Since exploding onto the map with Dead Hooker in a Trunk back in 2009, Jen and Sylvia Soska have gone on to become huge favourites of many a genre fan. As their 2015 movie Vendetta gets set to premiere on Horror Channel, we caught up with the Twisted Twins to reflect back on this brutal Dean Cain and Paul ‘Big Show’ Wight-starring actioner.
STARBURST: While it would be easy to talk about the headlining duo of Dean Cain and Big Show for Vendetta, first and foremost Michael Eklund is absolutely fantastic as the corrupt warden at the centre of this tale. Just how good is Michael?
Jen: He’s just the most amazing actor. He’s a method actor. There’s nothing that he can’t do. When he’s in character, he’s 110%. Not only is he such an amazing actor, he forces everyone around him to bring their game up. Not that he was teaching anything to Dean Cain, but Dean can go and Eklund can go.
Sylvia: Michael Eklund is such a team player. He was shooting another movie at the same time and there was a holiday in between, so people were like, “You’re not going to be able to get Michael, he’s double-booked on this other thing. If you get him, he’s literally going to have to leave where he is and come back to your set to do a 13-page day where it’s mostly him talking.” I was, “Don’t worry about it, it’s Michael Eklund, it’ll be fine.”
Jen: He’s such a comic book villain. He’s such a charming, charming guy. Vendetta is really our Punisher movie. Dean is our Punisher, Big Show is our Kingpin. Vincent D’Onofrio is a god, but Big Show will eat you alive, he will snap you like a toothpick.
Sylvia: Eklund is such a WWE fan, so there were points where we wanted to really push the physicality. It’s so much fun to have these movies with these big action sequences. At the end, when things are becoming unhinged, Eklund goes through so many layers with this character.
Jen: What I love about Action Movies vs. Horror Movies, is it doesn’t have to make sense. For half of a horror movie, you’re saying, “Why aren’t they calling the police?” I hate that, it’s so boring. In Vendetta it was more, “How do we kill this guy? We throw someone off the roof! Who cares, it’s WWE!” That was one of my favourite kills.
Sylvia: That was Dee Jay [Jackson]. He was so awesome. That guy took Dean Cain from room to room to room, so we wanted to give him one of the most memorable deaths.
Jen: And he was in Slither! We got absolutely spoilt for talent. Juan [Riedinger], who played the other main thug guy, he was from Grave Encounters – which we really loved.
You ladies are so synonymous with horror, and there’s definitely a sense of horror to some of Vendetta’s death scenes, but how was it tackle a straight-up action movie for the first time?
Sylvia: It was really cool that WWE wanted us for it. They were doing a six-part action series for Lionsgate and we were the first choice for directors. It was exactly the right call for us. We had so much fun with this.
Jen: The thing I love the most about an action movie is that you don’t even really need to care if somebody dies. In a horror movie, you have to care about every single death. If you don’t care about every single person then you’ve lost the audience. Would you believe they took the violence down? There was this flashback to how Big Show took over the prison, where he stomped on someone’s head and it just exploded. We asked Big Show how strong he was, and he showed us this video of him punching somebody and them just dropping. We had to adjust a lot. He’s much bigger than a normal person. He’s a really strong man, and it was really exciting to work with somebody who was just a destructive force of nature.
Sylvia: Paul is just such a good actor. There’s so much that he brought to the movie. One of my favourite scenes is the cafeteria scene where it’s like Mean Girls and he’s eating the food with his hands. He was explaining to me that this is an Alpha Dog thing and this is what he should be doing.
Jen: We also wanted it to have shades of I Saw the Devil, where the two of them start at different corners. If you watched the movie before, Big Show would be the good guy. You start this movie where Dean is the good guy, but if you watched the third movie then Dean would be the bad guy. We’re all one bad day away from being The Punisher.
As such huge comic book fans, how was it getting to work on Vendetta with a former Superman?
