Updated: Feb 23
Recently Horror heavyweights Jen & Sylvia Soska have come under fire in a series of open letters. But is it Call-out or Cancel culture?
If you are a independent horror fanatic, then you will have heard of Jen & Sylvia Soska a.k.a The Twisted Twins. They are Horror heavyweights - having built up a solid fan base around American Mary and their recent adaption of Cronenberg's Rabid amongst others.
Recently, other film-makers and fans 'called out' the sisters alleged behaviour in a series of open letters on social media using the #soskasspeakup hashtag. These have gone viral within the horror community.
I felt deeply uncomfortable about it all.
At first I questioned whether I had a false sense of loyalty to The Twisted Twins.
I had met them last year at Grimmfest 2019 and was inspired by their passion, energy and commitment to the fans who had travelled. They recorded a little video for a young fan and were polite and supportive towards me. The Soskas have assisted female film-makers in showcasing horror shorts as part of their annual Blood Drive. This included Mariam M Draeger who had her first film Duck Season premiere during Women in Horror month this year.
But that does not mean that the allegations of bullying and defamation against other female Horror writers are unfounded.
So why did I get involved?
I have to admit that my initial view of the various letters and statement was of scepticism. Given the Soskas success were they being targeted due to their success and visibility? There seemed to be so many unanswered questions. It would have been too easy for me to swipe on by and ignore it until it went away.
However, a fellow screenwriter was harshly criticised for saying he aspired to work with the Soskas and there were several film-makers expressing views that they would refuse to work with anyone who had worked with them.
The idea that anyone's dream could be cut short made my blood run cold.
As did the idea that the allegations could be unfounded and forwarding any articles could contribute to the bullying of two successful directors.
I am mightly p*ssed off at the divide and drama this whole debacle is causing for the whole horror community. It literally kept me awake that people were retweeting away and publishing stories without actually fact checking. Just stop.
I decided to dig a little deeper.
Find a cosy corner (or toilet!) and grab a drink.
I have a lot to say.
The Open Letters.
My first introduction to the allegations against the Soskas was from the open letter from Blair Bathory.
Whilst Blair has not been subject to any negative behaviour by the Soskas directly, those close to her allege they have been. Therefore as an ally - she reflected on how her own silence hurt those around her and invited the Soskas to comment on the core allegations.
I am somewhat conflicted about two points.
Lets take Blair's question regarding the 'pornographic film' that the Soskas starred in. By this I am assuming she is referring to their appearance in either Slaughtered Vomit Dolls (2006) or ReGOREgitated Sacrifice (2010) both by Lucifer Valentine. Both contain strong themes of rape and violence against women.
Acting out rape fantasies between willing participants - with a safe word - is common in the BDSM scene. There are specific fetishes around bodily fluids and vomit. It maybe taboo but it is of no surprise to me that a film would be made that centres around these themes.
Lucifer Valentine who is the one who wrote and directed the film and was therefore responsible for its content and consent of all those involved. The films were made early in the Soskas career? What of their own consent?
We are all too aware of Hollywood names appearing in porn, so isn't criticising an actress for appearing in a highly questionable film nothing more than professional slut-shaming?
Some would argue that is missing the point.
The Soskas regularly speak out (quite rightly) about rape, sex trafficking and domestic abuse.
Yet they have yet to make comment as to why they accepted roles in a film that depicted rape and violence for the viewers - and directors- gratification. As already noted they made two films some years apart - and had already started their production company - which would indicate that they were willing participants in the film.
Understandably, their fans are asking why the sisters have chosen to participate in films which seem at odds with their core values.
Blair also mentions a 'Hitler themed PSA'. The PSA concerned is from 2016 and is an appeal for blood saying 'don't be a Hitler'. I have included here so you can form your own judgement.
My biggest concern was the alleged attacks on other film-makers within the horror community.
This was echoed by Cristal of the supercool The Super Ghoul. I have not repeated her letter here but she calls out the Soskas for the same behaviour and reasons that Blair does.
Whilst there is some horrible behaviour on and off set from many in the film industry - it becomes an issue when you are working with industry giants who have the potential to end your career.
But was this Call Out Culture or Cancelling two successful women?
I approached various film-makers and others for comment and clarification. I poured over articles, court documents and traced the origins of tweets. I even approached the Soskas for comment via Twitter.
To date, the Soskas have not replied and nor has a statement been released regarding the various allegations. I will happily amend the article to include any comments that they wish to make.
Whilst various filmmakers have been making allegations against the Soskas - the tweets that are garnering the most attention are from Kevin Moseley who tweeted an open letter on 20 June 2020 referring to an alleged email where the Soskas claimed copyright over the film; Puppet Killer.
It should be noted that the dispute between the Soskas and those involved in the production of Puppet Killer (2019) is well known in the horror community. Puppet Killer was a concept created by Lisa Ovies who sought to produce the film in 2015 together with Ellen Chauvet. Kevin is the screenwriter who developed the story. The Soskas were originally part of the pre-production team. It was reported that the Soskas parted from the team early and a claim made against the Soskas by Ovies and Chauvet was settled out of court.
