Interview: Jen and Sylvia Soska Talk Rabid, David Cronenberg, and Transhumanism
Jen and Sylvia Soska are the first names genre aficionados think of whenever 21st Century body horror is the topic of conversation. Their breakout hit American Mary especially injected fresh elements into the subgenre popularized by David Cronenberg in the 1970s and 1980s.
It seems perfect, then, that the “Twisted Twins” are remaking Cronenberg’s Rabid (originally released in 1977). It’s been about a month since we reported that Shout! Factory had secured distribution rights to the remake, which is now neck-deep into pre-production.
We were lucky enough to sit down with the Soska Sisters as they prepare to descend on Toronto, where Rabid’s being filmed. We discussed their initial gravitation towards horror and how David Cronenberg has already been part of their lives for decades. They also revealed as much as possible about who will be playing Rose in their remake.
Sylvia Soska: The most obvious associations are the works of David Cronenberg, like Videodrome. Today, we’re looking at body horror as something that’s going past what we medically know is possible. There’s a theoretical aspect involving what we can do with medicine when we manipulated the body.
Jen Soska: For me, the easy way to describe body horror is it’s scientifically based, or medicine-based horror. David Cronenberg, for example, doesn’t believe in an afterlife, he doesn’t believe in that supernatural bullshit, so there’s none of that in his films. The fear that we all have is when we see blood is that it’s going to be our own blood; when you see someone getting hurt, you’re thinking about your own flesh being hurt. That’s something that’s universal for everyone.
DC: How has body horror changed since the heyday of David Cronenberg? How has the subgenre evolved in the past couple decades?
JS: In the 1970s they were making fun of cosmetic surgery saying, “Oh, you’ll get a new nose because you don’t like the last one you got” like in David’s original Rabid. These days, it’s so accepted it’s not far off to imagine extreme body modifications or extreme cosmetic surgery. It’s just the norm. For me, I think the next levels are transhumanism and we’re already seeing hybrid parts being harvested in labs. There was an article recently about a human/sheep fetus that was being raised to create these half-human/half-sheep parts for transplants. I think that’s the direction body horror is going.
SS: Back in the 20th Century, people were just discovering body horror was something you could do, so movies were weird and abstract. In Western culture right now, it’s so disturbing because it’s taking the self that you know and transforming it into something you would never imagine.
DC: Can you explain the importance of David Cronenberg’s legacy, especially for our younger readers.
JS: I would say he’s anti-Hollywood; he’s the guys who’s always done films his own way and he asks more questions than he gives answers. He encourages thought and encourages films to be art. He doesn’t categorize himself as a horror filmmaker. He’s a filmmaker and there are horrific elements in his different films. He has a lovely series of body horror films, but then he goes into real-life horror in things like A History of Violence and it shows the horrific price of the human condition. Again, he doesn’t believe in that supernatural bullshit; he’s really fascinated by the darkness that we’re capable of—not only in our minds but if we have no limits on our creativity with biology and science.
SS: He’s so fascinating. I remember there was a point where they wanted to invite him to [participate in the Showtime series] Masters of Horror, but he refused to be categorized or placed into a specific group like that. No matter what’s going on with David and his successes he always wants to maintain an outsider’s sensibilities and he’s not afraid to do things people don’t readily accept. I remember hearing about how when he was doing Rabid, the press was saying “Marilyn Chambers is doing legitimate work” and David was like, “Since when has my work been considered legitimate?” He’d always been considered taboo or overtly sexual. Again, you’re talking about a guy who wrote a movie about sex slugs! It was almost like he anticipated the kind of sexually transmitted diseases hysteria that was about to explode in the 1980s. And with Marilyn Chambers [in Rabid], here you have a biological vampire; it’s a very sexualized role and she’s a female aggressor.
JS: Also, he’s Canadian. He’s one of us! We have David Cronenberg, Wolverine, and Deadpool.
SS: And we have Mary Heron!
JS: Maybe because David’s Canadian is the reason Americans don’t hear about him as much.
DC: How has David Cronenberg influenced your work and your lives growing up? You guys weren’t even born when Rabid was originally released.
JS: Rabid was released in 1977 and we were released in 1983.
SS: Yeah but our parents did meet Marilyn Chambers! I’m trying to find the autograph they got so I can keep it on set as a blessing to the whole production.
