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Extreme Body Modification Takes Center Stage in Soska Sisters’ Follow-Up American Mary

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After months of speculating, head-scratching, hand-wringing and a teaser trailer that evoked more questions than it answered, the secret is finally out. Just what is the Soska sisters’ new film American Mary all about?

The answer: underground, extreme body modification.

Dread Central was recently lucky enough to sit down with the Twisted Twins, Jen and Sylvia Soska, and discuss American Mary. To describe the experience, interviewing the Soskas is like trying to hug a beehive…incredibly intense energy, tireless activity and the sense that even though you’re dealing with multiple entities, there’s an overall feeling of single-mindedness and unity. The Soskas are an incredible breath of fresh air, and after the success of their unique first film, Dead Hooker in a Trunk, the ladies are looking to solidify their place in the horror community. Judging by early response, American Mary is just the film to do it for them.

Extreme Body Modification Takes Center Stage in Soska Sisters' Follow-Up, American Mary

“American Mary follows the story of Mary Mason, played by Katharine Isabelle, as she becomes increasingly broke and disenchanted by medical school and surgeons she once admired,” Sylvia Soska explained. “The allure of easy money sends Mary into the world of underground surgeries that leaves more marks on Mary than her freakish clientele.”

Jen Soska added, “In a way, American Mary is a metaphor for our own journey through the film industry,”, alluding to the fact that the people who look the most trustworthy and perfect are often anything but.

So how do two filmmakers who are fresh off a film like Dead Hooker in a Trunk, which Sylvia describes as “a love letter to grindhouse,” come up with something as intriguing and original as body modification as a subject for their next film? “If Sylvia sees something horrible on the internet, she likes to either ruin someone’s night by showing it to them unexpectedly, or she becomes obsessed with it,” Jen said. “She did this once with our short film Bad Girls, where she saw a break and entering where a grandmother got beaten with an umbrella. That was very significant to her so we made that film.”

“I saw the pictures afterwards of what this woman looked like, and it scarred me,” Sylvia said. “I was like, why don’t we do a short where we have this old lady grandma just beaten to fucking death? I thought it was a great idea and people would be moved by it…but no. They were so angry.”

Although Sylvia’s beaten grandmother inspiration didn’t go over so well, things are looking much brighter for American Mary, which was inspired similarly. “So once upon a time, Sylvia is on the internet looking for something horrible, and she finds this image of these two identical twin brother surgeons,” Jen said. “One of them had his arm voluntarily amputated and connected to the sternum of his brother so he just has this dead hanging arm. And the other one, the one with the hanging arm on him, cuts off a finger from his brother and he has it put onto his finger so he has an elongated finger, and the caption says that you have to be an identical twin to understand why we did this. We thought it was completely real, and it wasn’t until much later that we found out it was an April Fool’s joke by Body Mod Extreme Magazine.”

Sylvia continued her sister’s story, as the duo are frequently apt to do, feeding off each other’s comments as the lively interview rolled on. “Because it disturbed me so much, I became obsessed with body modification. It’s almost like plastic surgery in a way, but it’s surgery that’s not accepted by anybody who exists today and they can’t even get their procedures done legally. We had Russ Fox, who is really big in body modification, as our flesh artist consultant on American Mary. And he wanted to get licensed as a medical professional to do this, and a lot of what he does is fixing hack job operations that people get in hotel rooms from these random guys and they won’t let people do it because it’s not considered ideal beauty or acceptable. They always claim people have some kind of mental illness when they do this.”

“I think plastic surgery is more accepted because it’s the universal idea of what is beautiful,” Jen said, “but if you’re getting a tit job, you can’t really say 100 percent that’s for you. That’s what other people probably think is beautiful. If you get a split tongue or horns, you’re doing that, more likely than not, just for yourself because you’re not trying to fit into someone else’s aspect of what is beautiful. Why is it acceptable to cut open your tits, slip some plastic in, sew it up and say, ‘Look, it’s beautiful.'” To which Sylvia replied reflectively, “Well, a good tit job is kinda beautiful.”

Upon researching the world of underground body modification, Sylvia discovered that an interesting trend is occurring. “I found out that medical students, because they’re so hurting for money, will meet you off in a hotel room and do it because they’ll get paid and they kind of have experience. There’s a little bit of that in American Mary.” Funny, they never mentioned anything like that on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

And no matter how interesting horror fans may find the world of body modification, it’s not the easiest sell in the world for filmmakers. “When we first were pitching the film around, because of the content of body modification, Sylvia would open with “Have you heard about body modification?” and people would think subincised penises, amputations, weird shit done, and people would automatically shut off,” Jen said. “We tried to explain the film isn’t going to be Hostel, it’s not going to be Saw. It’s going to be horrific, but we’re going to very tastefully show and shoot the parts that you would find really disturbing.”

