The Soskas are the baddest bitches in the game. The identical twin sister writing and directing duo of Jen and Sylvia Soska have been lighting the world of genre film on fire for the past decade! Known as the Twisted Twins, the duo broke onto the scene with their DIY love letter to Grindhouse filmmaking, “Dead Hooker In A Trunk.” The film grew into an award winning, critically acclaimed, cult classic sensation, even getting the attention of director Eli Roth who praised it, stating what many already knew, “it’s fucking awesome.” The Twins followed their breakthrough indie gem with the accomplished and genre defining “American Mary” that placed horror icon Katharine Isabelle in the title role of Mary Mason, a medical student who’s drawn into body modification and underground surgeries. The film evoked an instant, visceral reaction from audiences and left their die-hard fans hungry for more. The energy from the fan-base couldn’t be denied and it soon turned the heads of film critics and Hollywood decision-makers alike.
With their creative fires burning brighter than ever, they soon helmed their first studio film, “See No Evil 2,” which resurrected the WWE Studios franchise (not to mention finally uniting scream queens Danielle Harris and Katharine Isabelle on screen). With their career gaining momentum, The Soskas soon took on more creative ventures alongside some of the biggest names in genre film with segments in “ABCs of Death 2” and a balls to the wall, no holds barred action film with Lionsgate and WWE Studios called “Vendetta” starring the legendary Dean Cain, Paul “The Big Show” Wight, and Michael Eklund.
Their latest endeavor finds The Soskas, once again, at the top of their game and not afraid to challenge the status quo. Their latest project, “Rabid,” is a modern take on David Cronenberg’s body horror classic. Opening in select theaters, digital and On Demand everywhere December 13, 2019 from Shout! Studios, this gripping tale of horror enters with aspiring fashion designer Rose Miller. Rose’s dreams turn into a nightmare when a freak accident leaves her horribly disfigured. After receiving a miracle procedure involving an experimental skin graft from the mysterious Burroughs Clinic, Rose is transformed into the beauty of her dreams. But nothing comes without cost and Rose begins to feel terrifying side effects that tear at her last threads of sanity. What price will Rose pay to have everything she ever wanted? It may cost her her humanity. “Rabid” features powerhouse performances from Laura Vandervoort (“Jigsaw,” “Smallville”), Benjamin Hollingsworth (“Code Black,” “Cold Pursuit”) and Phil Brooks aka C.M. Punk (WWE).
Icon Vs. Icon’s Jason Price recently caught up with The Twisted Twins to discuss their fascinating journey as filmmakers, the challenges of bringing the re-imagining of a Cronenberg classic to the screen, the lessons learned along the way and much more!
You carved out a unique career path in one of the toughest industries on the planet. Let’s start at the beginning! How did your journey begin?
Sylvia: We are very proudly born to artist parents. My dad is a painter and my mom’s a photographer. My mom had a huge horror collection. Ever since we were little girls, we were extremely fascinated by it. When we were 10 years old, she finally watched “Poltergeist” with us, which horribly back-fired but also kind of gave us a push in the right direction for our career. She explained to us that it was those peoples jobs to scare you. As soon as we knew that was a job opportunity, we were like, “That’s it! That’s what we’ve got to do! We’ve gotta scare people for a living!”
Jen: In our generation, growing up, we didn’t have the #MeToo movement or a lot of female rights or celebration and definitely not representation. All of my heroes growing up were men. It was David Cronenberg, Stephen King and maybe Anne Rice snuck in there, but it was mostly Wes Craven, John Carpenter and all of the bad boys. I thought that the way to get ahead was to be an actress because young women weren’t encouraged to be directors, writers, producers, studio heads or CEOs. We spent a lot of time acting and having these kinds of stereotypical identical twin roles. Finally, we went to film school that was a film school mostly in name only. It was basically a glorified cold read course. We ended up making a fake trailer while “Hobo With A Shotgun” was in theaters with “Grindhouse” and we fell in love with making everything. We ended up making our own film based on the trailer for “Dead Hooker In A Trunk” for 2,500 Canadian dollars. When you only have 2,500 Canadian dollars, you basically do everything. You write, direct, produce, sound design and clean up! I realized, “Wow! As much as I love acting, directing and storytelling is the real passion that we have!” In that role you kind of call the shots and steer the direction. As an actor, it’s a lot of begging and pleading to get work. That was pretty much it for us, from “Dead Hooker In A Trunk” to almost “Dead Ringers.”