Sylvia: I wanna say this one thing about Dean Cain. He is the most coolest guy I have ever worked with. Every day, not only did he have a coordinated stunt fight, but he would go home with the stunt team and train for his next-day stunt fight. He was so cool. He would go over and make sure all of the extras were getting treats and things. He was so humble, and he really showed everyone the attitude you should have. He was just such a good sport about everything.
Jen: He is such a gentleman. I’ve never seen somebody who is such a sweetheart and so charming to the cast and crew. He’s not a trailer guy, he’s not secluded like he’s some sort of alien. The one day that he met my mom and dad was the day when he was beaten the shit out of in the laundry room. He hugged my mom, he took pictures with my parents while he was all bloody and exhausted. He was such a good boy. We should all hope to marry a boy as good as Dean Cain.
Sylvia: Then after the first week he ordered us all pizza. He’s so down-to-earth and cool about everything.
Jen: He also liked being an asshole. Dean Cain has been a beautiful, good man his entire life. To get to have a bit of an edge and be a bit of a bastard, he loved playing Mason Danvers. He absolutely loved it when he lost his edge and was killing everybody. He had the time of his life, and I really want to help him kill people again.
You’d already done See No Evil 2 with WWE Studios before Vendetta. Was there any talk of you doing any other WWE projects at that time, or was it always Vendetta?
Sylvia: We were trying to get on the Marine series, as we love The Miz. Then there’s Bray Wyatt, where we so wanted to do a movie together. Bray’s the horror guy, we’re all buddies, and we’ve been trying do find something to do together forever. We also wanted to do Three No Evil, because we were just setting it up with See No Evil 2.
Jen: I would love it. We’d have all of the original cast to come back to cameo as psychotic delusions, and Glenn [Jacobs] said he’d shoot it.
In interviews, Glenn Jacobs seems like the nicest guy. Surely somebody who’s terrified people as WWE’s Kane and See No Evil’s Jacob Goodnight can’t be that nice?
Jen: Glenn is the nicest person in the world. He’s so nice that if we didn’t do a movie together then he’s too nice to be friends with us. He’s just a respectable gentleman and he cares so deeply about people. I remember on See No Evil 2 we asked him what he would do if he could do anything in the world, and he said he’d just want to take care of people. Then he said he wanted to be Mayor because he was worried about the country – and then he did it [Glenn Jacobs is now Mayor of Knox County].
Sylvia: I wouldn’t be surprised if Glenn went on to become a Senator or something. Even on his time off, he’d always be volunteering, he’d be going to hospitals and visiting people, he’d be going overseas to visit the troops. He’s always just a selfless guy in every aspect of his life. It’s always been kind of funny and contradictory to the person he is that he plays Kane, because nothing could be farther from the truth.
While we’re talking wrestlers, how was it to work with CM Punk on Rabid?
Sylvia: Phil has been supportive of us and our career since Dead Hooker in a Trunk. What I didn’t know is that when he got American Mary, he gave that to all of the wrestlers in the back who like horror movies. He was always super supportive. Eventually we met and became really good friends. When we got See No Evil 2, we were confused as it was just, “Why don’t we three work together because we like each other and we’ve already thought about making a movie?” And then Vendetta happened and we still didn’t get to work together. So as soon as we got offered Rabid – and we knew he loved zombies and that he wanted to do horror movies – we wanted him to play Brad, the love interest, but we got limited on how long we could have American actors for. He was cool enough to play Billy, who couldn’t be farther from the guy he really is. It was insane what he was able to do. He was so sweet and so humble.
Jen: Phil is absolutely amazing. I love what an asshole he is in the film, but he’s so loveable still. He reminds me so much of Bruce Campbell. I have this dream of doing Evil Dead: The Musical and I want it to star CM Punk as Ash. He has such an Ash quality to him. Even his delivery of his misogynistic lines makes him feel like kind of a sweetheart.
David Cronenberg’s Rabid is obviously such a beloved movie. How was the challenge and pressure of putting your own spin on that concept while still being respectful to the original 1977 film?
