Exploitation can be fun. The film genre, that is, not the abuse of human resources. Despite the exploitation genre – father of such subgenres as ‘sexploitation’ and ‘blaxploitation’ – having enjoyed its heyday in the 1970s, it’s far from extinct, with Django Unchained having been adored by many critics and a new film, American Mary, whose creators are self-proclaimed exploitation fans, in cinemas now.
I catch up with these creators at the Soho Hotel in London. Jen and Sylvia Soska (writer-directors) and Katharine Isabelle (lead actress) can’t wait to discuss their movie. Actually, they can’t wait to discuss anything – their volubility and enthusiasm permit me to ask them only about four questions in fifteen minutes.
The first of several priapic observations made by the Canadians, within two minutes of our conversation, is that “having no penis doesn’t make you an angel.” I nodded vigorously. I liked them already. Their new film aims to examine “the young, female capacity for evil”, which the twins believe to be a sadly neglected corner of cinema.
She’s right, to an extent – though we mustn’t forget such notable young females as Kathryn Merteuil from Cruel Intentions, or Satanico Pandemonium from Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn. Still, American Mary, with its twisted plot, characters and in-jokes, could become a cult favourite, even more so than their previous film, Dead Hooker in a Trunk, which won praise from Eli Roth of Hostel fame.
The Soska sisters seem intrigued by penises, discussing one potentially controversial penis shot that Universal never asked to be excised. Why? “They believed in the art of that penis shot!” exclaims Sylvia. I asked if the penis shot was hard to spot. “Nope,” says Katharine. “It’s all up in your grill.” Sylvia sees the extreme close-up of the penis as “a kindness to the body-double”. They have a wicked sense of humour.
Katharine – who has worked with Robin Williams and Al Pacino – earned her first big break in Ginger Snaps, a black comedy that took several of its cues from the classic An American Werewolf in London. Despite having just finished American Mary, which in this niche culture would be categorised as a horror movie, she claims she doesn’t like horror movies: “I’ve done exactly three, one of which is [American Mary], which I don’t even classify as a horror film… I’m not great at being the sweet girl-next-door in romantic comedies. I do have a bit of a darker side [but] I avoid horror movies.”
So what do the Soska sisters think of exploitation movies? Of Jodorowsky’s 1970 cult film El Topo, she observes: “It was like dropping acid… but at least it was saying something. There was still a human element… It was fucked-up and weird and it went everywhere, but it was alive, it was this creative entity.” The sisters also love Robert Rodriguez: “El Mariachi? He made that by selling his body to science for $70,000. He is a god.” Well, I guess in this post-Enlightenment age, this is where religion has come to.