Women in horror are a rarity- diamonds in the rough if you will. And I’m not talking about the scream queens and the damsels in distress- I’m talking about the rest of us red blooded females who live and breathe the genre, who have accepted fear as a part of our inner selves; those of us who envision terror and wish it nothing but success. While our masculine counterparts have Wes Craven, George Romero and Quentin Tarantino to fall in step with, what about the ladies? Who are we supposed to adore?
I’ll be the first to tell you how overtly absurd DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK sounds. It’s a messy, straightforward title that leaves little to the imagination. In fact it’s that title alone that has recently caused a censorship upheaval and serves as a deterrent for light-hearted movie goers. As Juliet so eloquently said in her famed Shakespearean tragedy- What’s in a name? Sure, there is a dead hooker and they do find her in a trunk, but the film goes much deeper than that. It’s as if Tarantino took a stab at a chick flick and gave it a welcome dose of steroids and blood. Intrigued by the film’s raw, side-splitting intensity, I tracked down the filmmakers- surprisingly sweet identical twins Jen and Sylvia Soska. These two women are a breath of fresh air, an inviting balance to a testosterone filled world. They’re the yin to my yang (what can I say, we’ve bonded) and two of the genre’s most talented up and coming filmmakers.
Ladies- I think we may have found our anti-heroes.
A Horrifying Love Affair- @twisted_twins
Upon first glance at Jen and Sylvia Soska, you might not guess that they’re intense horror fans who have a love affair with spiders and martial arts. They’re identical twins who have a passion for taboo; who have taken their love of fear and twisted it into their own sub genre of anti chick-flicks. I doubt they’ll be watching EAT PRAY LOVE anytime soon. And that’s what makes them so damn lovable.
“There was never a time when we didn’t like horror,” recalls Jen. “It’s almost as if horror chose us and not the other way around.” As a girl whose mother introduced her to horror via THE EXORCIST at an early age, I can identify with the twins, whose mother opened the door to fear with POLTERGEIST. Sylvia specifically remembered- “[It] scared the shit out of us.”
With arguably one of the scariest paranormal flicks under their belt, the Soskas took on a new challenge- the world of Stephen King. Eager to see the elementary-bound twins reading above their expected reading level, their mother encouraged them to partake in a world that signifies fear. “We’d bring the novels into school for ‘silent reading,’” said Jen. “But other students began to ask about what we were reading and, naturally, wanted to read them too. Of course, the school library came up short in terms of King, so kids were going to their parents to score themselves some Stephen and that didn’t go over all that well.” In fact, the school went so far as to call the Soska household out of ‘concern’ over the reading material. The call was dismissed. “We ended up having to read our novels with slip covers but we still got to read them. It’s funny how even way back then censorship reared its ugly head.”
Taboo is just that- taboo; those of us who love everything from slasher flicks to tattoos face flack for our choices every day, especially when we’re young. “We were always a little odd,” recalled Sylvia. “School was hard, not academically, as we were honor roll students throughout school, but we stood out. Being twins and loving horror, we got dubbed as ‘weird’ very early on.” Their private school classmates went so far as to label them as witches, spitting on them for their differences. “I think people are too fast to judge what they don’t understand.”
The girls, fortunately, found other outlets for their loves, and their creativity. Sylvia has a self proclaimed obsession for spiders and has thirteen beautiful tarantulas sitting at home. Jen once had aspirations of marrying Daredevil and even went so far as to learn Braille in anticipation. Both the girls have studied martial arts, are certified Starbucks baristas, and have even worked as camp counselors where their campfire story is officially banned. “A very proud moment,” said Sylvia. “Apparently cannibals that eat children [are] too much.”
Their Roman Catholic background is something that many are surprised to discover. “People seem to think that Catholics are very condemning and judgmental, but that hasn’t been the case in my experiences with them,” said Jen. The first time the girls showed their film, the infamous DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK, a lot of people from their church showed for the occasion. “And they loved it. In a lot of ways, I’d say it’s advantageous to have a religious background and work in horror. Just think of all the exorcism stories we’ve heard first hand. I’m storing those up for sure.” Sylvia added- “Religion fascinates me- I love it.”
Acting came naturally to the duo, who had been participating in theater projects since their youth. But with time, acting became more of a limited trade. “As we got older, the roles went from cutesy and stupid to overtly sexualized and stupid,” said Sylvia. They eventually turned to stunts and, even after acting in HOOKER, have since decided to commit fully to filmmaking. “We love acting,” said Jen. “It was the first true love for us that brought us into film. We love storytelling and it was always a real joy to be able to bring stories and different characters to life. But it’s very limiting. When we ultimately found filmmaking, it felt so right. Like coming home at the end of a long day. It’s a wonderful feeling when you find that.”
The Soska’s undeniable talent has certainly caught the attention of the horror community, including famed director Eli Roth, and DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK is only the beginning.
Grindhouse led to the birth of HOOKER. While it may not have planted the seed, it certainly gave it the water to grow. “At the Grindhouse for the millionth time, Jen turned to me and says ‘DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK.’ What?” That was the start. “Before we had anything, we had the title,” recalled Jen. Originally a school project that was filmed as a trailer, the girls decided at that moment they would not only write, direct and act in the film- but they would also pay for it themselves and perform their own stunts. Scribing the script around a limited budget, the girls were able to control their filming and make a film that they could relate to on a more personal level- a pet project, if you will. “They make films they themselves would want to see,” said Roth, a long time supporter of the duo. “Make no mistake about it, these girls do it all themselves.”
