The Soska Sisters don’t care what you think. They make brash and unapologetic body horror in the riot grrrl cinematic tradition of Sarah Jacobson’s I Was a Teenage Serial Killer (1993). Their anti-heroines include a revenge rape surgeon, an actress who literally fucks men to death, and other unruly women who stick it to a system that demeans them. At the center of their recent directorial re-make of Rabid (2019) is a struggling designer who gives a grisly middle finger to men who foist unrealistic body images onto women. The film dropped on Blu-Ray on February 4, 2020.
Punk Rock Beginning
Their interpretation of Cronenberg’s vampire classic is not the first time that twins Jen and Sylvia have given us the finger. Their career had a very punk rock beginning. The two were undaunted and out for revenge when their film school slashed funding for a final project. So, they cut a faux trailer filled with bestiality, necrophilia, and other topics sure to make the university squirm. That teaser became Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009). The female leads who take a road trip with a dead sex worker also casually torture horny cops, homicidal priests, and other abusive men.
A strong female character also separates the Rabid re-make from the 1977 film. With John Serge (Dead on Campus), the Soska Sisters tell the story of an insecure main character working in an industry obsessed with impossible body types. But, after suffering an accident, Rose (Laura Vandervoort) has an experimental surgery that leaves her looking gorgeous. She uses her newfound sex appeal to lure and murder toxic men. Now, though, Rose is thirsty for blood and hallucinating. And, she’s unknowingly transmitting a virus that turns people into flesh-eating maniacs.
A Grisly Thumb in a Bloody Eye
Rabid shares an affection for visceral special effects with the sisters’ best known directorial effort, American Mary (2012). The visual of Rose’s exposed post-accident jaw is the most chilling thing in Rabid. But the prosthetics here fall short compared to the unspeakable visuals brought to us by Bloody Mary’s (Katharine Isabelle) rampage. A med student who falls into performing extreme surgery to pay the bills, she turns her skills on a professor who rapes her. What she does to his body pokes a grisly thumb in the bloody eye of rape culture and the men who exploit it
These and other gruesome visuals reflect the filmmakers’ technique of juxtaposing the external against the internal. What’s grotesque on the inside usually comes out (or off) in a Twisted Twins flick. That’s because superficial standards of feminine beauty, threats of sexual violence, and other exterior demands of a patriarchal system grossly distort women’s interior lives. Men make women ugly on the inside. And ugliness will come out, angrily. The slit, pierced, amputated, and mangled are the realest things about these movies. They provide tangible, gory evidence of women’s rage.
Light/dark contrasts then reinforce the real and unreal in women’s struggle against men who hurt them. Rose and Mary slip in and out the shadows as their rage drives them insane. They’re similar in this way to the protagonist of the Soska Sisters’ first slasher flick, See No Evil 2 (2014). But here, the director duo use shadow in a more practical way. The blackness warns and surprises audiences as they watch killer Jacob Goodnight (Kane) stalk his prey in the bowels of a morgue.
Fucking the Rich and Powerful
The treatment of male characters in See No Evil 2 signals yet another departure for the sisters. Female leads in these films have few true male allies. Rose’s boss mocks women who lack the body types that fill his dresses. In fact, he proudly names his new collection schadenfreude. A thirsty photographer, Brad (Benjamin Hollingsworth), appears to be supportive, though he’s secretly spying on her. But in See No Evil 2, Seth (Kaj-Erik Eriksen) is unselfishly committed to co-worker Amy (Danielle Harris). He respects her, and he’s willing to die for her. The refreshing lack of male ego earns him the gender-bending status of the film’s final girl.
Because most men are really just one-dimensional assholes who abuse their wealth and station, a class element also looms over these anti-heroine “have nots” who are at the mercy of powerful men. Rose is an overlooked subordinate who impresses her boss only after she becomes hot. Mary considers stripping to pay her tuition. Her poverty catches the notice of the professor-rapist who invites her to what turns out to be a sex party. The men who audition the struggling actress in the T is for Torture Porn short, from ABCs of Death 2 (2014), offers her a gig if she agrees to group sex. What they don’t know is that deadly tentacles shoot from her vagina.
Think Bikini Kill Meets Dead Ringers (1988)
They also don’t know that the Soska Sisters are gunning for the institutions that protect them. A broken health care system and skyrocketing tuition are among the issues that drive these scary movies. But, primarily, they’re about the unfair expectations placed on women by science and medicine. Rose’s rise and fall is an allegory for an unfeeling plastic surgery industry that forces women to measure themselves against superficial beauty standards. No wonder the ugly grows inside. And Mary learns the hard way that the medical profession still has no room for serious women.
What I learned from these movies is that they don’t have to be perfect to be meaningful. There’s lots wrong with Rabid. It’s slow in places, the dialogue’s awkward, and the vampire outbreak gets lost. The Twisted Twins try to do too much by adding their own story on to Cronenberg’s original plot. But I’m sure they don’t care what I think. Or you, for that matter. DIY is supposed to be imperfect. The point is the middle finger it gives to the system it seeks to tear down. Perfect is for Hollywood, where Mary doesn’t get raped and Rose was born pretty on the inside and out.
Which is why these flicks all have a bit of a tongue in their cheek. A Soska Sisters movie is a parody in the punk rock tradition. They are violent, satirical jabs at powerful men, with a cheeky poke along the way at people who enjoy watching them fall. The movies carry a bleak sense of humor that’s reserved for the sisters themselves. I don’t know why Kane ran around that morgue in a surgical mask. But I knew someone somewhere thought it was funny in a batshit-crazy-af-way. Rose’s end is also a “fuck off” from the Soska Sisters. It’s a riot grrrl send off to a system that cheapens women, but also a fist in the face to you and I for wanting to watch it. And if you don’t like that fact, well, you know what you can do.