JS: Our parents always let us watch horror movies, especially our mom. Every horror movie writer or director I know watched horror movies as kids—it was like mom/dad bonding time. With David, I didn’t automatically consider him a horror director. Dead Ringers is the ultimate for my people…
JS: …and I loved it. There are few directors that defy the genre they excel in. David is one of them, Tarantino is one of them. You go into their films specifically for what they bring to the table. Their films are larger than life.
SS: We were little kids when we discovered David. I missed the beginning of Shivers but it was on TV late at night. I didn’t even ask my mom; I just knew I had to sneak a watch. I remember watching and being like, “What is even happening?” I remember years later I was watching Videodrome, and then we saw Rabid, and that’s when I started connecting the dots. I was like, “Oh, this is the same guy! Oh my God, this is the same guy and this is his style!”
JS: I felt the same way about John Carpenter too. I was like, “He couldn’t have made all these films!”
SS: We have never met David, but I know that he watched American Mary and we got an invite to meet with him but we couldn’t leave our premiere. I know he knows of us and we’ve met his son Brandon.
JS: We ripped [Brandon’s] heart up in “W is for Wish” in The ABCs of Death 2.
SS: We put a glowing crystal in it, so that was a great bonding experience. Canadian Horror Royalty! I tried to get David to do a cameo in Rabid and we wrote a role for him, but I heard they’re also remaking The Fly and offered him a part in that and he was cameoed out at that point. But I heard through the grapevine that our remake is the only one he’s looking forward to—and that’s better than anything else. I consider that a blessing. I’m planning on not disappointing him.
DC: I was hoping for a Cronenberg cameo.
JS: He’s such an amazing actor.
DC: Absolutely. I’ll always remember him as Dr. Decker in Nightbreed.
SS: He killed it in Nightbreed!
JS: The first time I saw Nightbreed I remember hearing that David had a cameo role, but we weren’t expecting that! He has such amazing energy.
DC: Let’s talk about Rabid: Where are you in the production process?
SS: We’re in prep right now. We’re about to go to Toronto where we’re going to be doing the rest of the heavy prep. We’re locking down our cast. We’re locking down our locations. The monsters are about to be made. It’s the most exciting phase of the project, but it’s also the time where we’re like, “Oh my God, how much time do we have before things start?”
JS: You’re going to be learning more about who our cast is. Do we have our Rose? Yes, we do! It’s a fan-favorite, great in the genre, and someone we’ve wanted to work with for a while. Fans are going to be really excited when they see who we cast.
SS: David originally wanted Sissy Spacek for Rabid but went with Marylin Chambers. I think we’ve found someone who’s in between. And (I hope this doesn’t give it away, but) she looks a lot like Marilyn—like a lot!
JS: People are going to read this over and over again trying to guess! I can say we’ve re-teamed with MastersFX again, so we’re going to have some amazing practical effects. Because we want to be very true to David Cronenberg’s work.
DC: So, how did you guys end up with Rabid? Was it a film you sought out specifically? Why not another Cronenberg remake?
JS: The project came to us. If you were to ask me what my favorite Cronenberg film is, you know, I love all of them, but it would be Dead Ringers, obviously. I’ve thought of remaking that one a million times. Rabid was actually brought to us, and I was very skeptical when I heard someone was remaking this film. But when I realized we’d be working with [John Serge] a real author, I was like, “Well, I hate remakes, but it’s really important for someone who gives a shit about David’s body of work, the fans of the original film, to revamp it.” I thought, “Oh, God, what if it’s just one of those soulless remakes?” I don’t need to name any of them, but you know what I’m talking about. I was afraid this would be Rabid in title only with nothing to do with the original.
SS: The cool thing is it forced us to go back to Cronenberg Film School. We read all of his interviews, watched all of his commentaries, read every book that he had—especially from around the 1970s and 1980s so we could build on that. It’s almost like a companion piece to David’s original. Shivers is being remade too. I found that out. There are a few Cronenberg remakes in the works, but ours will be the first out of the gates. The Twins will wind the race—with the support of the Canadian Government no less! So how ‘bout that, eh?
DC: I just re-watched Rabid to prepare for this interview. There are some pretty big, explosive car crashes. Are you guys going to go all-out Michael Bay style?