But don’t be fooled into thinking American Mary is going to be anything but an extreme experience, combining an intriguing story, great performances and an incredible F/X team. “We were looking around for an F/X team, and in Vancouver there is only one place. That’s MastersFX,” Jen said. “They are fucking awesome! They are absolutely phenomenal, working around the clock. I cannot say enough good things about Todd Masters and MastersFX.”

Sylvia added, “Not only did we have MastersFX come on board, we had people from the actual body modification community coming on board and just being themselves. Seeing the mix between them and the characters in makeup, the thing is, nobody could ever tell the difference.” That’s impressive F/X work.

Sylvia continued, “The closest anyone has ever come to doing body modification was Clive Barker with Hellraiser, but nobody was really interested. So he turned them into these demons and called them Cenobites.”

As for the name, American Mary? “I wanted to pick the most powerful female name I could think of,” Sylvia said. “I was thinking Mary Mother of God, Mary Magdalene (because there’s a little bit of that in there)…and Mary Harron, who’s one of my favorite directors. She directed American Psycho. She first taught me about making more controversial pieces, and I always wanted to make something that pissed people off. And considering that people have gotten ill during test screenings and people have run out during certain scenes of the movie, I think we did it.”

The Soskas drew inspiration from many foreign works, noting that there has been a bit of a lull in American horror, especially theatrical releases. Jen said, “I think something fucked up happened in North America where we now think ‘horror’ means ‘slasher’ and if we couldn’t come up with a slasher, we just did fucking remakes again. So the most interesting things are coming from other parts of the world right now.”

Fans of the Soskas’ previous film, Dead Hooker in a Trunk, will certainly be wondering what similarities their second effort has to their original offering. One thing you can count on is the twisted Soska humor returning in full bloom. “You’re gonna know who the sick fucks in the audience are,” Jen said. “There are moments that are very laugh out loud, but there are moments where you have to be one of the dark creatures to be laughing.”

“I’m so passionate about this movie,” Sylvia said. “I get so fucking focused on what this needs to look like and what the characters need to do, I don’t see anything else. I love stories about outcasts and people who people don’t usually understand. Jen and I were horribly teased growing up. We were teased, we were spat on, they called us witches, they beat us up and threw us in lockers.”

“We were not popular at all,” Jen remarked.

“They called us ‘The Fitzgerald Sisters’ so we watched Ginger Snaps,” Sylvia said, “and that was the first time we saw Katie.”

Katie, of course, is Katharine Isabelle, who plays the lead role of Mary Mason. Sylvia met Katharine several years ago on the set of Josie and the Pussycats and vowed to one day work with the actress. I was watching her career and loved Ginger Snaps,” Sylvia said, “but she just kept getting these roles and you see her with Pacino in Insomnia and see her with Halle Berry. She can pull her fucking weight.”

“She’s a very talented actress, but for whatever reason, because Ginger Snaps was such a pivotal film for her career and for horror as well, everyone got so caught up in casting her as the angsty teenager, chain-smoking and swearing all the time, but she’s a woman,” Jen said. “She’s grown the fuck up. She needed something that was a mature role. She’s great in everything she does, but I’ve always wanted to see her in something grown-up and mature and complex and dark, and Mary is definitely that part.”

You can also count on seeing a Soska cameo, but it may be the last one for a while. “I’d say it’s a cameo, but it’s a very pivotal role,” Jen said. “It’s a ‘look at me’ cameo. You’re going to be waiting for it and it’s going to be hinted at before you see it, but there’s a pretty good payoff. If you’re going to step back from acting, you might as well do it with a bang.”

And, of course, the million dollar question is where and when will we be able to see American Mary? The Twisted Twins were tight-lipped about the distribution information, but those tight lips were smiling. “There are a lot of interested parties in American Mary,” Jen said, “and there’s one large interested party that’s already claimed some of her. And there’s lots to claim.”

And although they are completed immersed in the world of Mary right now, the Soskas do have a couple of irons in the fire for the future, including word that they will be hosting several episodes of the rumored Chainsaw Sally Show: Season 3. “It’s so cool to see indies like this,” Sylvia said. “Those guys (JimmyO and April Burril and the Forbidden Pictures team) work so fucking hard. It’s all about social media and promoting. It’s about getting word out there.”

And as she often does, Jen finished her sister’s thought. “There’s a fucking billion of us indie filmmakers so you need to be out there. You need to see people doing the same thing as you and you need to collaborate…and they’re fucking masters of that.

We will keep you updated on any and all American Mary news. The Soska sisters are set to explode, and American Mary is the match to light the fuse. For now dig on the newest poster for the film, which has the first image of Katharine Isabelle as Mary. Enjoy! More news as we get it.

