31 Days of Halloween: Day 19 – American Mary

A movie review article by: Paul Brian McCoy

This Schlocktober, Comics Bulletin will be exploring the world of horror cinema, featuring thirty one notable films released between Halloween 2012 and Halloween 2013. Next up is directors/writers Jen and Sylvia Soska's American Mary.

The Soska sisters, Jen and Sylvia, call themselves the The Twisted Twins and if their feature film debut, Dead Hooker in a Trunk didn't prove they deserved that sobriquet, they rubbed viewers' faces in it this year with American Mary (and will be continuing to prove it with the upcoming See No Evil 2). Dead Hooker in a Trunk was filmed with practically no money (maybe 2500 bucks), but so much energy and enthusiasm (along with inspiration from Robert Rodriguez's how-to book, Rebel without a Crew) that every trashy, exploitative, transgressive, crazy-ass moment was worth watching.

The film caught the eye of Eli Roth who asked to see a script for the next project they wanted to make and after a marathon writing session (they had no script, but pitched the idea for American Mary on a bluff) and the rest is history. With a limited budget, a 15 twelve-hour day shooting schedule (!!!), and actual departments handling things like special effects, costuming, hauling cables, and feeding the crew, the Soska sisters crafted an amazingly fresh horror film set in the world of body modification.

And with no CGI, either.

American Mary tells the story of Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle), a medical student and promising surgeon-to-be. But Mary's running out of money and desperate to stay in med school, she applies for a job at a strip club. However, during the interview she is called upon by the club owner Billy Barker (Antonio Cupo) to save the life of a man who's been tortured.

For a fat handful of cash.

After going into Detached Surgeon Mode, saving the guy and collecting her money, she bolts, trying to forget what she just did. But one of the dancers at the club, Beatress Johnson (Tristan Risk), who happens to have had extensive plastic surgery in order to look like Betty Boop, contacts her and offers a shit-ton of money to perform illegal experimental surgery on her friend, Ruby Realgirl (Paula Lindberg). Unable to refuse the money, Mary accepts and things get very, very bad before they get better.

I think that's all of the plot I'm going to give away.

Trust me. You'll thank me for it later.

Katherine Isabelle owns this movie, which should come as no surprise to any of her fans. I hadn't seen a lot of her work since Ginger Snaps, to be honest (mainly just roles in Supernatural and Being Human), but she was always very natural in front of the camera. As Mary she sells every moment, switching from concerned to sarcastic to coldly clinical in an instant. There's also a sad fatalism to the performance that really sells the fact that Mary is slowly spiraling into madness; but it’s a madness that she can make work in her favor.

The practical effects work by Todd Masters and MastersFX is bloody, brutal, and believable, from the surgical procedures to the acts of violence performed. And this is a film that lives or dies by the quality of the gore effects.

This is a darkly fascinating and original story that doesn’t end well for anyone involved, but it has a lot of heart. It's good to see Jen and Sylvia Soska get a break and keep moving upward and onward. This film should help all young, low-budget film makers out there feel happy and hopeful about their own futures.

Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.

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