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.
“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.
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