristan Risk), who happens to have had extensive plastic surgery in order to look like Betty Boop, contacts her and offers a shit-ton of money to perform illegal experimental surgery on her friend, Ruby Realgirl (Paula Lindberg). Unable to refuse the money, Mary accepts and things get very, very bad before they get better.
The film takes very dark turn after very dark turn as Mary’s former teacher invites her to a party with several of the surgeons from the hospital where she’s doing her residency. He drugs her, rapes her, then lords it over her, making it clear her career is ruined if she speaks out. From this point on, we are in full-on rape-revenge territory; and revenge for a rogue body modification artist is dark and disturbed, indeed.
Katherine Isabelle owns this movie, which should come as no surprise to any of her fans. I hadn’t seen a lot of her work since Ginger Snaps, to be honest (mainly just roles in Supernatural and Being Human), but she was always very natural in front of the camera. As Mary she sells every moment, switching from concerned to sarcastic to coldly clinical in an instant. There’s also a sad fatalism to the performance that really sells the fact that Mary is slowly spiraling into madness; but it’s a madness that she can make work in her favor.
The practical effects work by Todd Masters and MastersFX is bloody, brutal, and believable, from the surgical procedures to the acts of violence performed. And this is the sort of film that lives or dies by the quality of the gore effects.
American Mary is a darkly fascinating and original story that doesn’t end well for anyone involved, but is incredibly watchable. It was good to see Jen and Sylvia Soska get a break like that and nail it so hard it is keeping them moving onward and upward.
Their next film, See No Evil 2, was a WWE Studios production and the sisters’ first feature film working from a script they didn’t write (it was written by Nathan Brookes and Bobby Lee Darby). They were, however, given free rein to tinker with it all they wanted. They also brought along American Mary herself, Katharine Isabelle and recruited Scream Queen legend Danielle Harris to face off against the hulking Glenn “Kane” Jacobs as Jacob Goodnight.
What we end up with here is an irony-free love-letter to 80s slasher flicks that, while lacking in surprises and plot, is very strong in character work, performances, and most importantly, direction. This is one beautifully shot abandoned-hospital nightmare.
The story picks up immediately on the heels of 2006’s See No Evil, as the victims of Goodnight’s first bloody rampage are brought to the morgue, along with his massive corpse, just as morgue attendant Amy (Harris) is about to leave to attend her birthday party. Her work crush, Seth (Kaj-Erik Eriksen), and wheelchair-bound boss Hess (Michael Eklund), urge her to go, but she volunteers to stay and help with the sudden influx of bodies. Bad decision.
Rather than let her miss out on her birthday bash, her friends, led by serial-killer-obsessed sexpot Tamara (Isabelle) show up at the morgue to party the night away. So when the suddenly not-dead Goodnight rises from his slab, he’s got a fresh batch of partying kids to slaughter for their sins. And with that, we’re off to the races, and the Soskas begin cranking up the style, the wit, and the violence until they reach their twist on the Final Girl concept.
In what could be a decidedly dull, run-of-the-mill slasher film, the Soskas did the smart thing and bulked up the characters, giving us people who, while destined to be meat for the grinder, at least have a bit of heart and personality. The casting was a big help here, with everybody bringing their A-game. Even the smallest parts, girlfriend Kayla (Chelan Simmons) and Tamara’s boyfriend Carter (Lee Majdoub), get moments to shine — even if they both are easy prey for Goodnight. Greyston Holt as Amy’s brother Will gets more screen time and character development, but not so much that you think he’s going to be around till the end.
Harris and Eriksen do great jobs as the emotional heart of the film, and the sheer visual impact of seeing them against the mountain that is Jacobs does half the work of selling the level of danger their characters are in. They mainly just run around trying to hide, but they play off each other naturally and you can really believe their relationship was just getting ready to move from nervous flirtation to something real before this fateful night.
Jacobs is also allowed to stretch and help bring a bit of pathos to Jacob Goodnight that allows him to become something a little more complex and interesting than just a mindless killing machine. He’s a brutalized child in a monster’s body, behaving and responding to the world in the only way his demented mother would allow.
The real stars of this movie, though, are Katharine Isabelle and the Soskas themselves. Isabelle seems to be having the time of her life playing Tamara and brings such a natural intelligence and sexuality to the role that you can tell it was written just for her. She once again proves, as with her recent role in Hannibal that she is an underrated talent that makes everything she touches that much better.
And in this film, the Soskas can do no wrong. Every shot in is beautiful. There’s not a single throwaway moment, despite the extended set-up and introduction of the characters. They effortlessly cut in moments from the first film to establish the backstory for viewers like me, who missed the first film and haven’t had a chance to get caught up; they play with the traditional gender roles for films like this where the men are the ones freaking out and trying to run away while the women are sexually aggressive and are courageously loyal; they provide a number of violent kills without going overboard with the gore — broadening the audience while maintaining the integrity of the film; and most importantly, they know and love this genre so much that See No Evil 2 could stand alongside any of the classics from the 80s.
That same year, they wrote and directed the segment “T is for Torture Porn” for ABCs of Death 2 and if you’ve ever wanted to see a tentacle vagina rape and destroy a bunch of sleazy dudes, then it should be a highlight for you, as it was for me. And I didn’t even know I wanted to see a tentacle vagina rape and destroy a bunch of sleazy dudes.
While I haven’t seen their latest, film, Vendetta, at the moment, they are signed to direct the upcoming remake of fellow Canadian David Cronenberg’s 1977 classic, Rabid, and I couldn’t be more excited! If there was ever a remake that was right in the Soska’s wheelhouse, it would be early Cronenberg. And if they weren’t geek-friendly enough already, they’re writing comics for Marvel and their own graphic novel with Daniel Way and Rob Dumo, called Kill-Crazy Nymphos Attack!
Does it really get any better than that?