Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"...AND TWINS!" - Ancient Chinese Beer Commercials

One of the great pleasures I experienced back when I had more free time to write and a semi-functional blog was the chance to check out unreleased genre flicks from a lot of young and talented filmmakers. Two of the most memorable talents I came across were Jen and Sylvia Soska, the twisted twins who started their rise to cult stardom with a little film called Dead Hooker in a Trunk.
"Wait, did he just say DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK?" - My mother
Yes, it's one of the most attention grabbing titles that I've ever encountered too. And in the summer of 2010, when a friend offered to share my address with them so I could check out a screener of a film by that title I couldn't resist the opportunity. Did I really expect anything from the movie, though? Not really. I mean, how good can a movie called Dead Hooker in a Trunk really be? You know that part of your brain that always doubts things it shouldn't doubt? That part of your brain can be super wrong sometimes.

So Dead Hooker in a Trunk showed up on my doorstep - not literally, don't freak out FBI - and it's safe to say I loved it from the minute I saw it. It was as raw and as brutal as you would expect a film from two young filmmakers on no budget, but it had this strange poetry to its ridiculous plot. I feel weird when I say that it played out like some kind of psychotic fairy tale, but that's the way the film felt to me. There's a heart underneath it.
Isn't the hooker supposed to be dead? YOU HAD ONE JOB!
There are a select few truly independent movies - in other words, ones made for no budget by everyday people, not "independent" movies A-list stars do to pad their resume - that I saw during my early blogging days that inspired me to change the way I approach independent cinema. Despite its ridiculous title and plot, Dead Hooker in a Trunk is one of them. And it inspired me to keep my eye on these talented filmmakers as they move forward.

(Cheap plug for three other indie flicks that fit the above criteria: Gregg Holtgrewe's Dawning, Mike Flanagan's Absentia, and Elisabeth Fies' The Commune. The first two are on Instant Netflix, the latter is worth finding. There are so many great films that most people never know about, you guys. Go find them.)
The Soskas rose in popularity after Dead Hooker in a Trunk was picked up for DVD by the great folks at IFC Midnight, and their follow up film was an even bigger success. American Mary was teased by the Sisters in late 2010 and released to much fanfare in 2012 thanks to the casting of horror favorite Katharine Isabelle and its unique look at the strange world of body modification. I really didn't know what to expect from the film, but I felt pretty sure I was willing to buy whatever these directors were offering as film number two. Blind faith can hurt a film fan, but it's still pretty great most of the time.
I will never understand why Katharine Isabelle is not in everything. The girl is fantastic.
I finally caught up with that film last summer when it was released on home video, and once again found myself impressed by the depth that the filmmakers brought to their subject. There's plenty of splatter once again, but Isabelle - a criminally underused talent - brings such presence to the lead role and the sisters surround her with so many fascinating and bizarrely unique characters that the film becomes instantly memorable. It's a darker tale than their debut film was, but it still has that surprising power in it that made Dead Hooker in a Trunk rise above being just a splatter fest.

The announcement of the Soskas' third film was another surprise. This time, the sisters were picked to direct the slasher sequel See No Evil 2 for WWE Studios. If you don't remember See No Evil - a theatrically released horror film starring "The Big Red Monster" Kane, you're probably better off than most people who saw it. I hate it when I have to say that a film was no good - but See No Evil was pretty much no good. It's hard to make a slasher film that's no fun at all - but the folks at WWE Studios did it with that film.

Which brings us to the reason I'm writing this all down (and I'm sure some jackass in the peanut gallery just shouted "FINALLY!" - Today's release of See No Evil 2 on home video. I've been too impressed with the Soskas for too long - both by their films and their endless charms on social media - to not check this one out. And there's nowhere to go but up, right? I mean, it can't be worse than See No Evil, right?
No, it can't.
Ohhhh, Kane. I see what you did there. You rascal.
I just finished watching that film, and I feel comfortable saying the Soskas have another success on their hands. This is surely a safer film than their previous efforts - with WWE paying the bills some of the more risque parts of their style have been left out of the film - but it's still got more than enough blood to keep slasher fans happy. Isabelle is once again perfectly cast - the showdown involving her character, a surely doomed boyfriend (Lee Majdoub), and Kane's Jacob Goodnight is probably my favorite sequence in the film - and Danielle Harris, another horror fan favorite, uses her slasher film experience to carry the picture from the lead.

I wasn't sold on See No Evil 2 for much of its run time, but there are some genuine surprises in the final act of the film to go a long with a lot of good slashing, and a few truly humorous moments. It takes a special filmmaker (or two, in this case) to make the viewer laugh out loud shortly after a surprising kill, but the Soskas pull it off in their solid finale. It's not a top-of-the-line slasher by any means, but it's a lot of fun and I'll surely watch it again when I need a bloody fix.

It's that balance between their macabre sensibilities and their gleeful exuberance about having fun with the audience that has made it such a unique treat to witness the Soskas' path through genre cinema over the last four years. Their path isn't stopping here - WWE Studios has brought them back to make an action film called Vendetta - starring another gigantic in-ring star, The Big Show - and they're next slated to adapt girl-power comic heroine Painkiller Jane. I'm excited to see what happens next. I'm pretty sure it'll be extremely entertaining. (And if they can keep casting Katharine Isabelle it'll be a major win too.)

Jen and Sylvia, I salute you for a successful trio of films. Keep making us horror fans proud!

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