By James Whittington, Tuesday 4th April 2017
Jen and Sylvia Soska are two of the most exciting creatives around at the moment. Their work is visceral, dynamic, exciting and above all bloody entertaining. We've chatted to these multi-talented Canadians about their work to date in the build up to the UK TV premiere of See No Evil 2 this Friday on Horror.
HC: It's been while since we last chatted and apart from See No Evil 2 what have you both been up to?
SS: It has been a while, but it's really cool that we get to chat again. We hosted a reality horror gameshow from Matador, GSN, and Blumhouse called Hellevator that was like Saw: The Gameshow!. We had a blast making it. I really can't even believe that was a job a person could have. We're still trying to get it over to the UK - I think the audience over there will really enjoy it. We have had a lot of fun working in television, it's something we're interested in pursuing more of not only in front of the camera, but behind the scenes as well.
JS: Oh, it's been ages! We've been up to nothing but trouble. We made an action movie with the WWE and Lionsgate called Vendetta where we made everybody's favorite Superman Dean Cain break bad fighting the Big Show in jail. It was basically a Punisher goes to jail movie for us. We got to achieve a big bucket list dream and start writing for Marvel comics! We did a Night Nurse and a Guardians of the Galaxy story so far and are stoked to do more with them. And we're re-making Canadian Horror King David Cronenberg's Rabid. We keep busy.
HC: Did the incredible, international success of Dead Hooker in a Trunk surprise you?
SS: We were working very hard towards getting that kind of reaction, but considering how many films and filmmakers come out now, it's always such an unpredictable journey. I remember we would carry screeners in our purse with these little booklets, just in case we met anyone who we could get the film in front of, but it really paid off. I'll always be particularly grateful to the people who saw that first film and decided to support two very different filmmakers.
JS: In a way, when I really think about it, yeah. It's a weird "WTF is even happening" film and it's really "us". The humour, the insane plot, the passion, the violence, and that take no prisoners attitude. I was both surprised and delighted to learn there are so many fellow weirdos like us out there. I love all our fans, but the people who have been in our corner since Dead Hooker In A Trunk have a very special place in my heart.
HC: How did your family react to how it took off?
SS: My parents couldn't have been more proud. My dad appears as the Rabbi in the flashback, we shot at our church, we had a lot of support from our church on that one, ha ha. We're very lucky in the way that our parents have always been incredibly supportive of what we wanted to do. My mom tells me it wouldn't have made a difference because once we got an idea in our head, even as little kids, we had to make it happen.
JS: My folks are the best. They've always been so supportive of our paths wanting to be artists. They're both artists themselves so they never told us to settle on "normal jobs". I think they couldn't believe how big it got. When people starting yelling, "Dead Hooker In A Trunk!!!!" at us in the street it was like, "Wow, what is even happening to our lives??" They're very proud. They always get to see the early cuts and my mum will let me know when the gory bits really sell. I have no idea what's too much anymore. I don't know if I ever did, ha ha.
HC: When American Mary showed at FrightFest a few years back it gained huge critical acclaim, what are your most vivid memories of this time?
SS: I remember lying awake in my hotel room with Jen at the Soho and being extremely nervous and excited. The next day our film was going to play in front of a theatre of 4000 seats and we were going to be wearing these fantastic outfits made out of surgical plastic created by Enigma Arcana that we were going to wear for it. I kept thinking about what a surreal situation that was and it's kind of a vulnerable story, so I was feeling that. But I couldn't have dreamed up a better audience. I remember Mike Hewitt from Universal made sure we got a bunch of people from the European body modification community in the front rows of the theatre, so seeing their faces and getting the reactions from the crowd was a beautiful experience. I'll always be in love with the UK because of truly wonderfully they have treated us throughout the years.
JS: I remember Dead Hooker fans waiting outside our hotel for autographs and photos. It was so cool, but I'm very Canadian so I was all like, "How long have you been out here? Oh no, I would've come out sooner! I didn't know!" I have never received a warmer welcome anywhere in the world. The UK fans know their horror and they got American Mary at a level I didn't expect anyone to. It meant the world to us. And FrightFest is the best. The gents there were so good to us. I'm dying to return.
HC: Let's chat about See No Evil 2, had you seen the first movie before you got attached to the project?