It appears that the Soskas have warned Kevin of legal action. You can read the entire thread including reactions from fans by clicking on the tweet below.
Kevin was supported by producer Eric Carberry who released his own statement in support of both Kevin and Lisa Ovies and how the Soskas treated them. Eric made reference to the court documents being publicly available.
I wont lie. Part of me thought this was all just bad blood on the part of the Puppet Killer team. The case was settled in 2016 after all.
I expected that the Soskas would have a robust response to any claim made against them.
So I decided to call Eric's bluff and recover the documents. I am a lawyer so can easily navigate my way around a case and form an opinion based on the evidence.
What I found shocked me.
It appears from the document setting out the claim that Jen and Sylvia were to be given writing credits alongside Kevin. It was alleged that an email was sent by them on 25 February 2016 stating they did not want to be associated with - or given credit for - any writing in respect of the Puppet Killer script 'notwithstanding the contributions they had made'. The claim further alleges that the Soskas went on to copyright the script under their own names. The Soskas denied the claim.
The worst nightmare of any writer is someone stealing your idea or script.
Whilst it has happened across the film industry before - it cannot be tolerated.
I immediately went and registered a couple of my own works that I had discussed with others (Fortunately I can do this for free via my membership with Raindance)
Is this the kind of environment we want to create for writers in the horror genre?
What I was not aware of were allegations that Jen Soska had sent various defamatory texts to Aleks Paunovic - a lead actor in Puppet Killer. The claim alleges that Jen sent texts to Aleks stating - amongst other things - that Lisa Ovies was "a pathological liar", had a "personality disorder" and "didn't have it in her" as a director.
The Soskas denied these specific claims as well as others.
It appears texts messages were sent but the explanation given for those texts in the response amounted to concern over the films budget and how it was being used.
There were reports that the Soskas had instigated legal action for defamation against Lisa in respect of an alleged Facebook post where it was said she had called them "thieves, liars and sabatoers". Lisa denied these allegations. I cannot see a counter claim on the file I reviewed.
Some weeks later, the case settled. There was no hearing or judgements issued.
I will say from a legal perspective that - contrary to what some Twitter commentators are saying - settling a case does not mean either party admits any wrongdoing. This goes for both sides. It is a compromise. There is often a number of factors involved including the desire to avoid rising legal bills.
Whilst there does not appear to be a public apology in respect of the script or text messages - the issue was at least addressed as part of the claim which was later settled. Puppet Killer was finally released in 2019 with Kevin solely credited as the writer.
It would be easy to say to the Puppet Killer team just has a grudge and should move on.
The case was settled - including the issue over the script - after all.
Sadly there are rumours that the Soska's continue to to criticise Lisa as a director.
It is worth considering that Lisa was early in her career as a director and had enlisted the Soskas for support with production as well as actors in the film. I would hope that anyone experienced in the industry would be patient and supportive of someone rising through the ranks and see the project to completion.
I have to acknowledge that Lisa had reportedly been subject to a later claim of defamation. One that is repeatedly being raised to disregard the claim that was made against the Soskas. The two cases are entirely different. The matter was resolved amicably and Lisa and Ellen are on speaking terms again as their joint statement confirms:
Regardless of what happened during the production of Puppet Killer - Lisa is now credited as an award-winning director with several successful projects both as a producer and director under her belt.
Images of purported tweets from the sisters have circulated this year. Whilst I am unable to verify whether the tweets are from the Soskas. I do note that one Twitter follower sent an alleged tweet directly to them (shown below) and there is no reply.
I can only imagine the hurt caused to Lisa seeing such a comment - particularly when it bears a striking resemblance to the alleged text messages that featured in her claim against them. I understand from third party accounts that Lisa is regularly questioned about her fallout with the Soskas. The original Tweet was still live at the time this article was originally written.
Allowing ill-will to continue long after the event helps no-one and only contributes to the overall feeling that the horror industry is hostile - particularly to women.
Given the Soskas publicly champion other women in horror, it makes it all the more important that they respond to the allegation publicly so that there is no room for doubt. As the Soskas have said themselves "not saying anything is agreement".
The Alt-Right, Jack Posobiec and Michelle Nessk.
In 2019 the Soskas Twitter account was suspended following a promotional still from Rabid. There was much uproar and even a petition regarding their suspension. The twins were interviewed by a number of journalists, but the one that attracted the most controversy was with conspiracy troll Jack Posobiec for right wing channel One America News.
Whilst the interview was about freedom of speech, the Alt-right have used this freedom to justify spreading hate against marginalised groups. At worst, their agreement to be interviewed by Posobiec betrays political leanings that would further ostracise the very groups the Soskas claim to support.
The sisters have publicly denied any Alt-right involvement.
For the record - given the sisters reaction to their fans and commentators on this matter along with the themes of their social media accounts - I believe them when they say they are not Alt-right. People who are right-wing tend to be outspoken and proud of their beliefs.
