I was at my grandmother’s cozy little hobbit hole for dinner the night I decided to drop a line to Jen Soska. I wanted to let Jen and her sister, Sylvia, know how much I loved their film, Dead Hooker in a Trunk. I also figured, what the hell, so I asked if I could interview the ‘Twisted Twins’ for Ravenous Monster. As long as they knew how much I enjoyed their project – that was good enough for me. I was hardly expecting a reply when I quickly I received a warm response back as well as the thumbs up to send the twins some questions. I was getting the chance to pick the brains of my favorite horror-directing duo. I was beyond elated and I cannot emphasize enough how genuine, gracious, and kind the Soska twins were throughout this conversation we had via email.
Without further ado, I present to you the first of a two-part interview that I conducted with the Soska twins over the span of two weeks.
RavMon: We share a neat little horror origin back story – you two were reading Stephen King in elementary school just like I was! What was the first book of his that you read?
Jen: Oh, that’s so cool! Mine was ‘Pet Semetary’. I liked animals so it was the obvious choice. My mom showed me ‘Cujo’, too, and she broke down what each was about. I never had a dog, but I’ve had just about every other critter from piranhas and snakes to cats and gerbils. I don’t know why. As a result, dogs are something of a mystery to me. She showed me ‘Pet Semetary’ and said there was a cat in there so I grabbed it. I loved how much it was. It was violent and scary and adult and I just fell in love with his writing. It was my first experience with horror and I came to expect that horror should have those “Oh, shit, I shouldn’t really be laughing” moments of levity.
Sylvia: My first book was ‘Cujo’. My mom had such a mature approach to us reading these books – we loved horror and wanted to watch scary movies, but we had to read the book first then we can rent the movies based on the books. If there was anything in the books that we didn’t understand, she had us come to her and we would discuss it. It was really cool and understanding what you were reading took a lot of the fright out – horror became a method of story-telling we were hopelessly hooked on. ‘Cujo’ was a very special book that was the first of many.
We used to get in shit about it all the time. One specific teacher kept saying it was inappropriate for girls to read such material. My mom got called in to talk to the idiot, which ended with us having to hide our books in knit covers so the other children couldn’t see. She couldn’t stop us from reading something that was fine with our parents. She told the teacher that her daughters are reading things they like at a high school level, why wouldn’t she encourage that? Fuck yeah, mom.
(Justin’s side note – Cujo was my first King book, too.)
RavMon: What do your parents think of your career choice and were they instrumental in leading you to the “dark side”?
Jen: Our parents have been incredibly supportive of us and our work. They’re both Catholic and I know there are these silly notions that God doesn’t have a sense of humor, but, believe you me, he does. Our mom introduced us to Stephen King at an early age and we got hooked on horror reading his incredible novels. They’ve never told us to go get “real jobs” or lost faith in us. We’ve been through some really hard times and they’ve always been there for us. They both read all our scripts. There have been times when my mom’s said, “Do you really have to do that to that man’s penis?” My mom is an excellent gauge for whether or not we’ve gone too far with something. I’m sure my dad would like me to clean up my language a bit, ha-ha.
Sylvia: I think our parents always knew what our interests were and that nothing would change that. I would play with Jen for hours outside, collecting spiders and playing with them. I would show family friends and they didn’t get it. When people got scared of the spiders, it fascinated me. There’s a big draw to horror in the examination of what makes people frightened of some things and not others. My parents never made me feel weird or different. They always let Jen and me be ourselves.
I know a lot of the material that we like to examine in our scripts is really dark and some things put off my parents, but they never stop being supportive of it. I remember the first time they saw ‘DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK’, they both laughed a lot. It’s been a long process to get here, there hasn’t been any sort of payday and they have stepped in a lot when we couldn’t make enough waitressing to pay our bills and eat. They are truly wonderful parents. My dad has appeared in our projects and both my mom and dad have parts in ‘AMERICAN MARY’. I want to see them every time I watch the movie because I love them and they are fantastic.
RavMon: You are avid players in the blossoming ‘Women in Horror Recognition Month’. Besides opening the masses’ eyes to some incredible minds within the genre, there also is some good spirited humanity going on, too. A blood drive complete with a fantastic PSA on YouTube made the rounds this past February. Are there other Good Samaritan projects in the works?
Jen: The Women in Horror Massive Blood Drive is a world wide charitable event that we host every year. From the first year to the next, there has already been tremendous growth in this movement and numerous other charitable events. I don’t feel that women need or are looking for any hand outs. Women in Horror is a celebration of women in horror and the contributions they’ve made to the genre. We wanted to give back in a strong and brave way that honors the women that we all admire. You can’t think horror without thinking blood. I’m actually surprised we were the first ones working in horror to think of doing it. It’s such a worthy cause and there literally is no substitution for blood. I’d like to see everybody donate blood in February. Even if we all do it just once a year, it would make a world of difference. We’ll be coming out with a new PSA each year.
