It’s been a pretty long process to get the film from post-production to a point where people are actually seeing it now, right? When did you shoot the film?
Sylvia: Definitely. Well, we started shooting at the end of 2007 and we finished filming in February 2008. It was a lot of cutting it together and piecing it together; we had a very bare-bones budget for it. As a matter of fact, you definitely couldn’t buy a used car with the amount of money we spent on this. But it was a great learning experience. After we finished shooting, though, there were some technical issues. We ended up with a first cut that was about two-and-a-half-hours long—it was the Lord Of The Hooker version.

Jen: Oh, yeah—it was epic!

Sylvia: It really was. We still had to learn what to put in a movie; when you’re doing that, it’s only natural that you’re a little precious with the material. As we started getting more used to the whole editing process, we chopped it down a lot. That way, the hooker jokes could fly a little better. [Laughs.]

There was one scenario in particular that didn’t make it into the film because we couldn’t train a bear not to maul an actress. But we had a trained bear that was supposed to rip off one of the character’s arms and race off into the woods with it; then, we were going to chase the bear down, punch it in the face, and say, “Fuck you, bear!” [Laughs.] And that was something that we unfortunately didn’t get to do.

There’s a lot of crazy ideas like that in the movie and in the first cut. I think one of the first things we came up with was, “Who’s going to be the pimp for this hooker?” And we were like, “Well, we have access to all of these horses—we should make it a cowboy pimp!” So, a lot of ideas came like that.

Jen: The writing process was a lot different for this particular film, because we started with the trailer, and we had a couple of moments that we knew we wanted to keep in the film. But, originally, because we first made it as a trailer, we didn’t even think about how you get from point A to point B; like, “How do we get to the skull-fuck thing? I don’t know, but it sure does sound insane!”

So we did it in the old Robert Rodriguez style, how he describes making El Mariachi in his book, Rebel Without A Crew. He would write out his signature moments on cue cards, kind of like recipe cards. He’d then lay them across the floor and put empty ones in between, and say, “OK, I probably need about ten scenes in between these two parts,” or, “I’ll need a few scenes to get to this,” and that’s how we wrote Dead Hooker In A Trunk.

That’s really cool. Once you had that as a guide, did the script get finished really quickly?
Sylvia: The cool thing is that Jen and I write pretty fast. We have a tag-team approach; we each have our own scenes that we want to write, but if one of us gets blocked, we just tag in the other one so one person’s plugging away on the laptop while the other is playing video games. [Laughs.] We could have a script in a day. If we had to sit there and pump something out, we could. It works a lot because Jen and I are best friends and total nerds, and we always want to make something that would impress us first.

I hate going to the movies and seeing the same horror movie over and over again. Like, “OK, he’s gonna be behind that door. Oh, there he is.” It’s nice to have a little bit of insanity mixed into your horror, and I think we put an abundance of insanity into our film to make up for the insanity that’s lacking sometimes.

Do you see Dead Hooker as a horror movie or more as a dark comedy? Because it can go both ways. And, in that same breath, do you think the horror elements have overshadowed that it’s actually a funny movie.
Jen: I think it’s a dark comedy with horrific elements. I think, no matter what we write in the future, even if we make an animated kids’ movie, a Pixar film, there’s going to be some horrific moments in there.

We started reading Stephen King when we were really little, and he has this amazingly dark sense of humor. Even in the most bizarre, fucked-up situations in his stories, he has these wonderful little moments of levity where you find yourself laughing in spite of yourself. That’s really the way we always see horror—it should have those moments of levity. You should think, “Oh my god, I shouldn’t be laughing about this hooker, it’s a horrible situation.” But it is a little bit funny, because it’s a really awkward thing.

 
[Dead Hooker] was supposed to be this crazy road trip comedy, but then I thought, 'Oh, I guess you can’t knock out a girl’s eye and try to skull-f*ck her and then have it not be horrific.' —Sylvia Soska
 

Sylvia: I also think it’s because prosthetics is such a huge thing that brought us into really liking filmmaking and understanding it, so we never want to shy away from something that’s a little more grotesque. I remember watching so many movies and thinking, “Don’t cut away! Don’t cut away!” And then they’d cut away. In this one, we wanted to make sure that we really stayed with a lot of the action. The overall story was supposed to be this crazy road trip comedy, but then a lot of people kept saying, “This is horror!” And then I thought, “Oh, I guess you can’t knock out a girl’s eye and try to skull-fuck her and then have it not be horrific.”

