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Full Disclosure: This writer was not a fan of the “Twisted
Twins’” maiden cinematic voyage, DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK. Made on a budget by
Vancouver’s Jen and Sylvia Soska, the cheapie action comedy is scrappy and full
of indie energy but is also shrill, choked with gratuitous, numbing profanity
and–outside of the twins themselves—generally poor performances. But what did
appeal was the maverick way the sisters managed to push their product, using
social media, forums and general upbeat fan-friendly enthusiasm to build a
legacy as not only burgeoning filmmakers, but masters of entrepreneurial
business sense, whipping up a mass frenzy about their next project, something
called AMERICAN MARY….
Of course none of this Strum und Drang would add up to squat
if said follow-up wasn’t at least a cut
above its quickie predecessor. Happily, not only is the considerably pricier
AMERICAN MARY an astonishing improvement on DEAD HOOKER in every respect, it’s
a quantum leap in another tonal direction; a gorgeously art-directed exercise
in psycho-sexual grand guignol full of strange characters, grotesque imagery
and bizarre, black-as-night humor. It’s a definitive body horror film, elegant,
disturbing but never oppressive and if nothing else, it’s the work of two
powerful, loud voices whose joy of moviemaking screams from every frame.
Katherine Isabelle (the GINGER SNAPS trilogy) stars as Mary,
a med student who is in dire need of extra scratch. In a desperate bid, she
applies for a job in a greasy strip club as a rub and tug masseuse and during
the “interview,” when revelations of her surgical intern status is revealed, is
called on to repair a screaming thug who had been roughed up a bit too much by
some club underlings. This quickie cash “meatball surgery” leads to an impromptu
appearance by Beatress (Tristan Risk), one of the club’s dancers, at Mary’s
apartment. Beatress has had her face grimly “revised” to resemble that of Betty
Boop, skin pulled tight, mouth pursed, skull implants re-shaping her face, and
after witnessing Mary’s “performance” asks if she would be willing—for a tidy
sum—to operate on her friend, another body modifier who wants her nipples
removed and vagina sewed shut so that she resembles a living Barbie doll. Mary
complies and her success and growing obsession lead her to becoming “Bloody
Mary,” one of the most in-demand underground body-tweaking surgeons in the
But that’s only the set up of AMERICAN MARY, and what’s so
delicious about the film is the various kinky ways in which the Soskas develop
the tale and constantly surprise the audience. This is no mere freak show
shocker, rather a character study of a girl finding empowerment through
increasingly vulgar means. It’s a bit of a love story too, a tragedy and of
course, a bile-black comedy. It’s clear the twins had not only fun sculpting
this macabre world, but also the creative freedom to let their bent
imaginations run wild.
And that’s the beauty of this film. Though AMERICAN MARY is
heavily laced with gore and perversity and even torture, it’s not the dour sort
of slipshod cruelty porn we’ve been so larded up with this past decade. Rather,
it has an old fashioned enthusiasm, like a kid pulling out the stops trying to
spook the neighbors on Halloween. It’s a curious film, like an old Jess Franco
sex and surgery picture spliced into the DNA of Cronenberg and dipped in sugar.
Normally, I dislike when filmmakers use pop music in horror to seem ironic, but
here the Soskas’ choices only emphasize the sense of play, selecting witty
tracks and juxtaposing them over bizarre imagery. The opening credits set the
tone, as Isabelle’s fingers suture scalpel-made gashes on raw chicken flesh
while the old Cat Stevens song “The First Cut is the Deepest” warbles on the
soundtrack; except, it’s not the Stevens version. It’s the Rod Stewart version,
rather the live version of the Rod Stewart version whose applause and light
stage banter make the queasy sight of fowl surgery seem like Mary is
“performing.” It sets a weird, wonky tone that the sisters never waiver from.
Oh, and have I mentioned the Soskas are in the movie? They are…and their
hilariously horrifying cameo is ingeniously self-referential.
And if AMERICAN MARY has flaws–which I’m sure it does–they’re
dwarfed. I was having such a good time, I chose to ignore them. Hell, some of
my best, most beautiful and interesting friends are flawed. That’s what makes
them so unforgettable.
As of this writing, I’m really not sure where you can see
AMERICAN MARY. But see it, you should.
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