In addition to the numerous blood drives hosted all across the world as part of this event, there have been charitable auctions, food drives, festivals that donated their tickets sales to charity, Dai Green and Reyna Young had their “Women in Horror Clothing Drive”, and Devanny Pinn and Tara Cardinal had their “Women in Horror Bleed For a Cause” Haiti Blood Drive event. I expect the event to grow and get bigger and better with the coming years. I’m so grateful to femme fatale feminist writer Hannah Neurotica for starting this incredible movement and celebration.
Sylvia: One of the coolest things is that ‘Women in Horror Recognition Month’ is working to dissolve the inner cattiness that has existed too long between professional women working in the industry. For far too long there have been women breaking down other women’s work because that’s the culture that has been promoted – ‘she’s doing well, so fuck her’ or ‘I’m doing well, so fuck everyone else’ – it’s so futile and useless. WiH really sets aside the bullshit and has women working together to celebrate how far we’ve come in the industry and the powerhouse ladies that made it all possible and those that carry the same torch today. During February, and all year long, these female professionals support one another’s work, charitable causes, and it’s growing every year.
RavMon: Canada is no slouch when it comes to horror films (‘Black Christmas’, ‘The Changeling’, ‘My Bloody Valentine’, ‘Ginger Snaps’, ‘Pontypool’ ) or directors of the genre (namely Mary Harron and David Cronenberg). What are some major differences you see between American and Canadian horror, either on-screen or from a directorial point of view?
Jen: I think films really differ depending on the director. Each has their own unique approach and style. Take Quentin Tarantino for example. You can’t watch one of his films and not know it’s one of his. Aside from the obvious title credits, his style is his signature; the way he uses music and the songs he picks, the turn of phrase of his characters and the words they use, the stylized cuts and edits. It’s so him. Maybe Canadian directors don’t always get as big budgets to play around with as our American cousins, but it’s really their individual styles that set them apart from one another.
Sylvia: The main challenge for Canadian filmmakers would be to have a Canadian production that can compete with the American market. There’s less funding, there’s less government grants. Sadly, after Telefilm put money into ‘Hobo With A Shotgun’ – a strong move into a phenomenal film – they have stated that they will not put money into a film ‘like that’ again. A huge disappointment because Eisener’s ‘Hobo’ is a triumph in Canadian filmmaking that shows there’s a lot more personality in Canadian flicks than what the ‘nice and polite’ stereotypes of Canadians would leave you to believe.
‘Ginger Snaps’ is huge as it was one of the biggest horror flicks to ever come out of Canada. The material was considered too sensitive, so the studio went with Canadian actresses for the leading and roles – could you imagine that flick without Katharine Isabelle or Emily Perkins? Even when Mary Harron was filming ‘American Psycho’, she had to deal with a public outcry due to the more graphic material of the story and she was just brilliant to watch. She became a hero of mine after that. She spoke so eloquently and intelligently about horror, satire, and the artistic merit of the project.
I rather enjoy the strangeness and quirkiness of Canadian horror. I think because Canadians have been stereotyped in this particular way, it’s interesting to push boundaries and play with subject matter. The trick is to really know what you’re making and why you’re making it – just like the great Canadian projects and Canadian directors that have inspired us so. I want to be a part of making Canadian films that really stand out in the market because of their uniqueness.
RavMon: ‘Dead Hooker In A Trunk’. How exactly did this project come about?
Jen: ‘DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK’ came from a film school experience gone wrong. Sylvie and I love movies. We started acting at an early age, here and there. Being twins, there was some opportunity. As we got older, our roles became much more limited. It was nothing but “slutty school girl” or “hot twins” or “bikini girl”. I know the world needs bikini girls and God bless them, but enough was enough. We loved martial arts and have no problem getting roughed up and thought, “Hey, how about we try stunts for a bit? Maybe we’re still in a bikini, but maybe we’ll have more fun.” We went to a film school that had an “action for actors” program. It was awesome. We met some very talented gentlemen in the stunt business. But when the stunt portion ended, the bullshit started. Among other short comings, we had a final project in our filmmaking portion of the program where we broke up into groups and were meant to do short films. At the time, the classes were so disorganized that we were leaving class early to go watch ‘Grindhouse’ in theatres. We figured we wanted to learn so we might as well watch the masters at work. We came up with an idea for a faux trailer like the ones in ‘Grindhouse’ and maybe, just maybe, if it was good enough, we could send it to Rodriguez and Tarantino and get it in the next ‘Grindhouse’ film. However, our school pulled our funding at the last minute which was supposed to be included as part of our tuition. They told us we had to absorb into another group as they had no money for our film.
Well, that shit didn’t fly, believe you me. Sylvie and I set out getting our cast to volunteer on their own time and asked our contacts to help us film the thing. We made it happen on our own time, with our own money, using only our own resources. Additionally, this particular school had a list of things deemed unacceptable and inappropriate for their films and no student, under any condition, was to include anything on the list. Not only did we include EVERYTHING on that list, but we added a few extras that they maybe hadn’t thought of or knew existed. Necrophilia, bestiality, gratuitous violence and gore, the “f” word…. The school allowed us to play our teaser, sight unseen, at our graduation ceremony. Dead last. Half the audience was so put off that they got up and walked out and the other half was laughing and cheering so loudly that you could barely even hear the trailer. It was epic.