SS: Yes. A lot of people don't know that we are huge WWE fans. One of the only dreams that my Dad didn't support was me becoming a professional wrestler and getting tattoos. I guess through working with the WWE and making American Mary, I got to experience those avenues as closely as I could. We're still such WWE fans. I think the popularity of professional wrestling is like nothing else. You have these super hero soap operas and these brilliant coordinated fights where heroes & villains fight each week and they have such positive messages about overcoming obstacles or never giving up. Then, you see them on their off time and they are visiting the troops overseas or going to a children's hospital to brighten someone's day. I still dream of maybe getting an opportunity to write an episode of RAW or maybe get in the ring. With Glenn 'Kane' Jacobs and Paul 'Big Show' Wight as back up, though. Those lady Superstars are tough, I'd love to train to get in the ring with them. Maybe take on the Bellas?
JS: Yes! Yes! Yes! (Daniel Bryan "Yes Chant"). We're hardcore WWE fans. I've loved it since it was the WWF. I remember an acting teacher made fun of me for loving WWE and said it was a waste of my time. ha ha, guess he can "suck it" (Degeneration X) now, ha ha. I lose my shit at the live events. I love it so much. Getting to work with and meet so many of the WWE Superstars has only increased my love for the whole organization and what those performers put themselves through. Real life super heroes, all of them!
HC: How were you selected to direct and how much say did you have on the incredible cast
SS: We got the script knowing it was time sensitive and were really excited about the opportunity, but we didn't think we'd be hired. After American Mary and Dead Hooker in a Trunk, I think people kept trying to put us in this box of this is what the twins make, but we have very diverse interests and like tackling different sub genres. I hear a lot of nightmare stories about people working with a studio for the first time, but we were extremely lucky. Michael Luisi, the head of WWE Studios, hired us to bring a female perspective to the film. We got to pick our team and modify things creatively as we went along to make the sequel really special. We're fans of the material, so we kept thinking what would be like to bring, knowing we were reintroducing this character from an original that was from so many years ago.
JS: We always go to bat for our actors. We love this cast. We got Glenn "Kane" Jacobs as part of it and being huge Kane and Undertaker fans it was really the opportunity of a lifetime. I had wanted to work with Danielle Harris for ages. She's an icon. True Horror Queen. And we had to bring Katie Isabelle with us. We wanted to give her something really fun to do. We sat in on every audition and met our boys. Kaj-Erik Eriksen is just the best. I met him and felt like I knew him for years. I knew Greyston Holt, a fellow Hungarian, for a while and had been wanting to get him in something of ours. We were fans of Chelan Simmons from the Final Destination series and Tucker and Dale Vs Evil. Lee was another gift from the auditions. And Michael Eklund? He's the Canadian Daniel Day Lewis. We love him. We were looking for something together for a while and this was perfect.
HC: Did you change any of the script and if so (without giving too much away) was it much and why did you change it?
SS: We had a completely collaborative team and that was a very supportive environment to make the film. I don't want to give too much away, but we switched up the gender roles in this film big time. It's very subtle, so a lot of people didn't really notice it until the end. I sometimes think, oh I wish I had done this or did that, but the scene in the morgue with Katharine Isabelle and Lee Majdoub with Kane on the slab was very much us. That character went from being a dude to being Tamara and ended with such a sexy moment. We like playing with people's expectations and the team was totally down for it too.
JS: Ugh, I can't say much without giving it away but we wanted to give the film that classic 80s slasher feel to it. AND we played with typical gender roles. Nuff said! Can't say more without ruining everything!
HC: How tough was the shoot, what did you learn from it and if you could go back and do it again what would you change?
SS: The worst planned moment was that the big final fight was on the last day and then Jen, Glenn, and I had two hours sleep before we had to get on a plane to fly to New York for New York Comic Con. I was ecstatic to go and it was our first time in New York which was amazing, but the three of us were so dead after shooting non-stop for weeks, then going back into it, but these are the kind of hours you have in the WWE. You don't really think about all that traveling that they do until you see it first-hand. But then again, sleep is something you can do when you're dead.
JS: Any 15 day shoot is ambitious. You have got to pick your battles. You have to lose some battles to win the war. If I could change anything it would be that promo NYCC trip that made our first time in NY feel like an acid trip.
HC: What's Kane like in real life?
SS: He's the best. He's not Kane. I mean, if anyone is Kane, it's Glenn and he's such a phenomenal performer that that character is a real guy to people. He was a real guy to me too, until I got to meet the man behind the Devil's Favourite Demon. He's very intelligent, he's ridiculously funny - I think it's a shame that we don't get to see more of that comedic genius on the show, he's very down to earth, and he's one of the kindest souls I have had the pleasure of meeting. You see him doing different charity events constantly, he's always giving back to his fellow man, and he's always visiting people in the hospital. It's funny that everyone knows him as this monster on TV, but in real life he's much closer to an angel. I don't want to ruin his street cred, but Glenn is literally the best.