Sylvia: “Dead Hooker In A Trunk” was such a rough around the edges, grindhouse movie. After we made that movie, people said, “Well, we’ve already had that. We couldn’t possibly have anything else from you ladies.” So, we made something a lot more refined, which is “American Mary,” which is about a medical student who goes into the world of body modification. This was the very first time we teamed up with MastersFX, who you see us teaming with again on “Rabid.” That gave people more of a look into our lives when we had a little bit more support and we weren’t just running away from the police with a camera and our friends. It’s a better look at what we were capable of as storytellers.
Jen: We’ve always loved storytelling, where it be film and television or comic books and video games. Those are two of our other huge influences as well as professional wrestling. With professional wrestling, the storytelling is touch and go but I do maintain that video games and comic books have some of the greatest under-appreciated stories and characters of all-time. Sadly, it’s not a medium that everyone appreciates. A lot of our influences come from “Silent Hill,” “Final Fantasy,” “Metal Gear Solid” and all of those beautiful game franchises that only a few of us enjoy.
Sylvia: Jen mentioned WWE because after we made “American Mary,” we made two studio films for WWE and Lionsgate, which were “See No Evil 2” and “Vendetta.” In that time, we also made the “ABC’s of Death 2” segment, “T is For Torture Porn.” I think that kind of set us out for being the only people who could handle the very unique body-horror that was required for “Rabid.” Even before we got that opportunity, we hadn’t made a movie in about 4 or 5 years since “Vendetta.” We had two years of game show hosts with “Hellevator,” because obviously we talk way too much! [laughs] It was such a gift to go back to body l-horror with “Rabid.” Especially with Mr. Cronenberg, who is unfortunately responsible for people like us becoming artists and such weirdos! [laughs]
Success doesn’t happen overnight. What are some lessons you learned early on that impacted your career trajectory?
Jen: One of the harshest lessons I can tell you is that you will learn who your friends are when you take this career path. It’s frightening to discover that you have way, way, way less friends than you realize! Unfortunately, you will always know the truth if you take this career path — Success or even perceived success really changes people. I tell everyone, “Get everything in writing and get a contract with everybody.” Often people will come over and say, “Well, I don’t need a contract. I’m just working with my friends.” Yes, but working with somebody will quickly change the dynamic and determine whether you are friends or not in the future. I will also say that, no matter what, do not give up your intellectual property. If somebody wants your intellectual property, unless it’s Marvel. If you’re working for one of the big companies, they eat your intellectual property for breakfast! A lot of places will take advantage of young artists and sneak into your contract that your intellectual property and any idea you have, from your characters to everything else, becomes their property. Do not give it up!
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#dd3333″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]It’s much better to spend the time and fail at something you love than to fail at something you really don’t want to be doing. We only get one chance at this! — Sylvia Soska[/mks_pullquote]Sylvia: It’s interesting because a lot of the people, while you are outside of the filmmaking world, act like it’s a really elitist industry where not just anybody can enter into it. The truth is that every human being is made up of a million stories. The cool thing about people who don’t work for studios have is that you can tell any story that you want and absolutely no one is going to censor you. I wish I realized how much more I could have done starting off. We started making “Dead Hooker In A Trunk” when we were 23 but I wish, when I was going out and doing all of those horrible acting jobs as a teenager, that I felt the strength to write more scripts, make more movies and believe in myself a little bit more. Jennifer and I literally started from watching Troma movies, reading the Troma “Make Your Own Damn Movie” series, reading “Rebel Without A Crew” and watching Robert Rodriguez’s “Ten Minute Film School.” We were able to make a career out of this and be the first [of our generation] to remake a Cronenberg movie. We have this mantra, pardon our crudeness, that is “Follow your stupid fucking dreams.” We try to tell that to everybody! It doesn’t matter what your dream is, even if it sounds stupid. It’s much better to spend the time and fail at something you love than to fail at something you really don’t want to be doing. We only get one chance at this!
