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