It’s 2:00 on a Thursday afternoon and I’m sitting on a wrought-iron bench next to a wine bar, waiting to talk to the Soska Sisters.
Unfortunately, it’s a Thursday afternoon in Texas, and it’s August, which means that I might as well be sitting on a wrought iron bench on the outskirts of Hell. The summer has been famously unkind to the Lone Star State this year: Temperatures have regularly been breaking the triple-digits, with and without the heat-index, and but for the miraculous inventions of air conditioning, vodka, and beer (in that order), I might not still be around to write this article. Circumstances have coalesced, after all, to keep me out of my office this afternoon: My wife had to borrow it.
The Soskas, after all, are not a pair of ladies who are easily interviewed in the flesh: My fantastic meeting with them at the end of last Summer was equal parts happenstance, coincidence, timing, Divine Providence, and simple kindness. No, my interview this afternoon will be taking place via mobile phone, myself sweating through my shirt, the Twisted Sisters in the much more hospitable state of California. They, naturally, will be phoning from their own temporary office, where they’ve set up shop to film their latest effort, the crime/medical-thriller Plastic; yet I, as I’ve already mentioned, am bereft of my own usual office…
What it lacks in speed, horsepower, and raw sex appeal, the 2010 Smart Fortwo makes up for in acoustics and easy cooling (I’m more than enough myself to compensate for the sex appeal). For a mobile workspace, it can’t be beat: Interviews can be conducted any time of day of night, with the thermostat set to my temperature of choice, a temperature which will be reached within minutes, if not seconds, during amenable conditions. I’ve yet to record an interview from the driver’s seat that didn’t have the same audio quality as those I’ve conducted in person in far less hospitable environments. Perhaps best of all (a lie: the best of everything is the air conditioning), my appearance doesn’t matter. I’ve interviewed film directors in shirts undone to the waist, sitting in gymnasium parking lots in the brutality of Autumn heat. Too, I’ve chit-chatted with scriptwriting legends hunkered down in a shearling jacket, ushanka, and aviator shades in the coldest and dimmest days of Southwestern winter. Sitting here, in a 1980s engineer shirt that’s already stuck damply to me after five minutes of sun exposure, I’m grateful that my meeting today isn’t of the face-to-face variety. It would set a pattern that I can only guess the sisters would find troubling: When I met Jen and Sylvia the last time, I was in a paisley shirt and nice slacks, hoping the ensemble detracted from the unkempt beard, the thinning island of hair on the apex of my head (since long gone—thank you, rapid male pattern baldness), and, most of all, the thick layer of flop sweat that originated from my first in-person interview. Yes, the Twisted Twins popped my face-to-face interview cherry; and though I found the experience rapturous in retrospect, the reality of the situation was terrifying in the moment. My glasses steadily fogged, interview questions rolled off of my silver tongue on auto-pilot, and I nodded, smiling and giggling stupidly, my conscious mind meditating on one single thought: “Oh my God, what kind of pervert do they think I am?”
It’s a thought that, truth be told, I’m meditating on today as Saria’s Song from Ocarina of Time begins to echo up out of my mobile phone, a nostalgic melody meant to keep me at ease whenever my phone rings unexpectedly but which, today, has an extra layer of sweat beading up beneath the others already drenching me. I’ve had nascent contact with the Sisters since my initial interview, and, every time, I can’t help but wonder: What kind of pervert do they think I am? The fact of the matter is, for all of my journalistic and literary achievements, in all of my dealings with Jennifer and Sylvia Soska, I can only view myself as the fidgety, sweaty, awkward, bald 28 year old whom my brother has, in his kindest assessment, compared to “A nice Larry David.”
What kind of pervert do they think I am?
For the fact of the matter is, despite all of those achievements, what I’ve put down in my short, sweaty, hairless time on Earth pales fantastically in comparison to the accomplishments of the radiantly brilliant, brilliantly radiant Soska Sisters. Creeping onto the cinematic scene with their grindhouse ode Dead Hooker in a Trunk, they fully and completely exploded with American Mary, a masterpiece of rape/revenge and dark drama that ranks as one of the greatest horror films of the 2010s. Since that film’s premier, their rise has been meteoric: The pair jumped directly from Mary to a contract with WWE Studios, directing the 2014 slasher See No Evil 2, before filming an entry for the notorious ABCs of Death series. As has already been mentioned, they’re currently in the process of filming their next movie, in addition to writing for Marvel, hosting a gameshow for GSN, , releasing their own comic (the salaciously titled Kill-Crazy Nymphos Attack), and developing a multitude of persona projects (including a cinematic adaptation of Painkiller Jane, a thriller about identical twins, and a long-promised-long-awaited creature-feature cryptically named Bob).
