Canadian born twin sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska, also known as the Twisted Twins are fast becoming recognizable names in the film industry thanks to both their uncompromising take on horror and their views on women in film. Since debuting in 2009 with first feature film Dead Hooker In a Trunk to the recently released See No Evil 2 and ABCs of Death 2, in which their segment is titled T is for Torture Porn, they’ve done things their way, are unapologetic about it and seem to love being able to shake things up. The sisters were nice enough to answer a rather long list of questions I had for them…
Interview by Jason Bonton
MM: What inspired you both to get into film?
Sylvia: No matter the film, whenever I sat in a darkening theatre, it was always a thrill. Sometimes, you get lucky, and you walk out of the theatre changed – the film affected you in some way and that’s a great feeling. Even more for young people growing up, not necessarily popular or that feel they fit in. It’s a beautiful form of escapism that we always wanted to be a part of – we started in acting, never knowing that we would find our niche behind the scenes creating these film worlds.
Jen: We’re born storytellers. We told scary stories around campfires and made up stories for our favorite comic book heroes in between issues. I love comic books, video games, novels, and movies. Everyone has films that influenced them at a young age and I believe every one has thought “I wanna do that!”, but for whatever reason it either passed or they told themselves it’s not possible or a realistic dream, which isn’t true at all. We just never gave up on that dream.
MM: What were some of the problems you had when you were first starting out with your short films?
S: We should have started with short films more! We made a faux trailer for Dead Hooker in a Trunk in the style of the multi-collaborative Grindhouse that was our real film school while we were stuck in a terrible film school that’s only function was to bleed it’s student body dry. The trails was more of a fuck you than anything – hence the completely unfiltered content – but when we played it at graduation, half the audience walked out while the other was cheering so loud. That reaction pushed us into making the feature. The shorts we did afterward were out of frustration of not being creative and to get some money as very poor filmmakers in contests. We never won a single one.
J: Dead Hooker In A Trunk was our first film. We did our shorts after. Yes, it’s crazy we jumped right in, but I blame Robert Rodriguez and his REBEL WITHOUT A CREW. The hardest part of our shorts was the hardest part of DHIAT. How do we make something super ambitious with no money, ha ha. Creativity solves problems, not money. It’s the right mindset to have in this business.
MM: And were those problems the same you had when you made Dead Hooker in a Trunk your first full length movie?
S: I think a large part of the difficulties and the success of making DHIAT is that we had no idea how shitty and hard making a film could be, we were very Legally Blonde about it – we wanted to make a film, so we went out and made it. We called in a lot of favors and treated it like it would be a legitimate film. The part that bummed me out is when different key players referred to the film as ‘not a real film’ and didn’t support it in a way that could have helped get the word out there. So Jen and I worked endlessly with years of rejection before we got it out there and it got some attention.
J: DHIAT was an incredibly ambitious undertaking. It being the first thing we ever made gave us the best film school imaginable. With every film, not matter at what level you’re making it, you’re never going to have enough time and you’re never going to have enough money. It’s just a truth you have to accept. As a result, you need to learn that creativity solves problems, not money. Just look at how brilliant Robert Rodriquez is. You have to learn to roll with the punches and make split second decisions.
MM: With Dead Hooker in a Trunk it put you on the radar on the underground indie scene and festival circuits. Was it odd to finally start getting recognized after it came out and what did it mean to you both?
S: It was fucking wild. I mean, we got so much rejection and people slamming us and the film that there was a part of us that didn’t know how it would be successful, but we never stopped trying. We put everything we had into the film. The people who supported DHIAT mean the world to us, they are the reason why we got to continue in this career path.
J: We’ve always stood out being identical twins, but I wanted to be more than just that. We put so much time into promoting DHIAT and putting it out their that we started to feel like we’d never break in. Even now I’m surprised when someone recognizes us or knows our films. It’s the coolest feeling ever. I don’t even have words to tell you how much the support and love we get means to us. It’s so much more than we ever could have asked for.
MM: Between Hooker in a Trunk and your next film American Mary you were involved with, and still are, Women in Horror: Massive Blood Drive. What has this meant to both you, first to be asked to be involved and to still be involved with it?
S: Women in Horror Month is the event that got us our first two festival screenings for DHIAT. It created female-focused genre festivals, thank God, and we got to have a world premiere in the UK and our US premiere a couple weeks afterwards. It gave us an opportunity to get out there. That’s what WiH Month is about, celebrating female artists and putting the focus on them and their work. We will always be very involved in it because we know how life changing it can be. Jen is the one who came up with the blood drive – it involves facing fear and blood, and most importantly we have a shortage of donors, so it’s a good way to give back in another way!
