10/14/2018 – Soska Sisters: American Mary (2012)
Directed by Jen Soska and Sylvia Soska
Once again, we have a big jump in time since our last film featuring a female director. This jump however didn’t yield nearly as many notable titles as our last time jump. There’s the 2001 Hong Kong horror comedy Visible Secret (by Ann Hui) and the New French Extremity film In My Skin (by Marina de Van and which gained some modestly positive reviews), Pathogen (directed by a twelve-year-old Emily Hagins), Population 436 (by future acclaimed TV director Michelle MacLaren) and the French giallo Amer (co-directed by Hélène Cattet and receiving the best reviews of the lot), but their success was modest at best.
Women were also behind the third Urban Legends film (directed by Mary Lambert of Pet Sematary fame) and Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horror (I just find it funny that Stacy Title, director of the black comedy The Last Supper, would go on to do a Snoop Dogg horror anthology), but the two most notable films would come in the form of Jennifer’s Body and Silent House. Jennifer’s Body, from Girlfight director Karyn Kusama (who we will look at on the 20th) and writer Diablo Cody (fresh off Juno) was a disappointment and I’ve made my feelings on Silent House known before. Lynne Ramsay’s 2001 film We Need to Talk About Kevin is great and all, presaging the modern indie horror boom, but I’d struggle to call it horror.
One of the films I deliberately skipped over in that list however was 2009’s Dead Hooker in a Trunk. I remember stumbling upon it on IFC and while I didn’t watch more than a few minutes since I found the title at once eye catching and a bit too cute (the kind of thing someone comes up with in film school), it was a name that stuck with me. My assessment turned out to correct since the film was made as a final project (for $2,500) by Jen and Sylvia Soska, a pair of Canadian twins. Besides directing, they would also write, star, and produce the film. After following it up with today’s film, they would go on to make the “T is for Torture Porn” segment of ABCs of Death 2 before hooking up with WWE Studios and making the horror slasher sequel See No Evil 2 and the action film Vendetta.
American Mary has been towards the top of my list of films I’ve wanted to get to for years and it is largely because of star Katharine Isabelle. Ever since I’ve seen her fantastic performance in Ginger Snaps, she’s always been an actress to watch out for (sadly, her co-star Emily Perkins mostly has disappeared as an actress). Her most prominent role to date since then has been on Hannibal as Margot Verger, one of many great roles on that shows.
In American Mary, Isabelle plays Mary, a med student with money troubles, behind on her payments, and an asshole of a professor who gets upset at her for not paying close enough attention despite being a bright student who spends her free time cutting and suturing back up turkeys. She responds to a seedy classified ad for providing sensual massages and during a job interview where she is forced to give a massage in lingerie in a club, a situation comes up where she has to patch up a man for $5000 in the basement (still wearing the lingerie of course). A woman whose had a large amount of plastic surgery to make her look like Betty Boop (it’s only vaguely successful but she has the voice down) tracks her down thanks to her resume (which she hilariously used to apply to a massage position). She wants to hire Mary to perform surgery on a friend for $10,000 who is trying to look more like a doll and wants her nipples removed, her genitals removed, and everything closed up as much as possible.
Now as much fun as the prospect of watching consensual genital mutilation is, the film still manages to keep that in the darkly comedic tone it has been maintaining. It’s a tone that the film fumbles when SPOILERS1her teacher drugs her and records her being choked and rapes her at an event for doctors. It’s hard to say that this scene isn’t necessary since it feels essential to the plot and showing any less than they did would have dulled the impact of his assault. It’s not shot exploitatively, but my feelings on depicting rape on screen remain as complicated as ever especially in a film that had to this point (and after), maintained a sense of humor about things.2 After that incident, she devotes herself to the body modification scene and operating on them and the film is remarkably accepting of these weirdos. It’s actually pretty charming in how it promotes the alternative lifestyle as something that can actually speak to you as a person (and not just treating it cynically) and the Soska Sisters wound up casting people from the real-life body modding community.
Sadly, the movie grinds to a halt to the end as it doesn’t seem quite sure how to wrap things up and then goes for another quick tone shift or two. Before then, barring a certain moment, I was having a great time. Isabelle is delightfully funny and is given a distinct character arc that you can feel in her performance. There’s plenty of body horror with some great practical effects and performers who have already done that job to themselves combined with that sense of humor to keep it from being too icky. The Soska Sisters themselves play foreign twins who are creepily close to each other and in their second film, they’ve turned in something uneven but overall something I can get behind.
Bonus Episode #21 – A – 1990s: The Prophecy II (1998)
Directed by Greg Spence
I watched The Prophecy years ago, but I can’t say that I remember anything about it beside it being very mediocre. Of course, that meant I had to do the only logical thing and watch all four Prophecy sequels. The Prophecy II follows up directly from the last one at least based on what I was able to discern from Wikipedia. The mythology on these films is complicated nonsense filled with archaic angel names that sound completely made up. Viggo Mortensen has been replaced as Thomas Daggett (a monk) by Bruce Abbott, not that he lasts long, being killed by Christopher Walken after refusing to help.
