The Soska Sisters are often called “The best female directors in horror,” but this is a terribly inaccurate description.
While the 2000s saw multiple genre directors rediscovering the aesthetics of 1970s exploitation film-making, few—if any—have succeeded in capturing the true ambiance or tone of the era. Rather, most attempts to recreate vintage grindhouse in the modern day have instead been the director’s own reinterpretations of how they think such a movie should look or feel. Not so with the Soskas. 2009’s Dead Hooker in a Trunk was a gritty yet surprisingly meditative recreation of the beautifully squalid philosophy which informed true grindhouse filmmakers in the movement’s halcyon days. Rather than simply be as loud, violent, and nasty as possible and then call it a day, there’s an intelligence behind the anarchy, a quiet thoughtfulness not present in other genre odes. Its’ successor, American Mary, managed to top that by trading in the sweeping chaos of Hooker for something a more restrained form of chaos. The result is something brutally personal, a film carrying the coolly anxious and distressed introspection present in the best exploitation films to come off of 42nd Street: those which transcended the limitations of a genre and became true art.
No, the Soska Sisters are not the best female directors in horror. They are, simply, two of the best directors in horror, period; any qualifiers are reductive.
Sitting down with Jen and Sylvia Soska isn’t quite like speaking with any other genre luminary; it’s not so much conducting an interview as it is catching up with old friends you've never met before. Displaying a hospitality and charm sorely lacking in the world at large, one gets the impression that the sisters would be as at home hosting a party or conducting a book club as they are in the director’s chair, demonstrating a unique talent for making everyone in their vicinity feel like the most important person in the room… even if that room contains a hundred people. I recently had the opportunity to speak with the Twisted Twins, where we discussed some of their upcoming films, dream projects, and got to the bottom of some particularly ugly rumors involving the theft of a certain unique prosthesis...
Preston Fassel: Most horror directors tend to stick to one particular sub-genre; but it seems that every time you do a movie, you’re moving to a different one. Dead Hooker is classic West Coast, anarchic grindhouse, and American Mary is more meditative, East Coast inspired grindhouse, rape revenge, and now you’re going into a slasher movie.
Jen Soska: So many people just know us for American Mary that when we did See No Evil 2, people asked us, “Why aren't you doing something like American Mary?” And I’d say, “We just did American Mary.” Dead Hooker In a Trunk and American Mary couldn't be more different. You look at one and you’d say, “I don’t think the same film makers made those,” and that’s true. We’re not the same film makers. Every director and filmmaker changes from project to project. You see more films, you take more in, you get more influence. SNE2 was our opportunity to make our own slasher. I don’t know of many directors that get to create their own masked man, like Jason or Pinhead…
Sylvia Soska: Uh…
JS: Pinhead has a mask.
PF: And then your next movie, Painkiller Jane, is going to be an action/comic book movie.
JS: You know, we are such huge comic book fans, and one of the things that bums me out about Wolverine is that in the comics it’s really bloody and gross, and he heals back, but they have to put the PG-14 thing on it so they can get a wider box office. With Jimmy Palmiotti’s new script, it’s R. It’s really, really, (laughs) really R, and it’s awesome. And I’m totally against censorship; I mean, I started watching horror movies when I was a kid and I turned out okay. I think just like adults and kids, there are different people who can handle different kinds of content. As a young person, when I saw Poltergeist, my mom explained that there’s prosthetic artists and actors and directors and they’re trying to scare you, and I was like, “Oh, it’s make believe.” And I was always able to make that very definite split between the two. So we started watching really gory films after that not because we’re gore heads so that I could be like, “Oh, I don’t think they blended the edges of that…”
SS: Oh, no, no, no. That’s her. We watched A Serbian Film, and she’s like, “The baby’s not really reacting properly. How big is that guy’s dick to have the baby so far from it?” And I’m like, “Jen, this is horrific! Be upset!”
JS: I wasn't upset. Like Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, which I thought was a great film, an amazing film. You know about the clit? There’s this one switched frame, when she cuts it off, and it takes a moment for it to start bleeding, and I’m like (gasps)! And at first Charlotte is pressing it against her actual self, and then there’s a realignment, and it’s a really great prosthetic but it just doesn’t bleed as quickly as it should.
SS: That’s my life. That’s how I live. I can’t watch anything without this jackhole...