J: We came onto Women in Horror Month through our friend and founder of the event, Hannah Neurotica. We wanted to promote support of female artists and promote girl on girl support as well as equality. I also wanted to give back. We pitched the Massive Blood Drive to Hannah and are indeed the founders of it. It makes us so happy to be able to use our influence to give back. Each year we shoot a PSA on our own dime and put it together encouraging everyone across the globe to donate blood.
MM: While Dead Hooker in a Trunk is more of fun movie, American Mary is more serious in tone. What brought about the story for it and was it easier or harder to make than your first movie?
S: Both were difficult in their own ways. We wanted to show two completely different styles because it’s so easy to get categorized while making films in the sense that you are only capable of making whatever your last film was. American Mary and DHIAT are both deeply personal in different ways – those films are a big reveal of who Jen and I are and sometimes it’s a bit off-putting to put so much of yourself out there for judgment.
J: No movie is easy or hard to make. The problems we encountered on DHIAT were vastly different than the ones we faced on AMERICAN MARY. Each film comes with their own set up unforeseen challenges. They’re the ones that pop out of nowhere and you would have never guessed were coming. The problems you plan for never seem to come up.
MM: You have a segment in ABCs of Death 2 that comes out in October. Can you tell us what it is?
S: It’s a back room porn casting session that goes terribly badly – with a hentai twist. I have a lot of tastes that I suppose are more commonly thought of as masculine, I like watching adult film. In that sense, this segment is a bit of a gender reversal which is something we like to play with in our films.
J: It’s had it’s world premiere at Fantastic Fest this past September and it’s currently on VOD so I think it’s cool to talk about it. Our installment is T is for Torture Porn. It’s very two toned with a distinct switch. Oh the surface it’s a bit of a WTF, highly sexualized piece of violence, under the surface it’s a commentary on the objectification of women in horror. We turn the tables. It’s very fun. We also had Jill Sixx second unit direct a scene of ours that appears after the credits so be sure to stay tuned for that!
MM: What did you think of Facebook banning the promo picture for your segment for ABCs of Death 2 considering that worse is shown and posted almost everyday on the site?
S: I don’t get Facebook some days. I’m not a fan of censorship – I’d be happier if there was a community where people who work in different genre of films can easily display their work without fear of being barred or punished. The image was a masterful replica of a severed penis in our tentacles. It’s Masters FX, so the prosthetics are of the highest quality and sharing that gives people a little peek behind the scenes.
J: I thought it was hilarious. I also thought it made for great promotion. Everyone loves a little controversy. Just look at Tom Sixx’s HUMAN CENTIPEDE series. Or A SERBIAN FILM. I love how censors in trying to get rid of something only end up bringing more attention to it.
MM: Your next film coming out after ABCs of Death 2 is See No Evil 2. How did directing come about for the sequel and what was it like working from a script you didn’t write or direct originally?
S: After American Mary, the only offers we got, regardless of what project we were pitching, was to make a watered down version of Mary. It was frustrating, but then along came See No Evil 2. If we grew up together, you would know that we got into watching the WWE as the Kane character was introduced in the lead up to Hell in a Cell. It was a dream come true to get to revamp and relaunch this slasher icon that missed a few opportunities in its first rendition. The writers, Nathan Brookes and Bobby Lee Darby, are sharp and witty and completely sick in the head – it was a joy to collaborate together on the script and push it to its limits. Those gents are on fire – expect a lot more from them.
J: It was an exciting challenge. We wanted to build on the successes of the original while rectifying the missed opportunities of the first one. We had the chance to recreate our very own horror icon played by one of our favorite performers ever, Glenn “Kane” Jacobs. We worked very collaborative with the writers, Bobby Lee Darby and Nathan Brookes. You will definitely see our sensibilities and humor throughout.
MM: What does it feel like to having both ABCs of Death 2 and See No Evil 2 coming out in the same month?
S: And we are in post-production on Vendetta – it means every hour of your day is called for in some way – it’s a lot of responsibility to make a proper commitment to each project to get it out there, but I feel they support one another – if I’m talking about one project, I talk about all of our projects.
J: Really exhausting. I didn’t realize how much double the promotion would be, but it’s so cool. It’s very exciting. And people are loving both films so we couldn’t be happier!
MM: Vendetta for WWE Studios is coming out in 2015. Can you tell us a little bit about the movie and what went into making it?
S: It’s our first action film, there is an astonishing amount of violence in it. If we didn’t have the team that we did – our crew came back from SNE2 and so did our beloved Michael Eklund joined by Dean Cain and Paul ‘Big Show’ Wight as our leading men – it would have been an impossible task. It’s a very dark revenge thriller – I feel it’s a bit like a male-focused American Mary because it’s about the internal and physical destruction of a man. It’s going to surprise a lot of people, there aren’t too many films like that being made anymore. It has a very Death Wish vibe.