Answering the phone, I’m greeted by the now familiar voices of my favorite pair of identical twin directors: Energetic, gleefully, infused with a joie de vive sadly absent from so many interactions. Jen and Sylvia Soska will always sound pleased to meet you—because they are. Their enthusiasm for people knows no bounds; I’ve seen them pull off the spectacular feat of meeting and greeting an entire bar simultaneously. So there is an initial moment of relaxation, when the anxiety subsides, and I am able to console myself with this grain of truth: The throaty laughter on the other end of the line is genuine. We chat for a moment, of course, about the weather. As I suspected, things are much more hospitable on the West Coast than they are in my own personal oven. In acknowledgment of the women’s full plate, though, I don’t want to bog them down with idle chit-chat or feeble attempts to ensure that I’m on their good side; it’s time we get down to the topic at hand today: The Soska’s next directorial effort, Vendetta.
The Soskas’ second picture for WWE, Vendetta—out on DVD August 18th-- tells the tale of rogue cop Mason (Dean Cain), who arranges to be incarcerated in the same prison as his wife’s killer, the hypertrophic gangster Victor (Paul “Big Show Wight”), in order to exact a plan of bloody vengeance and contemplative brooding, under the auspices of the most hipster warden ever (Michael Ecklund). If it sounds like the plot of a late-night, 1990s Cinemax movie (the sort without the boobs), that’s intentional. “Jennifer and I grew up on 80s and 90s action movies that were so ridiculous and so violent,” Sylvia says. “I remember Jen running around screaming… ‘This is like in the 90s!’ And everyone on the set was alive during that time, so they were like, ‘Yeah, I get that.’” It’s the latest entry in the siblings’ unofficial series of making a film of every exploitation subgenre (one can only hope that they’ll one day revisit the women’s prison movie). While the film lacks the gravitas of Mary or the unabated anarchy of Hooker (it is a studio film, after all), their enthusiasm for their own work—and the people with whom they make it—still knows no bounds, an infectious sort of lust for life that does my heart well, and before I know it, we’re chatting about Vendetta as though we’re old high school comrades given the chance to catch up for an afternoon, not a pair of cinematic goddesses and a sweaty writer hanging out on the side of a Texas wine bar…
Preston Fassel: How did Vendetta come to be?
Sylvia Soska: So after we did See No Evil 2 with WWE and Lions’ Gate, I guess we didn’t fuck up too badly, because the head of WWE Studios, Michael Luisi, came to us and said, “Hey, girls how would you feel about doing a revenge action movie in a men’s prison?” I was like, “Whoa, we get to go into a men’s prison? I would fuckin’ love to do that.
Jen Soska: I love horror, horror is where our heart is, always; and even if we do a Disney/Pixar, animated movie, there are going to be horror aspects to it, absolutely. But it’s been so hard to shed the label of “Female, Identical Twin Horror Directors.” You know, I am, absolutely, all of those things; but I hate being labeled as just being able to do one thing. The WWE had a whole lineup of things, Christmas movies, Jingle All the Way 2, let us at it, we can do it.
PF: Were you obliged to have a WWE Performer in the movie, or was that an option that was offered to you?
SS: We are the biggest WWE Fangirls on the planet, and when we were watching it as teenagers, we had the ambition to be the first female wrestling announcers. But that didn’t happen; so this is a nice, close second place. So they gave us a list of WWE Superstars we could have for this, and when we saw Paul [Wight] on the list, we were like, “Omigawd, we can have the Big Show!?”
JS: It was really exciting, but, of course, the script was originally written for an average sized human being, not this giant Goliath, so a lot of the action had to change around Paul. Which was awesome, because, how often do you literally see a David and Goliath story? So for us, it was like our own Punisher movie, with The Big Show as our version of King Pin.
PF: This is the first non-horror movie you’ve made since Dead Hooker in a Trunk; how did you handle the transition away from your last projects (American Mary, See No Evil 2, ABCs of Death 2) all being horror?
JS: You know, I’ve never considered any of our films to be horror movies… I always saw Dead Hooker as a Comedy and American Mary as a Drama… except See No Evil 2 is definitely a slasher… but I think Vendetta was an easy transition because it’s our most violent movie yet, and very, very dark…
SS: In every movie we’ve done, we’ve always had a stunt sequence or a few stunts, and being trained in martial arts, we’ve always been super excited to have stunt sequences like that; and doing See No Evil 2, we worked with Kimani Ray Smith who is one of the most talented stunt coordinators we’ve ever had the opportunity to work with. So when we knew we were doing Vendetta, we got him back on, and then got Dan Rizzuto as a fight coordinator, and knew we could really up the ante and really show people things they hadn’t necessarily seen, like nonstop violence, punch fests, violence constantly… you can kill a lot more people in an action movie than in a horror movie. In a horror movie, it’s all about tone, and raising suspense, and in a movie like Vendetta you can throw a man off a roof onto another man, and then shoot that other man—who’s somehow not dead—in the face. And that makes me very happy.
