My wife Sue is now a regular columnist for FANGORIA, writing “Furious Femmes” every month, a column about women who make horror movies. And of course Sue has been interviewing many of the women filmmakers and getting copies of their movies.
Vancouver twins Jen and Sylvia Soska have made their debuting feature DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK and it is total bliss cinema. This film reminds me a great deal of the early, gonzo John Waters productions (during his PINK FLAMINGOS and FEMALE TROUBLE period), except the Soska film has better acting. Every character is a stereotype (called Junkie, Geek, Badass, Goody Two Shoes) and the performances are either gritty/tough or wistful/tender, but every performance seems committed and real. We believe in these rejects and ultimately come to care about them, as difficult as that may seem. In this production, everyone rolls up his or her sleeves and pitches in. Jen and Sylvia Soska star, write and direct and many of the other cast members (particularly C.J. Wallis) perform multiple duties. And they all do wonderful jobs.
What I like is that this is a movie that could only have been made by young artists. And I say this not because most of the cast is young, the action occurring at punk rock clubs and places where young folks frequent, and the musical score consists of buzz-sawing metal and punk rock. Old farts could film young performers at a club and use a blaring rock score. That’s not the point. But the film is filled to the brim with youthful enthusiasm, brashness, audacity and the Soska sisters do stuff that might seem silly or illogical in the hands of more seasoned professionals. But they pull it off! And who but the young would put themselves so far out there!
For instance, what mainstream or even cookie-cutter B production today would include the following sequence of events? Geek (Jen Soska) is attacked from behind, pushed forward hard which knocks one of her eyes from the socket. Her attacker bends down over her to make sure the eye is gone (it lies in a bloody heap to her side). Geek picks herself up and holds her hand over her eye socket as blood flows down her hand and arm. Soon she is declaring to her friends, calmly, all she needs are a few supplies, including two pieces of crisscrossing black tape to cover her eye socket, to fix her up. In another sequence Junkie, who is nursing a slashed arm from a recent attack, is waving her arms while ranting, standing out in the street, when an 18-wheeler speeds past her ripping her wounded arm off. Picking up the severed arm, her friends use tape and a needle and thread to reattach the arm, at least long enough to get Junkie to the hospital (which eventually occurs only after she drives herself to the emergency ward). Get the picture, outrageous stuff occurs at any moment and such cartoon violence is played straight. Yet in another sequence, the one that explains how the hooker got to be dead before being stuffed into a car trunk, we watch as the killer brutally beats and then prepares to rape the hooker. Such a sequence is difficult to watch and demonstrates how ultra-violence against women is one of the major themes of Soska cinema. But we have such ping-ponging changes in tone, between goofy gore and violence and savage, disturbing female abuse. But such diverse shifts prove to be interesting.
We have a constant barrage of running gags and homages to other movies thrown in for good measure. For instance Badass (Sylvia Soska) is the one who is never wounded or hurt, while others around her lose their eyes, arms and Goody Two Shoes (C.J. Wallis), the Jesus freak who runs a church youth group, constantly bends over and vomits whenever the going gets tough. So it is shocking, near the end of the film, when Badass returns to her apartment and is surprised by the killer-who-wears-a-hood who brutally punches her unconscious and subdues her by placing a plastic bag over her head. When she awakens from this brutal attack, she recognizes her attacker immediately, a character we remember from earlier in the movie. But just when we are lead to believe that Badass is indestructible, we now see her as vulnerable. But earlier, in what I consider homage to Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD, we have Badass shoot the man who just disemboweled a drug dealer, his attacker slicing through his stomach and fondling his bleeding and now exposed intestines. To put the pathetic dying man out of his misery, Badass thrusts her gun directly near the camera as we focus on her face. We never see the man she shoots; instead, we hear the gun explode and see blood spattered all over her face in a quick instant. This reminds me of similar sequences in EVIL DEAD where Ash (Bruce Campbell) has blood spattered all over his face.
Lastly, what I admire most about DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK is the manner by which the Soska sisters tell their story visually, opening the movie with a gonzo tracking shot that introduces both characters and the action with a minimum amount of dialogue for roughly the film’s first 10 minutes. The movie opens as a girl arrives at the punk rock club in her car, jumping out of the car and running up the stairs to the club. In an intimate surrounding, we see Junkie scream her little punk heart out as important characters either dance, speak in the shadows or walk past as we pan left or right. We see a brief glimpse of the hooded killer, we see the strangely alive hooker wearing the red dress with side slits who will soon be dead (and the Soska sisters include a quick shot forward in time showing the hooker with a bloody punched face before we cut back to show her now smiling), we see the frightening Cowboy Pimp and other characters who only become important as the movie pushes ahead. But with the blaring musical score, the quick cuts, stationary camera work alongside hand-held jerkiness, the movie impresses with a dramatic and totally visual (and auditory) introduction. Fortunately this is only one of many “money” shots spread throughout the movie.
Yes, if we wanted to focus on flaws we could find them. Hey, this is independent filmmaking at its most raw level. DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK is more a labor of love emphasizing the joy of expression than it could ever be considered a commercial venture. The Soska sisters, if they continue to hone their technique, will only make bigger and hopefully better movies. Just as “Silent Bob” rose from independent to mainstream cinema, I hope to see the characters of Geek, Badass and Goody Two Shoes develop in future Soska movies. But for a debut, DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK is a film that lingers long after the music fades away and the credits fade to black. This is a movie to seek out and enjoy, warts and all.