J: We’re very excited. It’s our first action movie and it’s amazing. We have Dean Cain versus Paul “The Big Show” Wight so it’s like a Punisher movie. Frank Castle vs The Kingpin.
MM: XX as well is scheduled to come out in 2015 and is a anthology film directed by only female directors. How did this come about and can you tell us about your segment and how your idea for it started?
S: Being brought onto that project was one of the most amazing fulfilling moments of my life – I am absolutely heartbroken to no longer be working with a group of women who are responsible for inspiring me to become a director. I know it will be a fantastic film – I’ve seen enough of what it is and how it is being made to tell you that it will be a game-changer.
J: Unfortunately we’ve had to leave the project. We’re very sad about it, but our schedules conflicted as we have such full plates right now. It was an honor to be included amongst so many female filmmakers we admire. We’ll be the first in line to see it.
MM: Your next film after XX is supposed to be Painkiller Jane which is based on a comic by Jimmy Palmiotti and Joe Quesada. What attracted you to direct the film and what are you hoping to bring to the viewing audience with it?
S: It’s so funny – our good friend, Ken Levin introduced us to Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti over dinner. Good Lord, did we try not to geek out all over them. I think Jimmy mentioned ‘Welcome Back Frank’ and I fucking lost it. We love their work and they are truly two of the greatest people to ever work in the business. We kept in touch afterward and Jane came up – so we asked to read the script. The script is exactly what you would hope for with the co-creator at the helm of the project with his brilliant writing partner, Craig Weeden. We asked to be able to pitch for the directing job and I still can’t believe our good fortune to be a part of this project. We are huge nerds and nothing is worst than a film disloyal to the source material, this film will be real Painkiller Jane – no watering down whatsoever.
J: We are the biggest comic book fans. We’ve wanted to do a comic book movie adaptation forever! Jimmy Palmiotti is such a talented writer. We’ve been fans of his for a very long time. When we heard he was doing PAINKILLER JANE we wanted in right away. The script is absolutely incredible. Easily one of the best scripts I’ve ever read. And it’s right off of the pages. I love when a comic book adaptation stays true to the source material.
MM: What has directing given you that you never thought would have been possible?
S: The ability to have a career that I share with my best friend. It took years to find our niche – my father is a business owner, so that was always very important to me. I want to be able to have control of my life and what I put out into the world.
J: Probably the ability to have the kind of influence on aspiring filmmakers that so many other filmmakers have had on me. To see people cosplay our characters, or get tattoos, or tell us they’re making their own movie just is the most incredible feeling ever. I can’t even believe it.
MM: With success come hard lessons learned a lot of the time. What are some of the drawbacks to the success you both have had, and what are some of the problems you run into while trying to make a film?
S: I think there is a misconception to what the film industry actually is – people want it without really knowing what it is. It’s an excellent filter for friendships because it shows people’s true colours. I think the only part I’m not a fan of is when you put yourself out there to promote your work and it’s not your work that people gravitate to – it’s personal attacks, usually of a dark graphic sexual nature. I have a thick skin, but my family and friends get pretty hurt by it. It’s something no one can save us from because in the day and age – it’s part of the job.
J: You learn people’s true colors and true intentions. It’s obvious some people just want a job. But on the flip side I have some of the most incredible friends I could ever ask for.
It’s still hard to get our original stuff made. A lot of people loved AMERICAN MARY, but no one wanted to take the risk to make it.
MM: What are some of the films that made an impact on you both when you were younger that still stay with you today?
S: Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi and Desperado was life changing. Not only were the films cool, but he went behind the scenes and shared his secrets. He always encouraged you, the viewer, to follow your own passions in filmmaking. Poltergeist was my first horror film and was the film that got my mum to explain how films are actually made which removed the terror aspect from watching anything scary or graphic. Hellraiser was a big one – I watched that before I even knew what it was.
J: So many! WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT was my favorite film growing up. It reminds me of what made me love movies in the first place. POLTERGEIST was our first horror movie. It’s very romanticized for us because of that. I remember the first time I saw DESPERADO. I fell in love with Rodriguez before I even knew why. ALIEN had me witness the evolution of the final girl. I still carry that.
MM: What directors influenced you and still has an impact on you?
S: Robert Rodriguez and Mary Harron are the two directors that made me feel that I could also be a director and made me know that it’s what I wanted to do. I love the bleak and honest films of Lars Von Trier. Takeshi Miike, Sion Sono, Eli Roth, Clive Barker, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Garry Marshall – they have all shaped the filmmaker that I am today.