But it didn’t stop at a trailer for film class. The girls really did finish the film. With Robert Rodriguez’s inspiration and ‘Bible’ on tap, amongst other horror notables, they put together a fun, ghastly entertaining and gory display of cinematic perfection. I had the pleasure of watching the film while writing this story. I can’t help but endorse it after watching the spectacle that unfolded- the brilliantly defined characters, the indie professional feel, the intense, realistic bloodshed- everything rolls into one to create an in your face production that certainly deserves the attention it’s been getting.
But it took awhile to get there.
The film was made during the writer’s strike. The entire crew, for the most part, worked as unpaid volunteers to help out the two aspiring filmmakers. “The people that came out and donated their time to this project are the best of the best. And they’re also the ones that are in this industry for the right reasons. They love what they do,” said Jen.
The story is far from complicated. In fact, it’s what a good terror-based story should be- simple. The four central characters find themselves on a whirlwind, gore-filled adventure after discovering the body of a dead hooker in the trunk of their car. With horse-riding pimps, bathroom massacres, t-shirt wearing Pugs, and a semi truck stunt not for the faint of heart, even the purest of horror fans won’t be able to deny the impact of this groundbreaking adventure in film.
Once the final cuts were made, the girls went out on a limb and tracked down Roth on MySpace, sending him the link to the HOOKER trailer. “I watched it and was very impressed and asked them for a DVD. I watched the film and thought that it was smart and well done, especially considering the budget.” After providing the girls with some constructive criticism, they re-cut the film several times with his advice. “I was so impressed that they understood that I was giving them notes because I cared, and didn’t take it personally if I didn’t like something. We became fast friends.”
The film has since made its way through the film festival circuit and has foreign distribution. It’s certainly come a long way since the initial trailer’s debut at the girls’ graduation ceremony. “There is no force in this world like the horror community,” said Jen. “Our story, ourselves and our DEAD HOOKER have truly been embraced by the people. Word of mouth about this project spread like wildfire. It amazes me. There are people all over the world who know about this film.” Sylvia certainly hit the nail on the head. “The horror community is incredible. Truly fucking incredible.”
Backlash and American Mary
Just when HOOKER thought she had seen it all, in came the naysayers. Recently, at the Roxy Theater in Saskatoon, the film was banned, and not for the reasons you may think. It had nothing to do with the tongue in cheek violence, nor was it the title character’s death sequence. It had nothing to do with a semi truck removing a woman’s arm, or the loss of an eyeball. It was banned because of the title.
You heard right. The title.
“The film itself could have cleared up almost all of the misunderstandings that the title ignited, but it was never given that small dignity,” said Sylvia. “The most shocking aspect to me is that they never looked further than the title of the film. The title was created to grab attention. It was a case of judging a book by its cover like so often happens with the horror genre.”
“Censorship is bullshit. Just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist out in the world,” added Jen. “After all, art imitates life. Censorship breeds ignorance.”
But the girls are coming back with a vengeance, taking on their latest project AMERICAN MARY, which begins filming in June.
“The project came from a conversation with Eli,” said Sylvia. “He asked what other scripts we had- at the time we were just finishing a final cut on HOOKER and had only a couple ideas for next projects. I pitched a rough idea for the AMERICAN MARY script and he said he’d like to read that one.” The girls wrote the script in about two week’s time and the rest is history.
AMERICAN MARY is the story of medical student Mary Mason who becomes tired of the world she had once admired- the medical field. With easy money at her fingertips, Mary sinks into the world of underground surgeries and battles her inner self as she sinks deeper and deeper into another realm.
“American Mary is our everything right now,” said Jen. “We wake up to MARY and go to sleep thinking about her. If I’m staring off, deep in thought, you can bet its MARY I’m contemplating.”
Intertwined with their production company, Twisted Twins Productions, the girls are looking forward to a bright future. “In ten years, I’d like to have several more films out,” said Jen. Sylvia added- “Jen and I have a lot of scripts- about seven ready to go. We are extremely ambitious, but you need that in this industry. I would like to grow Twisted Twins Productions to the point where we can self finance our work and give new filmmakers the means to make their projects.”
“People often ask me for advice,” said Roth. “and truthfully a lot of people don’t want to hear an answer like ‘try again’ or ‘it takes years.’ They just want everything solved instantly. The Soskas are the opposite.”
So let me get this straight- hardworking, talented, ambitious, and cute as buttons? They are certainly a force to be reckoned with.
For the Soska twins, HOOKER was only the beginning. With AMERICAN MARY creating waves long before production starts, it’s hard to imagine these girls not gaining the attention and notoriety they deserve. They certainly go against the norm and it’s refreshing to see two hardworking ladies achieving their goals and reaching for the stars. Whether they’re spending their time covered in fake blood, or fighting the ongoing censorship battle, one thing is for certain- they can do it with a smile and an army of furry spiders.
“They don’t do all this just to make a lame ass movie,” finished Roth. “Their films have real teeth and I cannot wait to see what springs from their twisted minds in the future.”
Well said, Eli. Neither can we.
For the complete interview with JEN AND SYLVIIA SOSKA, as well as ELI ROTH, please visit THE ALBIN WAY
For more information on TWISTED TWINS PRODUCTIONS, click here!
You can also find the girls on TWITTER, FACEBOOK and YOUTUBE.