Be sure to hit up the American Mary Facebook page and the official Twisted Twins Productions website, where you’ll find more links to the talented duo’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Vimeo pages.

Extreme Body Modification Takes Center Stage in Soska Sisters' Follow-Up, American Mary

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Luke Genton’s The Bone Box Trailer Proves Not All Graves Are Quiet

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Sometimes a fright flick comes along that sells me on the logline itself. And writer-director Luke Genton’s upcoming supernatural horror movie The Bone Box has just such a premise.

The film follows the story of a grave robber who comes to believe he’s being haunted by those he stole from. And if that premise doesn’t sell you on at least checking out the film’s trailer, I don’t know what to do for you.

Speaking of the trailer, you can check it out below. Then let us know what you think below!

The film stars Gareth Koorzen (The Black That Follows), Michelle Krusiec (The Invitation), and Maria Olsen (Starry Eyes), Jamie Bernadette (I Spit On Your Grave: Deja Vu), David Chokachi (Baywatch), Aaron Schwartz (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), and Tess Bellomo (Liked).

Look for updates on Facebook HERE and the Director’s Instagram: @lukegenton.

The Bone Box is currently in post-production. It is scheduled to be completed by November 2017 and is seeking distribution.

Synopsis:

Depressed and reeling from the recent death of his wife, Tom (Koorzen) has built up quite a gambling debt. He goes to stay with his wealthy Aunt Florence (Olsen) in hopes that she will write him into her will. When a nasty creditor makes it clear that Tom is out of time, he devises a plan with Elodie (Krusiec), the undertaker’s daughter, to rob the graves of the rich townspeople buried in the cemetery across the road. After plundering the graves, Tom begins hearing and seeing strange things that seem to coincide with the deaths of the people he robbed. Even more disconcerting… he appears to be the only one sensing the occurrences. One question lingers: Is Tom’s conscience playing a trick on him… or is he really being haunted by those he stole from?

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H.P. Lovecraft’s Kingsport Festival: The Card Game, Overview and Review – Last Meeple Standing

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Yeah, I know. I’ve said it before, and I will scream it to the heavens again: There is an abysmal glut of Lovecraft Mythos games out there (and still streaming into the market). For a while there, it was vampire games (wanna take a sparkly guess why?). Then, it was zombie games (only Robert Kirkman knows why). Now it is Lovecraft games, and it is a LOT of them. Shambling, fish-headed masses of them, weighing down the game shop shelves like heavily laden buckets of freshly shorn tentacles (calm down, hentai fans). It’s true, and a lot of them seem to be sad doppelgangers of other games, just skinned with a rotting coat of Elder God goo.

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hahn

For that reason, it is nice to run across a Lovecraft-themed game that is GOOD. H.P. Lovecraft’s Kingsport Festival: The Card Game is one of those… it’s good, but it’s not great (for ONE painful reason). But, for our nefarious purposes today, that’s good enough. The stars are PARTIALLY in alignment. There is one little detail to get out of the way before we wade into the spawn-infested miasma of this game: it is the hellish offspring of an earlier, more complex game called (you guessed it) H.P. Lovecraft’s Kingsport Festival the board game. Much has been said about the relationship between these two games and many comparisons have been made, but since I neither own the board game nor have I played it, let’s leave it to fester in cold, barren space all by its lonesome for now. I’m sure its time will come…when the stars are right (rolling his eyes).

COMPONENTS:
It is RARE (like fresh Deep One filets) that the components of a game are as nice as the gameplay, but there are two elements of Kingsport Festival: TCG that really make it shine. The first is the titular cards that make up the bulk of the game. The artwork on the tarot-sized cards depicting the various gods, lesser gods, demons, and evil corgis (I kid) from the Mythos is dark and shows off the creatures to good/evil effect. I have to admit that these are some of my favorite depictions of the creatures from Lovecraft’s mind I’ve seen. They really look threatening here. The portraits on the cards presenting the investigators/evil cultists look dignified, a little creepy, and mysterious, as is only right for nogoodniks taking on Cthulhu’s worst. The graphic design is really classy with easily interpreted iconography and border artwork. Equal care has been taken with the backs of the cards, which have appropriately aged and Victorian elements. The only parts to this game are the cards and the dice. Wait, this is a card game, right?

Well, yes and no.

Although cards make up the lion’s share of the game, there is a heavy dice aspect as well, and these are some NICE dice. I’m a SUCKER for custom dice, and Kingsport Festival: TCG comes loaded with them. There are three types of dice: a white d10 with a clock icon on one face, brain-pink (a nice touch) d12 dice representing the player’s sanity with a Sanity icon on one face, and grey Domain d6 dice with three types of domain faces: purple Evil, black Death, and red Destruction. All of the dice are high-quality and engraved, not printed, with easily recognizable faces for ease of play and match up nicely with the icons on the game’s cards. Squee! Wonderfully evil custom dice!