Jen: The first thing was the terrifying thought that no one had done it before, and if we said no then they’d just find somebody else. It was going to be made one way or another. Even though I’m a person who hates remakes usually and thinks they’re a cash-in and a manipulation of the fans that has nothing to do with the original apart from the time. I didn’t want that to happen to Mr Cronenberg. I knew that he was never really truly as appreciated as he should be, and I shuddered at the thought of the next generation seeing a shitty remake of one of his films and saying, “Urgh, this Cronenberg guy must suck.” That would’ve devastated me. I wanted to make a film that was not only a celebration of David’s work, but it would also be kind of a middle ground to introduce people to his work if they hadn’t seen it. Also, if you had seen it, it was just Easter eggs and celebrations and love letters galore.
Sylvia: Jen and I didn’t seek Rabid out. We got an email in the dead of winter one day, asking us if we’d like to make Rabid. It was explained how this came to us. Apparently, they usually do religious movies, and they’d made a religious horror movie that had made a ton of money for them. They were like, “These horror movies must be easy”. So they got Rabid, thinking it was like Jaws but with dogs, not knowing anything about David’s work. They wrote the script, and it was not reflective of David’s work whatsoever. They showed it to him and asked him to be a producer, and he said, “This is Rabid in title alone. You know nothing of my work.” They asked us, “Can you ladies explain to us what Cronenberg means? How ‘bout you ladies handle the creative and we’ll handle the money?” That was a great opportunity, so we hired cast and crew who had literally worked with David. We got so many people so that we could be, “What did David do? How did he handle this?” We wanted to be as respectable as possible.
Jen: There’s never been a more self-aware remake. Even how the main character is almost remaking and helping a master designer that she feels inferior to, but she feels a kinship with. Of course, he’s already accepted her as is, but it’s her own struggles to be able to see herself as that artist. She goes through self-doubt. There’s the beautiful scene towards the end about how many girls would kill for this opportunity. So it’s a very self-aware remake, a reimagining. We even altered our directing style. As you might have guessed, we’re very loud. David is not, so we had a sanctuary set, it was like a library, and if you needed to speak you would drop your voice. It was very, very pleasant. It was like going into a church.
What was the reaction of David to the end result of the movie?
Sylvia: It’s so interesting. There was such a tremendous pressure to get David involved in the film, and what most people don’t realise is that he met his wife making the original Rabid, and he had just lost her. It was something he told us when we met him after the film was done. Because of that, we wanted to be really respectful. That’s obviously a very special film to him. We were, “How would I want to have my relationship respected like that?” I remember talking to him, and he is just so wise. He talks about it as a wonderful vocation that we do, but even he can’t see his work as I would see it. He can’t see past, “This actress was difficult this day. I lost something there. This never worked out the way I originally planned.” That was so interesting. When we were finishing up our conversation, I was, “Well David, I really look forward to you eventually watching Rabid.” He looked at me surprised and was just, “You want me to watch it?!” “Well yeah, Jen and I basically just made it for an audience of you.” He had the most interesting reaction. He has a very dry sense of humour, and he looked at my and was, “Have you ever heard of the movie Raw? Same thing happened. There was this movie, people kept saying I should go and see it and check it out. You know, I actually quite liked it. If I like your film, I’ll let you know. But I’ll be quite honest with you about it.”
Jen: Truly, you have to be David Cronenberg to fully enjoy Rabid, because there are so many in-jokes that are just for him – things he’s said in interviews and director’s commentary. He did say that the film ended up where it should have, and he was a fan of American Mary. I’ve worked so hard to earn a place across from my hero and speak to him, and he said, “You know my son, you know Mary Harron, you know all these people, and I already respect you for your work.” I thought, “Oh my god, I didn’t even need to make this movie! I could’ve just called and asked to do lunch.” I was playing a really long game to be friends with Mr Cronenberg. You know what, sometimes you make a whole movie and you didn’t even realise. That was the whole joke – I was worthy the whole time!