[Both Twins go silent, but raise pinkies to their lips impersonating Dr. Evil]
SS: We have one of the best effects team on the planet—and it starts with a car accident, so…
JS: The car accident is so important because it sets up the entire calamity of the misadventure.
SS: We do have Todd Masters who’s known for his body horror, like in Six Feet Under so… It’s going to suck for Rose. It’s going to suck for Rose until it gets better.
DC: What other innovations do you have planned for Rabid, visually or thematically?
JS: Well I think the big difference between our Rabid and David’s Rabid is, firstly we’re female, so it’s going to be from a female gaze. As much as I feel in touch with the male side of myself it will be seen through the eyes of a lady. And I believe in life after death; I believe in spirituality and that’s going to play into the themes as well. There are going to be moments where, maybe a guy will be watching and be like, “Wow! Do women really experience shit like this?” Unfortunately, yes. It’s going to be a very timely piece in addition to going back to the original sensibilities of transhumanism in David’s Rabid.
SS: And there’s going to be a TV component as well, so it’s kind of fun to have these two pieces working at the same time. To date, I don’t think there’s ever been a twin creative force involved with this kind of endeavor, so I’m excited to see how that develops and impacts the movie.
JS: I’m really excited about creating people and maybe animals with rabies. I don’t think that many people realize that zombies were inspired by rabies. And if you watch some video of people with rabies it’s like—wow! It’s very cinematic, fortunately for us. People should be afraid of catching rabies, which is incurable by the way.
SS: It looks like a demonic possession and by the time you get the symptoms you’re a goner. So, they just tie you to a bed like Regan [from The Exorcist] and hope for the best. It’s scary!
DC: You mentioned the timeliness of your version of Rabid, can you speak more to that?
JS: Absolutely. I think it’s no secret that there’s a rather large conversation going on right now between offenders and what is acceptable behavior. And the issues involved with people who have been abusing their power for so long. You’re definitely going to see these issues explored in Rabid. It’s just so prevalent in society now. And it’s a film that’s being set in 2017/2018/2019 whatever. It’s not a 1970s film, it’s very modern. So, you will see how Rose fits into this culture. As she gets stronger and as she evolves you’ll see how her position shifts. I hope that’s not being too vague.
SS: I know what you’re talking about, but I’m very well-versed with the script!
DC: Knowing your previous work and the potential for Rabid, it’s easy to imagine a tentacle porn angle. Am I totally off base? Are you guys going there?
SS: You know I really like the tentacle that comes out of Rose’s armpit, but my first suggestion was a tentacle coming out from between her legs. And then I found out that was David’s original idea as well. Both of us got shot down. So, this is going to be… different than what you’ve seen but it’s pretty disturbing.
JS: I don’t think most people realize that Rabid, at its heart, is a story about a biological vampire. I was really excited to create someone who feeds on blood, human blood, but not in a supernatural way—in a scientific way. One of the original titles was actually Mosquito, and that’s why Rose had her thorn and her tentacle. That’s also something explored in our version. There were parts that David had to cut out of his original and you can find it in his commentary where Rose loses part of her intestines in her car accident. That’s also why she can’t consume anything besides high-protein blood. That part of the film was edited out, so you never really get that explanation. We pick up where those aspects are missing.
SS: It’s interesting because the FDA just recently removed the sanctions they had on human/hybrid animal testing. The reason the restrictions were in place before is because they don’t want animals with human intelligence. And so they came back and said, “Do you want us to not make smart animals?” and they were like, “Yeah, sure.” So, they just started all these crazy experiments and testing again using the weirdest stuff right now. Again, David Cronenberg anticipated that back in Rabid. He was talking about fusing humans and animals together.
DC: You guys are awesome. Is there anything else you want to tell our readers?
JS: This is going to be the widest theatrical release we’ve had for any of our films, so I really hope fans will go out and see this movie. It makes such a big difference, what you go to see and what you take your friends to see. And there’s no better marketing than fans saying, “This is going to be a fucking good movie!” Come out and see it. Don’t worry about Marvel and DC; they’ll be fine! We need butts in seats.
SS: And also, we’ll be connecting with our audience in some unique ways, so, keep an eye out for an announcement. There’s going to be a lot of information from the set being made available so fans will feel like they’re part of the movie. But we’ll be keeping the big surprises behind a curtain so they won’t be able to actually see it.
JS: It’ll be very interactive.