Sylvia: I had never been a part of something that affected an audience like that. It was amazing because whether they liked it or hated it – everyone had an opinion on it. We wrote out the scenes we had on place cards – a little trick from Rodriguez that he talks about in his book “REBEL WITHOUT A CREW” (a must read for all indie filmmakers) – and then wrote a few more crazy scenarios we wanted to put in the feature length. Then we moved the scenes around to create a story line that was unpredictable and crazy, then we got to writing. Jen and I work like a tag team when writing. We pick scenes or sequences that we want to write, but tag in the other if either gets stuck. We are always rereading what the other wrote and tweaking it and talking about different things that would be cool. The other twin plays video games – it’s a great system. We have it down to getting a script in two weeks, complete with rewrites during that timeline too.
Even with the strong reaction to the original fake trailer, it was difficult to build the right team for the project. We lost a lot of people from the fake trailer for various reasons, not too many people will work for nothing just for the love of filmmaking, especially with two first-time directors that have ridiculously ambitious plans for their feature. The coolest thing is that, yes, a lot of people called us crazy and said the project was destined to fail, but it kept assholes pretty far away from the project. The people who came onto the film were not only the most talented people working in the industry – thanks to the 2007 writer’s strike – but were also people who have a strong love for filmmaking. That’s why they were there. Almost no one got paid, yet everyone worked as both cast and crew together and killed themselves to make an awesome flick.
I think that’s a huge part of the flick’s charm. You can see that everyone there loves making movies and that’s why they were there. Carlos Gallardo, ‘El Mariachi’, heard about the project and appeared – perfectly cast as God in the film. After we finished shooting the flick, we – Jen, CJ, and I – got started on the post and grass roots campaign to get word about the flick out there. Our first Goody had to leave the project two days before we went to camera, then a female character, and no one would take the role. I asked my then friend, now boyfriend, CJ if he would be interested. He said yes, we rewrote the script, and it was perfect. He saw some footage and told me “I can cut the shit out of that sequence.” That was the start of our little indie filmmaking family. We’re total nerds; we refer to our threesome as the Triforce.
RavMon: Was there an exact moment when you two realized, “Wow, this is getting big”?
Jen: I don’t know. It still doesn’t feel real. Some people have caught on about it in Vancouver and sometimes when we’re out we get, “Hey! Dead Hooker in a Trunk”, which always puts a smile on my face. It’s pretty cool. Or people ask us if we’re Twisted Sister. I usually smile and say, “That’s the band, we’re the Twisted Twins”, ha-ha. Being identical twins we’re kind of used to being an anomaly. People have looked at us like we’re weird as far back as I can remember. I can’t even begin to express how grateful we are to the horror community. People have really stood behind this film and it’s because of them, and their word of mouth, that we’ve been able to come as far as we have. I’m still blown away by it.
Sylvia: We started the film in October 2007 and it’s been a non-stop dedication to getting the film out there and seen by people. There has been so much rejection and cruelty, but I’m grateful for everything that has been harsh because I’ve learned so much about the industry and you need a strong sense of resilience to make it in this business, especially if you start as an unknown.
The process of people really getting behind the flick started during the first annual Women in Horror Recognition Month in 2010. It was the brainchild of Ax Wound’s Hannah Neurotica to start a worldwide event where we celebrate Women in Horror, not only the Scream Queens, and not only for the physical beauty of the women involved, but rather the real sexiness of their brains and balls. ‘DEAD HOOKER’ got its premiere screenings that month, in its original extra long cut, first in Birmingham, UK at the Ghouls on Film Festival – huge thanks to Nia Edwards-Behi for selecting our flick – and then at the Pretty Scary DOA BloodBath Film Festival in Addison, Texas – huge thanks to Andrew Rose for selecting our flick.
After the film got screened, the horror community really got behind the flick. The reason why the film is where it is today is because people from around the world heard about the flick and shared it with their friends and got the word out. I can never thank these people enough for supporting independent flicks like ours because you make these movies get seen and picked up. The film has a limited theatrical run through IFC Midnight right now and that doesn’t usually happen for Indies like this. I feel incredibly humbled by the outpour of support from beautiful strangers from around the globe.
I think the moment that really blew me away happened when ‘DEAD HOOKER’ was banned from the Roxy Theater in Saskatoon because of its title – that is without anyone bothering to watch the film. We started to make a strong stance against this and addressed the issue by suggesting that had anyone actually watched the film, they would have seen it was a satire. When people around the world got wind of this, they combined their efforts and stood up to defend the film. There were festival heads, university professors, horror writers, fans of the film, even very conservative religious folks, people from all different walks came to defend the outrageous censorship. It was just amazing. We even appeared in an article by Aaron Berman in RUE MORGUE about censorship that has been scape-goating the horror genre.
We are just getting started, my friends. Keep your eyes peeled next week for the conclusion of this sprawling interview, where we talk about the twins’ next project ‘American Mary’ and reflect on the Hollywood vs. Indie debate!
Follow all things Twisted on the Twisted Twins’ blog at http://twistedtwinsproductions.blogspot.com/