If you could’ve just done lunch with David before you were offered Rabid, is there any other Cronenberg movie you’d have asked to tackle?
Jen: You’ve gotta be kidding – it’s obviously Dead Ringers! I love Dead Ringers. Dead Ringers was actually one of the last Cronenberg films I saw, because I’d never seen a good depiction of identical twins. We’re such a fetishized, stereotyped group that people don’t even realise that what they do with twins is super degrading. We grew up in the normalization of fetishizing and objectifying twins because of the Olsen twins. I call them the real-life Truman Show. Being twins now, because it was okay to abuse those twins, it’s okay to be abusive to every twin. Those girls can’t even post a photo without, “Fucking ugly bitches!” I’m like, “They’re children! You watched them group up from babies. Why do you have so much hate towards them?!” So when I did finally see Dead Ringers, the emotional reaction Sylv and I had to that movie was just, “Oh my god, not only is this a movie about twins, but this person gets the intimacy about twins and being in sync with your twin, and how important that relationship is.” We always wanted to do a piece where it was identical twins telling a story about identical twins. We’ve never been able to really control our own narrative, it’s always just kind of projected on us.
Sylvia: I’m so glad that you mentioned the Olsen twins, because that’s our Dead Ringers pitch. It’s starring the Olsen twins. I know they don’t need to act, but just come on out of retirement, girls. Work with us once, control the narrative. Instead of them being gynaecologists, of course they’re proctologists. It would be fantastic.
Jen: They’d be master surgeons specialising in proctology. Instead of being caught up in drug addiction, they’d be caught up in black magic.
Having done Rabid and taken on the responsibility of reimagining a classic of yesteryear, would you want to do a remake again or is that itch now scratched?
Jen: Absolutely. I’ll say a horror movie and an action movie that I’d love to remake. The action movie hasn’t been in development for 11 years, but I’m such a fan of it. It’s also one of those movies that’s kind of a stupid franchise, but it’s sacred. It’s Highlander.
But there can be only one…
Jen: Then it should be me! I love it so much. I love how there are kid Highlanders. I love how people can wear a little leather jacket but be able to pull giant swords from it. I love the Quickening that blows up a city block. And of course, I just love that Freddie Mercury soundtrack just kicking you in the teeth. For horror, there’s actually a horror franchise that’s super-famous, by an artist that we love, that we pitched for many, many, many times. Fans will be, “Oh my god, you pitched for this and you didn’t get it? And you were going to get all the original cast?” All the original cast were going to be involved. It’s Hellraiser. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Hellraiser. I saw Hellraiser at a time that I call ‘too young’. From the “Let me touch you, dammit,” I was all, “What the fuck is happening in this movie?” Then when I grew up, I was still, “What the fuck is happening in this movie?” Now as a much more mature woman who’s gone through a lot of darkness, who’s seen a lot of dark stuff, I get it – I’m there to make some fetishized demons.
Sylvia: I guess I’ll talk about the one I’ve always been chasing, which is Deadpool.
Jen: You’re going to remake and reimagine Deadpool?
Sylvia: Yeah! When See No Evil 2 happened, we did so well. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say who did this, but somebody was very, very impressed with us and we got to go to the offices of the bosses. We were thinking this was our big Hollywood moment. He was like, “Girls, you’ve been really successful with this and with this, and you’re now working in studio movies and being successful. Why don’t you tell us any project you can imagine – what do you want to do next?” Me and Jen both looked at each other and went, “Deadpool!” He was all, “Deadpool? Why does Deadpool sound so familiar?” He goes over to this pile of scripts and he picks Deadpool up and he puts it in my hand, and I go, “Oh my god, can we make this movie?!” He laughed and just said, “Sweetheart, nobody’s ever going to make this piece of shit.” In the end we made Twinpool because they were, “Listen, you just don’t have anything on your résumé that looks like Deadpool.” We shot a Twinpool thing where me and Jen fought each other. It even got to, and I don’t want to say who this is, but this person’s handler and they were all, “This is awesome. We’re going to give it straight to this guy and he’s going to love it.” It made it to him, but it turns out that he didn’t love it. I look at the comic I wrote for Marvel, and I’ve gotten a lot farther than most fans ever get. Will I chase Deadpool until I’m in my 70s? You’re damn right! Eventually someone’s gonna let me do it. Maybe the property will be worth fucking nothing when I get it, but I’ll get there eventually.