Christopher Walken is the only reason to watch any of these films and he’s a delight as always chewing up the scenery and touching people to death by merely touching their forehead. He plays Gabriel who’s been kicked out of hell and wants to destroy the world. Brittany Murphy plays a woman Gabriel “saves” after she commits suicide (her boyfriend is Danny Strong of Buffy) to do his bidding (and because she knows DOS). They make a surprisingly good comedic pair with Murphy as bouncing between sarcastic and nuts, it’s just a shame about the rest of the movie.
In the other, boring plotline a man is hit by a car after being taken to the hospital and meeting the driver (played by Jennifer Beals), he seduces her, and they have sex after she “accepts him”. The sex scene is some ridiculous over the top stuff with flashes to a demon in a RHCP video or some shit (the rolling cloud effect this series loves) looks so fake). The woman is impregnated and despite having only had sex a couple days ago, is in her second trimester. It all climaxes at the garden of Eden which is now in an industrial park.
Eric Roberts and Glen Danzig are in this! That’s really about it. It’s not a terrible movie and one that occasionally approaches humorously bad, but too often it is just bland. There’s going to be worse to come, but this installment isn’t worth checking out this direct to video installment.
Bonus Episode #22 – A – 2000s: The Prophecy 3: The Ascent (2000)
Directed by Patrick Lussier
Once again, we have a direct sequel as The Prophecy continues to avoid the tendency of DTV sequels to just go loose with the whole sequel aspect and just take the name. The child of an angel and a mortal (a nephilim) from the last time has become a street preacher who talks about how God doesn’t care about us. He’s gunned down but wakes back up in the morgue since the only way to kill angels in these movies is by ripping out the heart. He also keeps having visions of people laying in a big pile of naked bodies with a messianic man standing on top in long hair, maintaining that same stupid dream aesthetic from the last time.
Walken has the crazy long hair above and has switched sides from his evil self, having taken towards being a human after been stripped of his powers last time. He’s still Christopher Walken and so he’s still entertaining, but I’d much rather watch evil Walken than his presence here where he acts more as a calm mentor. I guess this is as good a place as any to note the trend for humans to be referred to as monkeys repeatedly throughout the series which should probably work a lot more effectively from the sneering villainous angels than it does. Instead, it has become at best a forced habit from the series and at worst a too clever bit of attempt at writing. As for the film’s quality, it’s a continued fall from The Prophecy II in that it lacks anything notable, but otherwise just all blends into one big mush.
Bonus Episode #23 – A – 2000s: The Prophecy: Uprising (2005)
Directed by Joel Soisson
Here’s where things take a bigger dive into the more typical direct to DVD sequel. Gone is Walken or even his Gabriel character. Also gone is the plot from the first three films as it is replaced by some other new overcomplicated nonsense that’s even more lost in the weeds than before. These next two Prophecy films were filmed simultaneously, and you can feel it in the way that they blur together in quality, feel, and how this one doesn’t end so much as stop.
This time out, our big starring cast includes Sean Pertwee (the Third Doctor’s son and Alfred on Gotham) as a bad cop who growls his way through the role, Kari Wührer, Jason London, and Doug Bradley (last seen on this feature in a terrible Wrong Turn film). Unsurprisingly, these films have that distinct “Made in Eastern Europe” feel that bad, cheap horror titles get and sure enough they were filmed in Romania. It’s impressive to make the series look worse than the previous two, but they at least could have convinced me they were proper titles if I squinted. There’s nothing here worth salvaging.
Bonus Episode #24 – A – 2000s: The Prophecy: Forsaken (2005)
Directed by Joel Soisson
At least here there’s Tony Todd! It’s nice to see someone taking Walken’s place chewing up the scenery and Todd, who has such an imposing voice and presence, gets to also ham it up. Kari Wührer, Jason London, and John Light all return from the last one (as well as adding Jason Scott Lee), but who cares about them. The plot here leans harder still onto the mythology, pulling up all sorts of races and rules about them (which according to Wikipedia does actually tie this back to the first movie) and the nephilim business is brought back into the fold. It’s good that the film actually decided to tie the series together in its second half, but by this point it was all just bouncing off my brain.
Then the film goes and ends itself on a damn sequel hook. A hook that will never be paid off and which I don’t even care about since I both don’t care about the mythology and don’t entirely get what the hell it was going on about. I was just glad to be done with the series. I can’t even say I hate it, just an overwhelming feeling of disinterest.
Next up: The third biggest film industry in the world finally gets the respect it deserves when I look at my 50th film industry, Nigeria and their 2014 film Ojuju.