What do you look for in the material you are taking on at this point in your career?
Jen: I really look for originality. I look for things to be non-formulaic. There is a real need in me to defy logic. I really hate films that are so logic-based. There are some films that have become what I call cell-phone-films, where for the entire film you are just trying to convince yourself why these characters just don’t get on the phone and call the police. I think that those films that make you ask, “Why didn’t they do this? Why didn’t they do that,” make you incapable of enjoying the story. I really love a lot of international films and how emotional based they are. I love how sometimes they don’t necessarily follow chronological logic or formula and I find that really inspiring. What I’m also always looking for is a flood of well-rounded female characters. I see a lot of female characters, particularly in scripts given to us, that are flawless and nothing bad ever happens to them. Sadly, my life’s journey doesn’t reflect that I’ve had it easy up until this point, so I really like to see that reflected in my female characters as well.
Sylvia: As we keep making movies, I realize that some of the most beautiful scripts I’ve written may never see the light of day. I mean, “Rabid” took four years from the job offer to the movie coming out this Christmas in the United States. It’s kind of crazy how many years you dedicate to each project. To me, it has to be something I can obsess about and that means something to me. Often, it’s something I’m trying to figure out about the world around me or a message that I also want other people to know about. There are so many messages in “Rabid” about transhumanism, the advancement of technology and how cruel people are to one another nowadays. It seemed really important to display that in a cinematic way.
Your remake of David Cronenberg’s “Rabid” is a perfect fit for your sensibilities. What was your mindset heading into the project?
Jen: I really wanted to push our body mod and body horror that we have experience in and have played around with in the past. Given the original subject material with Mr. Cronenberg’s “Rabid,” I don’t think there is a better display of a male gaze versus female gaze film. As much as I love Mr. Cronenberg, and I would never say there is anything wrong about his film because his film is a masterpiece and without his films there would be none of our films, he is a heterosexual. He also doesn’t believe in life after death. Sylvia and I are pansexual, so as much as we love to see a sexy lady, we love to see a sexy lady empowered as well. We also very much believe that there is something beyond our understanding of death. I’m still very much invested in the quest for understanding what’s beyond death, much like Dr. Burroughs in “Rabid.” One of the main villains in our film is the absence of God and what someone does when they don’t have that kind of presence in their life and what they do to fill their lives.
Sylvia: I think the most frightening aspect of “Rabid” that was most interesting to me was transhumanism and seeing how, in 1977, David Cronenberg sent out a warning with “Rabid” of “This is what we’re going to start doing. These are the cosmetic surgeries that are going to become normalized for us.” He was even anticipating stem cell manipulation before that term was even coined. We look at the news right now and we see in Japan and China that they are doing hybrids of human-rat and human-pig and we’re wondering what kind of organs are going to be given to people. Then you look at something like what was happening with Jeffrey Epstein and his involvement in MIT and it looks like the eugenics they’re using is essentially immortalist, which is the most terrifying advancement in transhumanism where you almost become a god on Earth. So, there are things that are happening that are reflected in our news right now that is the stuff that, back in 1977, David was addressing. He was saying, “Oh wait, maybe we can take a look at this because there is an opportunity for it to get even worse.”
Jen: Yeah, it was really interesting for us to talk about what was happening as modern-day horrors in our world right now. David was predicting like the STD epidemic and the outbreak of AIDS. Right now, there is really a war on our mind and a lot of us are losing because we’re not even aware that we’re being turned into these internally angry, miserable people. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so if you are miserable on the inside, everything you say or see is going to be miserable. Miserable people are easy to sell to because they are unsatisfied with everything. There is such a force toward consumerism as well, so I really enjoyed being able to point out just how bad we are getting as a society. We’re so casually cruel to one and other. I think that unless we become self-aware, we can start delving into some really dangerous territory. I don’t know if there was another film that we would have been able to so easily slip that message into but “Rabid” and rabies is such a beautiful way to talk about how we act like animals when we should be acting like men.
