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Guest Post Rerun: American Mary Sets Out to Modify the Way You Think About Women in Horror

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by Jen and Sylvia Soska
May 31, 2013 12:36 PM
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Originally published on October 30th. American Mary opens in limited release today and is available on VOD.

In short, our film American Mary proclaims that she is the story of medical student Mary Mason who is growing increasingly broke and disenchanted by medical school and the surgeons she once admired. The allure of easy money and notoriety brings Mary into the messy world of body modification and underground surgery that leaves more marks on Mary than her so called "freakish" clientele.

Many may be surprised that the film itself is an analogy for our own journeys and misadventures in filmmaking, though I imagine many women will easily see the similarities. Like in our own experience, those who appear to be strange and unusual have much less to hide than those who present themselves to be upstanding and respectable. It would be a knee jerk reaction in a film about body modification for the ones who walk around quite literally with horns and forked tongues to be seen as the villains, yet they are in fact the sort that wear their hearts on their sleeves. Being outcasts all our lives, bullied heavily in high school, and treated like party favors as we tried to be equals in a heavily male dominated industry, we found ourselves allying naturally with our fellow underdogs.

Being identical twins and aspiring actors once upon a time ago, we quickly learned that while there are some men that are more than happy to have women joining the men's club, there are many others, and hopefully a dying breed, that would rather seeing us performing at a gentlemen's club. It's nothing new, unfortunately. Have you ever heard of Alice Guy Blache? Neither had I until I began to dive into my filmmaking female heritage. She was the first director, not first female director, but first director period, of fiction film. When the Gaumont Company came up with their first camera, they deemed it useless and gave it to Alice, who they deemed equally useless. She went on to be involved in making over 700 films, few actually credited to her as in that time a woman couldn't possibly be the mind behind these creations. It's not an uncommon story for women to be seen as lesser which makes it appropriate for us to find ourselves embracing horror, a genre often seen as a subgenre, but horror itself has made us the women we are today.

I remember sitting with my mum, a wonderful and strong woman who fully encouraged our love of horror at a young age, watching that final scene in Alien. I was terrified and didn't want to see Ripley get eaten. My mum told me, "Don't be scared, that's Ellen Ripley. And she always wins." I watched Sigourney Weaver in her role that redefined what it is to be a final girl, no longer an innocent, trembling waif, but a powerful, fearless heroine and decided, "I want to be her." American Mary evolves the final girl once again where not only is the final girl powerful, precise, and fearless, but she becomes her own undoing and takes on the roles of villainess and heroine simultaneously.

It's this strength that we carry with us when a producer announces that we're "little girls who like to play director" after we refuse his sexual advances or when another suggests we get an actress to show her breasts because "she trusts us." When our Mary announces she doesn't get "invited to parties with doctors and surgeons" we can say we've been at many a party with directors and producers under the guise of being equals though it becomes very clear that they're intentions are less than honorable. But if we can pave the way, even in a small way for women who want to follow the path that Alice Guy Blache paved out for us so long ago, it's worth every condescending remark and every laughable come on. The final girl has evolved from a terrified little girl to a powerful, independent woman for good reason. So have we.

Our favorite horror films include Martyrs, Inside, High Tension, Ginger Snaps, and Audition. Many are not for the faint of heart.

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Jen and Sylvia Soska are the directors and writers of American Mary and created their own production company, Twisted Sisters Productions. You can follow them on Twitter.

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