J: Absolutely Robert Rodriguez. He’s the reason we picked up a camera in the first place. Tarantino is just so cool. Any filmmaker that says they aren’t influenced by him is full of it. Clive Barker, John Carpenter, David Lynch. David Cronenberg…
MM: What do you think of the recent interest in horror, at least on TV, and what do you hope for the genre in the future?
S: I like how TV seems to be able to push the boundaries in content and character development. Horror used t be this looked down upon genre, and in some ways it still is by the mainstream, but it’s made it’s way into our pop culture in such a way in today’s entertainment. If you look at the history of horror, there has always been an audience for it – that will never change. We like to look at death from a safe distance – horror entertainment allows that.
J: I love that horror is more mainstream and I get to see more of it. I don’t like how much of it is dumbed down or made like horror “lite”. Some of it’s great, like HANNIBAL. Some of it just seems like horror being made by people who don’t love horror. I would like to see the mainstream get a little less crazy over censorship. I mean, I grew up watching films like HELLRAISER and reading Stephen King novels and I turned out mostly okay, ha ha
MM: You are heavily into gender equality and the LGBTQ cause, which is gaining acceptance though at times it seems slowly. What do you see as the greatest challenge to this and what can be done to help with the cause?
S: There is too much focus from certain individuals into other people’s lives. LGBTQ getting equal rights will do nothing but make the world a better place. We need equality across the board and we have set backs because of misinformed hateful people who just don’t understand the other side of it. Loving another person is a beautiful thing. What would heterosexuals do if the roles were switched and only a homosexual relationship was recognized by your government? I think zero tolerance and on-going education is the only way to get rid of this bigotry, I like to think we will be the generation to make that change.
J: I think we’re all just too cruel to each other. It’s insane how poorly people treat each other. Anyone different gets attacked. It’s so stupid. I don’t know why people spend so much time tearing other people down. I think the biggest challenge is that there aren’t really strong enough repercussions to hateful behavior. Just look at all the anonymous hate speech online. It’s become a social norm to just treat each other terribly without any repercussions.
MM: What do you think of the current state of horror films both in the main stream and in the underground/indie scene?
S: It fucking rocks. These filmmakers will change the world of film, there are some brilliant artists creating now. Treat yourself to something truly great, watch some indie films! Films you should see – Manborg, The Editor, Resolution, Spring, Excision, Suburban Gothic, El Gigante, The Battery, Donkey Punch, Splinter, The Raid, The Raid 2, Truth or Dare, Girls Against Boys, She, Afflicted, Dysmorphia. And when you see something cool – post about it online – it makes a big difference.
J: There are so many amazing filmmakers on the rise. Astron 6, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, Jeremy Gardner, Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto, Ricky Bates Jr… I think things are just fine in their very capable hands. You should check them all out if you aren’t familiar with their work.
MM: What films that have come out recently or are coming out soon do think will have a lasting impact on the horror genre or at least to you?
S: The Editor from Astron 6, Tokyo Tribe by Sion Sono, Spring by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, Suburban Gothic by Ricky Bates, and Jacqueline Ess from Jovanka Vuckovic. See them the moment you can.
J: THE EDITOR by Astron 6. It’s the Canadian Giallo Comedy you didn’t know you wanted. TOKYO TRIBE by the incredible Sion Sono. SUBURBAN GOTHIC by Ricky Bates Jr, the genius behind EXCISION. It’s such a different tone from his first film. It’s the most fucked up feel good horror movie you’ll see all year.
MM: To you, what do you think is the greatest hindrance to horror in general and what do you think can help change this?
S: It’s the same thing that affects any genre of filmmaking – original ideas and concepts against the fear of financiers losing money. It’s a marvel that anything great gets made anymore. The only way to fix it is by not spending money on crap and seeking out indies or genuinely good films to show that these gems can and do make money. It’s the only way to change the trend.
J: I’d say the repeating of the same old crap. When audiences go and see crappy horror movies in the theaters, the studios just look at the box office, and consider the film a success. They see a good film as a film that makes money. Doesn’t matter if the film is any good or not. People should support independent filmmakers. Make it out to a film festival and see what’s out there.
MM: What is a dream project for you and why?
S: I’m pretty lucky because I’m attached to several dream projects right now. Painkiller Jane means the world to me. We grew up on comics and the strong women in those pages made me feel strong. My greatest ambition is that this film does the same for other young women who might feel as awkward and powerless as I did growing up.
J: DEADPOOL. We are his biggest fans. I’d love to do a film that would be true to the character and respectful of the fan base. Let’s be honest, the first time they tried to do Deadpool in a film there were some pretty extensive oversights. The character is so good, exactly as he is in the comic books. I’d love to bring that Deadpool to the big screen.
Thanks to Jen and Syvia Soska for answering all my questions.