Sylvia: You know, just another uplifting Cronenberg movie about a happy future! [laughs]
You mentioned working with some of the same people you had in the past for this film and we all know that good help is hard to find!
Jen: It was such an honor to have a group of people who care so much about the material. We had a joke on set that we weren’t fucking remakes, we were making love to ours. We would always ask, “What would David do?” We were all really excited to deliver a remake that paid tribute to the original and also saw us reimagining it and making it our own. I don’t think there’s ever been a remake as celebratory and as loving of a film and its original creator. It was lovely to reteam with MastersFX. It was the first time we were working with the Toronto team. Usually, we work with their Vancouver division, which is our home field advantage. It’s wonderful to work with MastersFX because it’s like having a safety net. There is nothing that we can conceive of, even in the third act when you ultimately meet Dr. Cynthia Burroughs, that they can’t deliver. It was wonderful.
Sylvia: We had a lot of crew that worked with David. Bryan Day was our sound recordist. There is just something thrilling to be like, “David never had to deal with this!” The sound recordist hears all and is like, “Oh, no. David actually had to deal with that on this movie…” I’d be like, “Oh, really? What did he do?!” Then you’d hear about those horror stories that aren’t necessarily shared any other way!
You cast the talented Laura Vandervoort as your leading lady. How did she get in the mix and what did this talented cast bring to the table?
Sylvia: Laura was fantastic. We wanted to work with her for a long time. We had originally offered her the role of Chelsea. She read the script and said, “Oh, no. I want to play Rose!” I was like, “This is so exciting because Rose is the most terrifying role for somebody who isn’t confident in playing that kind of tortured, body horrific kind of character. It’s not a pleasant role or character. A lot of it is suffering from beginning to end!” Hanneke Talbot came in just to read for a one-line character and Jennifer fell in love with her! She said, “Oh, no. She has to come in and read for Chelsea!” Ted [Atherton] read for a character who was erased. Both of us leaned over and were like, “Well, that’s Dr. Burroughs, obviously!” It was so nice that we got the support that we actually could hire Ted and it’s amazing how many people were terrified of that character! That was a big surprise for me because you write a character like that and you’re like, “Oh, what a fantastic Cronenbergian doctor!” Then you start asking people to play it and they’re like, “Not unless you change this, this and the other thing.” It was so nice that he trusted us! It was also wonderful to have Stephen McHattie in there, who was a wonderful cameo as Dr. Keloid. He’s such an icon in everything he does! CM Punk, of course, we have been wanting to work with together forever, so he was the first actor we cast in the movie. Tristan Risk plays three roles in the movie and if it wasn’t for her there are certain roles that I don’t think anybody could play without her! Then there is Mackenzie Gray who plays Gunter. I had been wanting to work with him for years. Anyone else who played Gunter would have made it a caricature but instead he kind of understood those very strong Eastern European personalities that are hard to get a gauge on!
Jen: As much as there is pressure to have nudity in our film, every time there is pressure to have more nudity and more sexual content, we’d make more male nudity and more male sexual content. It was such a joy to work with our beautiful blonde, Stephen Huszar, who usually does Hallmark films! I wonder how his Hallmark career will advance after he plays the wonderful soap star, our tragic blonde, Dominic Danvers, who is such a piece of shit! He’s so handsome but he’s such a piece of shit! It comes to a climax in what I like to call our #MeToo scene, with the wonderful Greg Bryk having a cameo as the director, where it’s exactly an everyday situation on set. Most people say, “Oh, does it get that bad on set?” Constantly! Usually, you have to wait until someone’s face is being ripped off before someone says, “Oops, I think we should cut in here!”