JS: He's the coolest. He is SUCH a nice guy. He didn't set anything on fire or murder anyone that wasn't meant to be murdered. Glenn is very down to Earth and terribly brilliant.
HC: SNE2 is one of those rare things, a sequel that's stronger than the original, would you agree?
SS: That's what we set out to do. I think one of the most important aspects of a slasher is that you care for the cast so there's a sense of wins and losses in this horrific situation you've placed these people in. We wanted it to be visually beautiful, we wanted to revamp Jacob Goodnight so that he would be more fear-inducing, and we wanted to have a lot of fun killing whoever it is we end up killing in the film. I'm hoping with the set up in See No Evil 2, they'll let us have another round with a third installment.
JS: Ha ha, that's what I think, but I've heard people say the opposite. You can't make everyone happy, I suppose. And those people are idiots. No accounting for taste! I wanted to create this extension of Jacob Goodnight's world that made the audience actually feel something. I feel that's the main difference between a horror film and, say, an action film. If you care when someone dies you're probably watching a horror film and if you don't care someone did something wrong. We wanted to redesign the Jacob Goodnight character. The fans wanted a mask and we were totally into delivering. What's a horror icon without a cosplayable costume, right?
HC: Are you pleased SNE2 is getting its UK TV premiere on Horror Channel?
SS: Nothing makes me happier! You guys were the first ones to put us on TV and now look what's happened. Technically, this is all your fault.
JS: I am deliriously excited. I LOVE the UK Horror Channel!! You guys have been so deliciously delightful to us. You cared about us before anyone got aboard the band wagon! We Soskas don't forget stuff like that!
HC: If SNE3 ever came about would you be up for it?
SS: We have been talking to the team for years about making a third one. We nicknamed it 3 No Evil and we have a killer idea set up for it. The team is interested in coming back, maybe this UK TV premiere will be what gets them to say, why not, how bad could it be?
JS: 3 No Evil? I've actually been dying to do a sequel to our sequel. It would be so fun to reunite with Glenn and company. We have some big plans for him in the future...
HC: How much in the last 10 years has the movie industry changed for women? Are you now rightfully treated as equals?
SS: There's definitely more of a spotlight on the inequality in hiring female directors which has opened up this dialogue that has been going strong for years. You look at filmmakers like Ana Lily Amirpour with A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Julia Ducournau with Raw, Agnieszka Smoczy?ska with The Lure, and so many others - and you see these unique perspective films and you see that audiences are hungry for that. There's this misconception about who the film-going audiences are and what they will pay to see in the theatres, but then you see someone try something different like Jennifer Kent did with The Babadook and it's insanely successful. Yet instead of looking for more new ideas to give audiences more of a variety, they try to recreate the last success and there's no art in that. Creating true equality is an ongoing process, but I truly don't mind. There are no other sister directing teams that we are following in the footsteps of, every step is new ground that hopefully makes the path less unruly for those who come next.
JS: Ha ha, we're getting there but we've still got a ways to go. Female filmmakers are making a lot more noise about diverse representation and the fans are echoing that call. Ladies still have to fight hard for those opportunities and get overlooked for their male counter parts. If another male director with less experience than me gets another superhero franchise I might lose my shit. With all the attention on female filmmakers right now, particularly in the horror genre, I think we're gonna see more of a shift in hiring (and paying equal wages). But ask me next time we chat, we'll see how far we came.
HC: So, what are you working on at the moment?
SS: We are very honoured to have been the team chosen to take on the remake of Cronenberg's Rabid. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of remakes but that's if they don't have anything new to bring to the story. We have a unique perspective just because of who we are to tell the story from Rose's eyes as well as make a commentary on the increasingly rabid world that we live in. Also, we've been dying to get back into body horror. Ten years into David's filmmaking career, he remade The Fly and it brought him to this new level. This is ten years into our career and this will be our first film that gets a wide theatrical release, so it feels like a good pairing. We just have to make sure we don't let down our country, our fanbase, and our hero. No pressure.
JS: Rabid! And sadly a bunch of stuff I can't talk too much about. I will say that one of our original scripts has now gone into production and I'm really beside myself about it. It's a dream I'd forgotten I'd even had. We wrote this particular script at the same time as American Mary and it's maybe my favorite thing we've ever written. It's a "f**k yeah" film so get stoked for that. We have quite a few films in production and Kill-Crazy Nymphos Attack!, our (very) graphic novel that we're doing with Daniel Way with artwork by Rob Dumo. It's coming this summer, so grab that if you want to be horribly offended.
HC: Jen and Sylvia Soska, thank you very much.
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