SETUP:
Set up is pretty basic. All of the cards depicting the horrid gods are displayed in order of their power in six rows within reach of all of the players. The total number of copies of each type of god card is dictated by how many people are playing, so the number varies. Each player gets one of the brain-ilicious d12s with which to track their sanity and sets it to 10. All players white timer die, with the high roller taking the role of the starting player. Then each player sets their Sanity die to 10 (yes, the value can be increased up to 12 through game effects. That player takes the white d10 and sets it to the clock face. Players can pick an investigator card, but I suggest dealing them out at random to each player to liven things up (before they get driven insane, of course).

GAMEPLAY:
Gameplay is equally simple, yet strangely engaging. The first player takes the white timer d10, passes it to the next player to their left, who turns it to the number 1, effectively creating a timer that will count up from 1 to 10, ending the game. That player becomes the starting player. Once the white die is passed, the passing player increases their Sanity by one, as will be the mechanic throughout the rest of the game.

At the start of a game, the players will have no cards in their hands. They acquire them throughout the game, but we’ll talk about a general turn. The starting player rolls one of the domain dice and notes the resultant face. If they have cards to play, now is when they would play them. The card effects are varied. They might instruct the player to roll more dice, add specified domains to their pool of domains, change rolled die faces, etc. There are many possibilities. After the player has played all the cards they wish to and resolved the card effects, the player may spend the resources/domains gained through the dice they’ve rolled and the cards they have played to buy ONE god from the displayed cards and add it to their hand. It should be noted that players are limited to one and only one copy of each available god.

Once the player has completed their turn, they check to see if the round indicator on the white d10 matches one of the Raid rounds shown on the investigator card at the very bottom. If the numbers match, the player must compare the Gun icons on his cards to the strength of the raid indicated on his character card. If the Cultist’s strength is greater, he gains the difference in Sanity points. If the Cultist’s strength matches the Raid strength, they neither gain nor lose Sanity. If the Cultist’s strength is less than the Raid strength, they lose the difference in Sanity points. After this, the next player to the left will take their turn.

WINNING:
The game ends at the end of the ninth round, unless a Cultist is able to invoke the Elder God Azathoth, which results in dogs and cats sleeping together (no, not really). The cultists look at all of their god cards and add up the Elder God symbols at the bottom of each card. The Cultist with the most Elder God symbols/points at the end of the game WINS!

FINAL THOUGHTS:
So, there you have it: an epic battle between creepy Cultists and ghoulish Gods in one rather small box. I’ll get to the point. I really like H.P. Lovecraft’s Kingsport Festival: The Card Game. I happen to be fond of little filler games like this. The box lists the playtime for this game as 30 min, but once the players know the rules, you can cut playtime down to 20 min, easy. It lists the age limit at 13+, which I think is absurd. There is nothing in the theme or artwork that would preclude players 10 and up from playing, other than rule complexity. Between the awesome art, the devilish dice, and the rad rules (ugh…), there is not much to dislike about this game… other than the hellish rules. You may be asking what I mean. The rules seem easy. They ARE. It’s the rulebook that is a pain in the neck. For some reason, the graphic designer (I’m looking at you, Savini -no, not Tom-) decided to print all of the rule examples in the book in a nearly unreadable “old-timey” font that is TINY. I think they thought they were adding flavor. If so, that flavor is YUCKY. When learning a new game, you want crystal-clear rules, not something you have to squint and struggle over, like this sad, arcane tome. The same hellish font appears on the cards in places, as well, making me one unhappy game collector. You may look past it, but I had a hard time doing so. Other than that, though, the game is great fun, a nice way to fill in time between bigger games, and beautiful to look at. You make your own judgement.

PRODUCT DETAILS:
Designer: Gianluca Santopietro
Artist: Maichol Quinto and Demis Savini
Publisher: Passport Games/ Giochi Uniti
Published: 2016
Players/Playtime/Age Rating: 3 -5 players/30 min/13+ (seriously?)

RATING:
3/5


Last Meeple Standing is brought to you by Villainous Lair Comics & Games, the ultimate destination for board game fanatics in Southern California. For more information visit the official Villainous Lair Comics & Games website, “Like” the Villainous Lair Facebook page and be sure to follow Villainous Lair on Twitter and Instagram.

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Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama

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Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein

Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker

Reviewed out of Utopia 2017


One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.

The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.

Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.

The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.

While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.

All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.

  • Madam Yankelova's Fine Literature Club
3.5

Summary

Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.

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