PF: What was it like getting to work with firearms for the first time?
JS: It was a lot of fun! All the little sparks and—even fake guns are very loud. That was very, very exciting. I loved being able to do the gunplay, but, once we got into the prison, we had to pull back on everyone having a gun, because it has to be kinda, sorta based in reality…
SS: Every time there was gunplay, we were like the Chesire Cat, just constantly grinning… we actually kept a lot of the shells from the blanks, because we’re highly sentimental like that.
PF: How did Dean Cain get involved?
JS: Syl and I love Dean Cain. Dean Cain was our Superman—other than Christopher Reeves. We watched Lois and Clark religiously… even Ripley’s Believe it Or Not. I don’t even think I really liked Ripley’s Believe it Or Not, I just enjoyed watching Dean Cain tell you about little murder mysteries. Dean comes off as a very sweet man, cause, you know, he is Superman, but he is a totally fucking badass. He is a killing machine.
SS: It was a really cool opportunity because people—when Jennifer and I were suggested to direct this film, people were like, I don’t know if you should have the girls do it, because, what do they know about killing people? And then people were like, “I don’t know about Dean Cain, doesn’t he do Lifetime Movies?” And then when we got The Big Show, they were like, “I don’t know about that, doesn’t he do funny things on the show?” So it was an opportunity for us to show a little bit more of our darker side on this production. And I know Dean had a really good time getting into it. We took Frank Castle, The Punisher, as a huge inspiration for not only the look but the transformation of the Character.
PF: What was the biggest challenge in shooting the film?
JS: You never have enough time and you never have enough money. And, the 100 person prison riot... I found out what our schedule was very close to going into it, and I thought we were going to have three, four, five days, a week maybe, and… we shot the riot in, well, I’m not going to say exactly how much time, but, a lot less time than you would expect. It was just such a symphony of chaos, because every little group is having a fight scene, because otherwise it’d be inmates running back and forth like idiots… we’re really arrogant now that we were able to get through that and shoot it all. I don’t think there’s anything I can’t do. If someone ever says, “Can you shoot this in a day?” I’ll say “Pshaw, have you seen Vendetta?”
SS: I think also changing genres made me really nervous because I wanted to do the best film possible, because I knew there was going to be even more of an expectation ‘cause there’s so many people, when you do something different, they wait for you to fail. And we’re so lucky we had this amazing team in Vancouver that’s our film family, and they really killed it.
PF: So, ah, anything else…?
SS: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. I’m glad that you checked out Vendetta … we’re going right into Hellevator next, which is a survival horror gameshow on the Game Show Network. And right after that we go into our next feature film which is called Plastic, which is about a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon that gets himself in a shitload of trouble; and, again, it’s in a completely different genre for us. So I hope people enjoy that kind of stuff. If you like having the shit scared out of you, watch Hellevator, which starts this October, because I know it’s just a show, and I still get creeped out watching it.
JS: I’m so grateful for everyone checking out Vendetta. My favorite review so far is, “I went into it expecting it to be a steaming pile of shit and I was pleasantly surprised, because it was fucking awesome.” And I’ll say I do feel that’s because it’s from WWE Films, because there are some people out there who don’t like wrestling, and those are the people without any joy in their lives.
JS: We worked so much harder to get good reviews because people will just say, “I don’t like wrestling.” It’s like, dude, that’s your problem. One actor we didn’t mention is Michael Ecklund, who is our Canadian Daniel Day Lewis. And getting to see Michael Ecklund, the Big Show, and Dean Cain go at one another in this Triforce of badassery is absolutely amazing…
The Sisters’ time is short this afternoon, and, unfortunately, so is our interview. Yet, after it’s over, I can’t help but smile in spite of the need for a change of clothes and about six glasses of water. Whatever they’re making, Jen and Sylvia Soska love it like their own child; and, while discussing it, they’ll love you for listening to it. That’s the energy of a pair of true artists, and I can’t help but be a little giddy as I hang up the phone, just in time to see my wife pull up in my office. She’s eyeing me through the windshield, watching me collect my recorder, my notes, knowing that I just got done interviewing a pair of my cinematic idols. I get into the car and immediately dampen the seat. My glasses fog; and the thought, again, occurs to me: What sort of pervert do they think I am?