Sylvia: Another thing about the crew was that we went full-female camera team! Our director of photography was Kim Derko. Our A cam was Tamara Jones, who was also a steadicam operator, and Paula Tymchuk was our B cam. There were so many times people looked over and were like, “Oh my god! I’ve worked in film for 30 years and I’ve never seen an all-female camera team. It wasn’t intentional but it also ended up being a weird way to do the female gaze because you don’t see that so often! Everybody just felt so empowered and so in love with being able to do a respectful piece to David Cronenberg that I really think you see their best work because there was nobody from the studio saying, “Hey, that’s too artsy! That’s too crazy!” Everybody was like, “Yeah, just go! Let’s just go with it!”
As you mentioned, this film took several years to bring from script to screen. What did you learn about yourselves over the course of this project?
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#dd3333″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]I learned that I no longer fear hell after the problems we encountered on “Rabid.” It was the most challenging experience I have ever been through. — Jen Soska[/mks_pullquote]Jen: It’s funny you should ask. I learned that I no longer fear hell after the problems we encountered on “Rabid.” It was the most challenging experience I have ever been through. When we were altar servers, we worked with an exorcist and I promise this story is going somewhere! [laughs] I used to ask him exorcism questions when we were really good during Mass. I asked him about “The Exorcist.” I said, “Father, does that happen during an exorcism?” He said, “Yes, all of those things can happen, but it never happens during the same exorcism.” On “Rabid,” everything that could go wrong during the exorcism went wrong! [laughs] I can’t even begin to tell you how awful it was! I mean, I don’t think any other director would have finished it. Many directors would have walked off many, many, many times! However, as I’ve said, we were really making this as a labor of love for Mr. David Cronenberg. With this project, I learned that there is nothing that we can’t pull off. You have to do it for the right reasons. I mean, no one was doing this because they were getting rich. No one was doing it for any other reason than the fact that they care so passionately about the art we are making and that we care so deeply about celebrating the original creator. That made even the hardest days just bliss!
Sylvia: I learned one of the most important lessons of making this movie after I met this movie. There was such a pressure for us to get David Cronenberg involved. The truth of the matter is that David met his late wife on “Rabid” and [around the time of our film] he was taking care of her and then mourning her loss. He was in no position to promote another movie and I thought it was such an unprofessional way to keep forcing it. He was kind enough to meet with us afterwards and we had such a beautiful conversation. At one point, the conversation had to go to me going off about his work and how it had such a huge effect on me. The way that David Cronenberg talks about filmmaking is this. He understands that it’s a great vocation and it’s really beautiful but that isn’t the point of life. There is more to life than that and the people in your life is what is really important. That’s part of Rose and Chelsea’s journey in “Rabid” — “Don’t kill yourself for your career.” That’s not worth dying for. It’s the people in that you should be living for!
Jen: The funniest thing was that Mr. Cronenberg already loved “American Mary” and he had heard from our peers that we’re quite lovely and he was looking forward to meeting us. I thought to myself as I sat across from him, “Fuck! I didn’t even have to make a whole movie to impress him. I could’ve just had lunch!” [laughs]
Sylvia: But you have to believe in yourself a little bit more. I couldn’t believe we had undergone such a long, convoluted way of “Hey, I love your work…” when he would have taken a coffee with us anytime! [laughs]
Jen: We were absolutely like, “I don’t deserve to sit across from you senpai. You are so wonderful. You are so gracious!”
Sylvia: And he is!
Jen: He’s the most wonderful, gracious man in the world. I’d say don’t meet your heroes unless it’s David Cronenberg! Go ahead, work your entire career to meet him. He’s worth it! [laughs]
Sylvia: He’s definitely worth it! [laughs]
You formed an incredible bond with your fans through the years. How has that relationship informed your work?