JS: I’ll be sitting there and I’ll be like, “He doesn't really seem in pain, he just seems, like, angry.”
SS: But we are such huge nerds, and we love the sub-genres within horror, so our goal is to do every sub-genre there is. I want to do a home invasion…
JS: Exorcisms, a monster movie. We created our own, original monster. Our monster’s name is Bob.
SS: Yeah, unfortunately, like American Mary, it’s so fucking weird that people are like, “This is a great script!” And I’m like, “You want to make it?” And they’re like: Uhhhh… nooooo….
JS: The tagline is, “There’s a monster inside all of us, and sometimes it gets out.” We grew up in the 80s. We had Gremlins, Critters, Aliens, Predator, a whole bunch of fucking cool, original monsters, and now, for some reason, all we have are vampires, werewolves, and now even zombies who… all they want to do is have sex with teenage girls. Which makes no sense to me. At least want to kill them or eat them or even maim them, or, something…
PF: You had Ghostbusters, Monster Squad, stuff wreaking havoc, and it was fun...
JS: No shit!
SS: And those were fucking scary! Like, Ghostbusters is upsetting, and it’s for kids!
PF: The librarian…
JS: So terrifying! And it’s one of those films that holds up, too. I watch it now as a filmmaker and I’m like, look at that… look at the tasteful framing, it’s beautiful.
SS: You sound like an asshole. [To me] It’s because she is.
JS: It’s what I do. I’ll watch a movie and I’ll be like, “Ooooh… the story continuity is kinda false here.” Or, “I didn’t buy that line… The wardrobe choice is just wrong… that blood is wrong there…”
SS: Such a dickhead. But it’s great to work with her. She’s so hard on all the little, minute details, that’s her thing. And I’m, like, more camera and lighting and angles and I’m like, I find it hard to talk to actors sometimes because I’m so used to talking to her and knowing exactly what she wants that I’ll talk to them and if they don’t get it after three times, I’ll go over to Jen and I’ll be like, “I don’t know how to talk to this person.”
JS: But that’s healthy. You’re an artist. She is so darkly creative. I’m lucky that I not only have a best friend but a business partner and we work so well together. The shit she comes up with is so amazing.
SS: And completely unmarketable. Absolutely.
JS: I’ll say “Syl, no one’s going to want to see that,” and you’re like, “Oh, we’re not going to do it?” And I’m like, “Oh, no, we’re going to do it, I’m just telling you.” And you never like to hear later someone’s like, “I don’t like that,” and I’m, “See Syl? Told you. (Imitating Piper Laurie) They’re all going to laugh at you!” (laughs) But that’s just the way it is with actors. If they’re just not getting it, or they’re like “Oh, what’s my motivation to walk into the room?” “To make our day. That’s your motivation. Just walk in there.” And I’ll walk over and I’ll be, like, “That’s great, we already got one like that and it’ perfect, but Syl just wanted to try this differently,” and I try communicating in a way that an actor can understand language…
PF: Before we sat down, Syl, you were telling me a story about a prosthetic dick…
SS: Okay, so, when you came in, you saw Justin Benson, a wonderful, talented director, and he directed Spring, with his partner Aaron Morehead, and he accused me—
JS: He thought you took the dick!
SS: Okay, well, here’s the thing. I was asking if there was dick in Spring, because it’s about sex and relationships and reproduction…
JS: That is a lie. She totally asks that about every film.
SS: Is there going to be a dick in there? Cause I don’t know if I’m gonna be free. Is there another screening I can go to, a screening that’s more pro-dick than that? And he’s like, “Actually, there’s only one dick that Masters Effects has, and YOU took it!”
JS: It became a vicious rumor.
SS: It became a horribly vicious rumor. I’ve even got emails from the company, asking about it.
JS: And a little story, the origin story of the dick, it’s from True Blood… I've never actually seen it, but, somebody rips it off and throws it against a wall. It’s a super durable dick, and we imported it.
SS: We needed the dick for our ABCs of Death 2 segment, T is for Torture Porn. We also got the ass from Human Centipede 3. And so we had this dick from LA—it’s an LA dick, so he had to fly up to Vancouver to be in ABCs and See No Evil— and then the dick disappeared. And I got an email saying, “The Soskas took the dick and no one has seen it since.” Which is a vicious, vicious rumor. Because if I did steal that dick, it would be in my purse, or on my shoulder, because it’s really well weighted, and it’s like a little parrot.