Jen: I can proudly say we did write the Deadpool XXX parody. One of our greatest reviews was, “It was so funny I forgot I was supposed to masturbate.” That’s a very kind and very honest review. I wish my film reviews were that kind.
On the Marvel front, you most recently tackled Black Widow: No Restraints Play – which was an extremely adult-orientated story that touched on some very real and brutal subjects. Was there much push back when you presented that idea to Marvel, or were they actively looking to develop a more serious, gritty, brutal story?
Jen: I have to champion our amazing editor, Jake Thomas. He has always been the one getting us in the door. We wrote our Guardians of the Galaxy story because Neil deGrasse Tyson dropped out. Only Jake thinks, “Fuck, I’ve lost Neil deGrasse Tyson. I better call the Soska Sisters!” The way that you pitch a comic is like how you pitch a movie. You write an outline, you say who it’s for, you say the tone of it. A lot of the characters are very, very busy forever. Our first one was Night Nurse, and my god I couldn’t get a Marvel demon to save my life. Blackheart was busy, Mephisto was busy, Dormammu is busy. Every one of them is busy in other dimensions? How is this possible?! So you wait until there is an offer. Sylvia and I had pitched a Wiccan and Hulkling, first gay couple series which we loved. We pitched an Elektra one. We pitched what our Deadpool movie would be. Then we pitched Black Widow. To me, it was like Escape from New York. I wanted no other characters. I can take side characters, but I didn’t want it to be Natasha and Bucky or Natasha and a love interest. Natasha is so cool. Every one of her backstories are a Red Room story, and it’s been so rare for her actually to get to do something different. So we pitched this completely as it was, with everything – with the child sex trafficking – and at first they passed on it, which was fine.
Sylvia: Then we got a phone call six months later where they were just, “Ladies, remember that Black Widow story? We’re going to do it but there’s going to be one change – we’re going to get rid of the paedophile story. Captain America just killed Natasha, so she’s a clone and filled with existential rage. But it’s pretty much the same story exactly, right?” Torture shows are also called Red Rooms. The character is a trauma survivor. She doesn’t have the happy story of somebody coming to train her. She was very brutalised her entire life. She goes into this situation where there’s these people who could be destroyed for life, but she shows them that she’s a survivor. She deals with somebody who’s a survivor, who didn’t find their strength and who went into a very dark place as revenge for the life they had to live. When I was a kid, my mom would let me read Stephen King books and she would explain what they were about. I remember when I read Cujo, that was the first time I saw the word paedophile. I asked my mom what it meant, and she explained that it meant “adult who hunts children.” That was so scary, but it helped us to have a dialogue without having to know the whole horror of it. I thought it was a great opportunity with Black Widow, where parents can explain it to their kids that this is the world we live in and to just always be super careful, don’t go with strangers.
Jen: Marvel, especially classic Marvel when I was growing up, always had these much greater messages. One of my favourite characters was Adam Worlock, who I liked to call Space Jesus. He was very anti-organised religion, he was very much about absolute power corrupts absolutely. To read those themes as a child, it was tricking you into learning a moralistic lesson. And when I watched Little Shop of Horrors, I didn’t realise it was telling me not to be in an abusive relationship – but it was! So, watching Black Widow be able to take strength from her pain and suffering, and to have had these kids go through something so traumatic but have that trauma be the thing they take the most strength from. Spoiler alert: they have a really nice ending and Natasha burns a lot of people alive.