Yeah, I think that’s at the top of the list when it comes to horror movie criteria.
Jen: [Laughs.] I think we’re a little bit screwed up in terms of what we like, so I always try to show our mom and dad to get their reactions; they’ll watch it, and their reactions will make me think, “Oh, OK—that’s how a normal person would think about this. Got it.” That’s why we added the dog into the movie, so my mom could enjoy it a little more. There’s actually a cat in our new film, American Mary, which we’re going to shoot in a few weeks, and that’s only going to be in there to help people like my mom be able to sit through the movie. Like, “OK, we’re going to eviscerate people everywhere, but what if there’s a cute little pug with a Mohawk? That’ll be OK for people.”

Sylvia: We knew that Dead Hooker was taking a really dark turn towards the end, with the torture scene, the flashback of the dead hooker’s demise, the guy getting set on fire, and, of course, the penis inserts, so we knew we needed something that would throw a bone to any audience members who were growing tired of the gore. So we threw in a very little pug.

I’ll be honest, with every scene that was the dog was in, I was expecting it to die in some gruesome way. I was shocked that it survived.
Sylvia: [Laughs.] As soon as we introduced the dog in the movie, my mom looks over at me and says, “You’re not going to do anything to that dog, are you?”

Jen: She probably would have disowned us if did anything to do the dog, or the horse, too. The horse just magically walks away for that reason.

During the horse scene, specifically, there’s some pretty intense stunt-work and physicality, which you two do yourselves. You both take a beating throughout the movie—that’s really impressive. In one scene, Jen, you catch a wrench to the back of the head and your eyeball flies out; in another, Sylvia, you’re dragged around by a horse. It’s crazy.
Sylvia: Oh my gosh, we had such a blast doing all of that, too. We were training in martial arts at the time, and we were planning on taking a total step away from acting and just do stunt-work. The cool thing about Dead Hooker In A Trunk is that we got a bunch of actors who’ve done professional stunt-work already, so, that way, we could really beat the shit out of each other. I hate choreographed fights, when you’re like, “OK, there’s the punch, there’s the block”; this way, it’s grittier. It makes the viewer feel like they’re watching this really weird home video that they shouldn’t be watching but they are, anyway. [Laughs.]

Jen: It was so funny during the drilling scene, where we’re drilling into the guy’s mouth, because I love being covered in blood, so the whole time I’m getting covered in blood I’m smiling, but I’m supposed to look horrified. So I just had to keep from laughing.

I mentioned Dead Hooker In A Trunk to a friend recently, and when I told them that it was made by two women, he seemed surprised that women would make a movie with that title. It’s unique to have a film made by women that could be interpreted as pretty misogynistic by those who haven’t actually seen it and just react to the title. Have you two come across any reactions of that nature?
Sylvia: The interesting thing about the film is that it is satire; to make something that’s totally hateful about a dead hooker in a trunk would be absolutely absurd. What we wanted to do with a lot of the violence was have it be fun, and off-the-cuff and kind of cheeky. But when we had the scenario where we show what actually happened to the dead hooker, I wanted that to be completely serious. I wanted the viewer to be forced to watch the complete taking apart of this human being as she fights for her life, because it is a horrible situation.

We didn’t create Dead Hooker In A Trunk jokes—they’ve been around forever. You can do a Google search and a million little jokes will pop up, and it was really cool to kind of play with that. You’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, but you’re trying to play with things that are already out there in society, ideas that people already have.

People always think that we’re guys, and when they hear that we’re girls, they’re like, “Oh, they must be really sick girls.” And when people find out we’re making horror movies, they’re like, “Oh, no—you’re probably so talented. Why would you waste your time on horror? You could do a nice romantic comedy or something else.” It’s interesting to see how people react to it, but that’s the nice thing: People are reacting to it and causing a dialogue.

Jen: I think people are, for the most part, pleasantly surprised when they find out that we’re girls who made Dead Hooker In A Trunk. Before we even start making a film, it’s never been about, “Oh, we’re girls making horror movies.” We’re just horror fans trying to make good movies.

The funny thing is when someone comes up to us thinking that one guy made the movie, and they come with this feminist approach, like, “Oh, how could you make a movie like that?” It’s like, “No, we’re girls, and I think it’s very empowering.” When we wrote Sylvia’s character, Badass, we wrote it as if she was Ellen Ripley [in Alien]. That role could have been played by a guy or a girl; we just wanted it to be an ass-kicking character.

Sylvia: It’s so funny, we filmed a big portion of it at our church. The congregation actually came to the screening, and I was like, “I don’t know about that.” [Laughs.] But once the film was done, there was this big group of church ladies waiting for me at the door. So I go over there and one of them says, “Hey, were you Badass in the movie? Oh, I just loved it, dear. I wish that I could be like her some days and just go around punching people.” I was so blown away by that. It was the best compliment I could ever hear about the movie. No one can ever say that our Dead Hooker isn’t uplifting.

Interview by Matt Barone (@mbarone)

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