JS: There’s actually a really amazing documentary we did for ABCS of Death 2… of course, it’s a three minute short with a half-hour making-of documentary… (both laughing)
JS: And it opens with one of my favorite shots, a shot of Syl, where she gets the dick, and she takes it around and checks on all the departments.
SS: I think bringing a prosthetic penis around is a great icebreaker.
JS: And it’s also like, hey, you’re working on a Soska Sisters film. Here’s a disembodied dick.
SS: I think the Vancouver shop kept it, and I think it’s the LA Shop’s property, that’s accusing us. And I don’t care for Justin putting out those rumors. (laughs) I’ll have to fight him. I told him he should have composited his own dick.
PF: Someone comes to you, they say, “Here’s $100 million, you can write it, you can direct it, cast it, shoot it wherever you want.” What does that look like?
JS: It’s Deadpool. Absolutely Deadpool. Because we are Deadpool in identical twin bodies. We like boobies, we like drinking, we like killing, we like humor, we like shitty humor, we like good humor, and he’s like, our Canadian icon. Lovely Tim Miller, I hope you get fired. Nobody loves Deadpool more than us. Ideally I’d like Daniel Ray, who is one of my favorite Deadpool writers, to write the script with us. I’d like to open it with Deadpool fighting Wolverine, because instead of sitting there and having a monologue, of, “Hi! I’m Peter Parker! I got bitten by a radioactive spider!” Don’t fucking tell the audience, show the audience! Have the two of them going at it. Everyone knows Wolverine. And if you see Deadpool, you’ll know, “Oh, fuck, he’s a healing guy, too! And, the way he fights, oh, he’s a ninja! Oh, and he won’t shut up, and he’s kind of funny!” So you have everything established there. And I think our ideal Deadpool would be Sean William Scott. Because he’s Deadpool without even realizing it.
SS: He’s been playing Deadpool his entire fucking life. I’ll watch a Sean William Scott movie just because, to me, that’s Wade Wilson hanging out in another movie. That’s just his life. It’s funny because Hugh Jackman said he wanted to be in a Deadpool movie, and he feels like they missed some opportunities when Deadpool appeared in the Wolverine origins movie, so, why not do that? Why not start the movie with a Deadpool versus Wolverine fight, which is exactly what everyone wants to see? And have Wolverine actually fucking kill him. And because Deadpool has an inner monologue constantly in his head, have his voice-over throughout the whole scene, and have Wolverine fucking kill him, chop off his head, slice him into little pieces, and then have Deadpool, in his head, say, “Well. That’s the worst thing about fighting me. Even after you kill me… I’m not dead.” And then he just pops up, and then you go, BOOM! DEADPOOL!
JS: Yeah. He should say something like, “You can kill me as many times as you want. I only gotta kill you once.”
SS: I think we’re going to be doing a lot more comic book movies, because after we did Vendetta with WWE and Lion’s Gate, I kind of have, like, a hard on for action movies now. We got to kill forty-seven people, and they always said, whenever we had the guns go off, the people would hand out little ear plugs, and the first time a gun went off I jumped, and by the end of it I was just standing there while people were putting theirs on and they were like, “Sylvie, don’t you want to put these in?” And I’m like, I don’t know the next time I’ll get to hear gunfire on my set, so, no! I want to hear it all.
JS: We also want to do an identical twin horror movie, because there’s only, like, Dead Ringers, which is fucking brilliant.
PF: Oh, that’d be awesome…
JS: And… well… We’re working on one right now. I can’t say much, but—
SS: We have been approached by someone, two writers, two of the most talented writers in the horror industry… if it was just me I’d be on my Facebook right now, like, “Guys! Guys! Guess what?” But they wanna do the press release.
JS: But I haven’t mentioned that yet, so, that’s for you. We haven’t told anyone else yet.
PF: Anything you’d like to add?
SS: Please tweet us. I search Twitter for people who’re talking about us so I can be like, “Thanks for watching my movie!” And then they’re like, “Omigawd!” Tweet me! I’m just a nerd. I’m either reading comic books, writing, working, or video gaming or checking online.
JS: Yeah, I’m always on Tumblr. If anyone asks on Tumblr I’ll always respond and put a cute little GIF. Which I actually spent hours hunting.
SS: She is fucking obsessed with Tumblr.
JS: Well, that’s how you respond. With a cute GIF.