Sylvia: There’s even a little girl character who we created, who was a survivor of that. She ended up amputated, she gets new hands from Tony Stark, but I hope that character stays around. You don’t see that many storylines where you see something horrific then see what kind of strength that person has afterwards.
While Black Widow is such a fantastic character, she’s often been an under-served character until recent years. How has it been to write for Marvel Comics, and how has it been to put your own stamp on a character like Natasha and showcase why she’s so great?
Sylvia: It was the greatest, most surreal experience of my life. Jennifer and I weren’t very popular growing up. I remember my grandmother would always get a funny book for us, and it would always end up being a classic Marvel comic. I started reading when Storm was leaving the X-Men. I would read those stories and I would learn about what it would be like to have friends like that, or what it would be like to be a grown woman with those kind of attributes. To be a part of that, I respect it so much. There are so many people who have nerd rage for not going and looking at the history of these characters, and there’s a good reason for it – because these lessons mean something to people, these stories mean something. I hope I get to do it forever, but every time Jen and I write a comic we write it like it’s the last one we’re going to write. I guess that’s why we’re so risqué with it and have such strong messages. You don’t have the guarantee that you’ll ever be able to do this again, so you might as well make you’re mark while you’re there.
Jen: It was such an honour when Jake Thomas reached out. What he basically said was that Natasha had really lost her identity in the films. They’ve used her to really service these storylines and these other characters, and they’ve kind of forgot that she’s so capable, so deadly, so amazing. At that time, the Black Widow movie was going to be rated R, so he asked, “Can you make Natasha be who she is again?” That was such an honour. It’s not like I had to grab some comic books and research Natasha. As Slyvie was saying, Natasha was my cool Russian friend when I was growing up. She was so sexy, and she was always telling me about her sexual exploits with Iron Man and with Daredevil – all of the hottest guys. I thought she was amazing, she was so cool, she was fearless, she was so empowered. As far as stories go, even including all of my films, this is the story I’m most proud of.
Sylvia: It was just before Disney took over Marvel. It’s funny because Jake also edits The Punisher, and then The Punisher went after child sex traffickers. In our Dear Readers letter, we talked about how the story is really cool but that we don’t have real-life Black Widows doing this for us, so we all have to be socially responsible when we hear about issues like this.
Now that Rabid and No Restraints Play are in your rear-view mirror, what can you tell us about what’s next up on your plate?
Sylvia: After we made Rabid, we were gifted with David Cronenberg’s producers, Martin Katz and Karen Wookey of Prospero Pictures. It’s been almost ten years since American Mary came out, which was the last time that we had an original script. That movie scared the shit out of people. At the time we were pitching American Mary, everyone was saying, “We would never make this movie. Could you maybe make a straightforward monster movie?” So we wrote this movie called Bob. It put people off so much that they went, “Let’s make the movie about the body modification girl. It certainly couldn’t be as bad as their monster movie…” which is what we’re actually making next. We’re extremely excited. It’s about trauma and the survival of trauma and how that really affects your perspective of life. When we were in Los Angeles we met with a few actors – one who we think is going to be the lead of the film, who is from a billion dollar franchise and is one of my favourite actors, and I’m very thrilled that we’ll be working together. He is in the perfect headspace for this character.
Jen: There’s a television show based on a book that was burnt that we’re developing. There’s another film that has an ending that every other director and studio walked away from. The ending was the reason why we were, “Aha, sign us up!” We’re also developing a comic book series. I’ve noticed how DC and Marvel have been so connected to so many corporations and branding that it’s difficult for them to really have a message or have a stance on everything – in the way that every superhero loves their country and loves their significant other, but nobody is anti-gun or pro the death penalty. Nobody really has an opinion either way, they’re just all generally kind of good people. I’d really like to write a series where you have people who are flawed, people who have opposing opinions, and watch how those people develop.
Vendetta receives its UKTV premiere Saturday, April 4th on Horror Channel.