Sylvia: Jennifer and I are fans ourselves. If we weren’t signing on one side of the table, we’d be there with our money and merch trying to get autographs and pictures as well. Every time we approach a project, it’s as fans first and filmmakers second. The fact that our fans have been so kind and supportive of us has been amazing. We started in 2007 at the dawn of Facebook, which was when “Dead Hooker In A Trunk” came out and everything that happened was because people online, actual people, supported it. We’re not the product of a studio marketing campaign or anything like that. When people found the weirdness of what we did, it was organic. We’re eternally grateful to those people. We love that social media and conventions exist so that we can actually reach out, hug people and say thank you!
Jen: I just love the fans! I see them more as our peers and our friends than anything else. Growing up, we were really terribly bullied, so we didn’t have a lot of friends. Nowadays our career, unfortunately, makes us incredibly isolated, so we pretty much live for the conventions. I like to say we get paid to hug people all weekend! That’s exactly what our table is! We have people line up, we hug them, we share our horror stories and hear their stories of survival. It’s the most beautiful healing experience in the world! For people who haven’t been to a horror convention, I highly recommend it and they’re 100% family friendly events! It’s really the fans that keep us going because it’s a really, really difficult industry and there is a #MeToo conversation happening but there aren’t #MeToo changes happening. Like I said, “Rabid” was the most awful experience! I say that with a laugh but it’s a maniacal laugh at this point! It was the worst experience of our careers and if it wasn’t for the love and appreciation of the fans, we’d give it up. We absolutely would! As we’ve been touring with “Rabid,” we’ve had such a beautiful outflow of love, gratitude and celebration, so, regrettably, we will continue doing this! [laughs] Mr. Cronenberg said, “To make a film is to suffer.” I think we’ve still got a few more years of suffering in us!
Sylvia: Yeah! I don’t think the audience realizes it but the last thing that is added to a film is the audience’s reaction to it. So, it doesn’t matter what we went through to make this movie. When an audience member sees a movie and says, “Oh my god! I felt this, this and this!” Then it’s all 100% worth it!
What do the Soska Sisters have in store in the year to come?
Sylvia: Thank you so much for asking! After we met David, we were kind enough to meet David Cronenberg’s producers, Martin Katz and Karen Wookey, who came on to be our producers for our next project. Just like Rose was told by Gunter that the next one will be an original, we are actually working on an original script of ours and it looks like we’ll be shooting it next year. We haven’t made one since “American Mary,” so we are absolutely overjoyed to have partners that appreciate our weirdness and are supporting us to create this. There is also a TV series that is so unique and so special that Jen and I are just overjoyed to be a part of.
Jen: If you’re looking to get hugged by The Twisted Twins, the next place you can get hugged is Days of The Dead in Chicago. We’re going to have a “Rabid” panel. I also love going to conventions. I’ll tell this to anyone planning on coming to a convention — if you don’t have any money, you can still come say hi and hug us! We are not the kinds of people who demand you pay to interact with us! We’re not those silver statues. We are very much human beings and I love interacting with everyone and the kids can always cut the line! So, if you are a child or can pass as a child, please come along! I’m also happy to say that, as a director, I’m happy to call acting my brain vacation. There is a friend of ours, who is a very talented artist, who is making his second feature film debut. I’m being very vague about who it is because…
Sylvia: You’re not allowed to say anything!
Jen: I will say it’s a western and I love westerns! I love acting and I love being in stuff, so we’re going to be in something and it’s going to be out next year. It’s going to be shooting this month…
Sylvia: I don’t know if you’re allowed to say that!
Jen: I’ve already said too much!
Sylvia: You’ve said too much! [laughs]
Jen: It’s an exclusive! [laughs]
Thank you both so much for your time today, ladies. You are an inspiration and I’ll be spreading the word every step of the way! Stay weird!
Jen: Aww, thank you!
Sylvia: Bless you so much!
Jen: I think we are incurably weird, so that’s a good thing!
Sylvia: Yeah! [laughs]
Jen: Take care, Jason! Bye!
Sylvia: I hope we cross paths with you soon! Bye!
Follow the continuing adventures of The Twisted Twins on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. “Rabid” opens in select theaters, digital and On Demand everywhere on December 13th, 2019 via Shout! Studios.