However the Black Lives matter movement has shown us that even the most liberal minded individual can make choices from a position of privilege that hurt others - regardless of intent. When this happens its important to listen, reflect and concede. This is true growth and strength.
It is not possible to agree with the principle that 'everyone is entitled to their opinion' when that opinion strips a group of the most basic of human rights.
The Soskas now have the privilege of being so well-known that they can afford to be choosy as to who interviews them.
This is the point that many Soska fans were making.
By agreeing to be interviewed - it opened a door into the horror community for the Alt-right.
Hence why the horror community are questioning the sisters values.
One such article by Peter Lalush appeared on Medium. Peter identified himself as a disappointed fan who looked to the Soskas for inspiration and invited them to 'do better' - his article referred to a friend who also shared his disappointment. I will say now that I don't feel his article is particularly controversial and is a view that has been expressed elsewhere.
The publication of the article was apparently met with anger by Jen Soska, who sources say took to Facebook to challenge Peter. I have received screenshots from multiple sources - although I could not find the post on Jen's facebook myself. (it may have been deleted or my own settings are at fault)
Looking at the screenshots that originally appeared in Horror Movie Zone - it seemed that Jen believed that Peter's article was referring to film-maker Michelle Nessk and launched into a personal attack.
I reached out to Michelle via Twitter for comment.
Michelle strenuously denies that she is the woman referred to in Peters article. Whilst she had reached out to Jen before the article to express her concern over the interview - it appears that Jen had jumped to conclusions and lashed out at her publicly.
Michelle replied directly to the post.
I did not know Michelle before talking to her on Twitter. However I will say openly that I feel Michelle's response to Jen is entirely appropriate. I would expect and welcome any of my friends speaking their truth. None of us is infallible.
It is all too easy to express our anger on Social Media - Jen is human and was clearly upset and angry.
This is more than a spat between friends.
This was a public 'call out' that had far reaching consequences.
Jen is followed by over 5k people in Facebook alone and their Twitter and Instagram accounts have over 53k followers each. The Soskas fanbase are very loyal and quick to defend the Twisted Twins.
This has involved Michelle continuing to receive abuse from the Twisted Twins fanbase.
Yet Michelle says she never received an apology.
The Soskas regularly share quotes saying we should act from a place of love not hate.
A sentiment I completely agree with.
Yet if the Facebook post is genuine - Jen weaponised her audience against Michelle.
It is not acceptable to throw someone under the bus in an attempt to protect your career and justify your actions.
This is not how you treat people. This is not from a place of love.
The abuse Michelle is receiving is a direct consequence of this post and speaking up about it.
As a minimum I feel that Jen & Sylvia Soska needs to address this post. If it is genuine then I believe she owes Michelle a public apology. Michelle has said that matters have gone to far now and a open apology to the industry is what is needed. But maybe addressing the matter will bring peace and closure that is needed.
As a minimum the Soskas need to speak up themselves both against the abuse that is being carried out in their name by their fans and in answer to the open letters. We need to heal the divide. And no, vague quotes on social media don't count.
Girls on Film.
Part of the #SoskasSpeakUp movement and open letters referred to Gigi Saul Guerrero. On a side note I have completely fallen in love with Gigi's TikTok and Twitter account. I don't know her as a person of course, but she does reflect a lot of my own values.
(Psst. Watch out for my review of her debut feature Culture Shock as part of a blog on films by women of colour.)
Despite my fangirling. I did not approach Gigi for comment. Her views are pretty self explanatory which have included the fact she will not name and shame. She describes bullying and discrimination by 'pillars of the horror community' and of women who have inflicted hate on her within the industry. I understand the Soska's legal team included Gigi in the open email that was also sent to Kevin Moseley - presumably a cease and desist warning. I have not seen the email or its contents.
To be fair, the Soska' are not the only ones being brought into focus at the moment so whilst this could apply to the Soskas - and many are assuming she is referring to them - Gigi's points ring true for anyone acting like an asshat on and off set.
Gigi speaks openly about the hostility within the horror community and why she had to leave Vancouver to make her first film in a recent podcast. Just f**king listen. Gigi exposes the problems that cliques create better than I can here.
But basically the Horror industry is just turning into Mean Girls now
She makes a valid point on women on women hate and discrimination.
It is a huge problem.
Film is now the third industry I have worked in that has been dominated by men.
But it has been women's internalised misogyny that has caused me the most damage.
Such as being denied a promotion in my early career because an female interviewer thought I would be too challenging to work with.
I became an advocate shortly afterwards where speaking up was my f**king job.
Its in my blood - as you may have guessed by now.
I recently attended a conference where several women at the top of their professions were giving 'advice'. One woman openly criticised someone who had approached her for guidance and told a packed auditorium of all the reasons she would not succeed whilst also admitting to not helping her at the time.
Another said you have to do what it takes to get a foot in the door and that harassment happens *shrugs*. Not one called out their abusers.
I was enraged. I grabbed the microphone and called them all out on it.
So far in film I have been blessed to be encouraged and supported by both men and women. It was a man who told me I should direct a film because women's voices are needed.
But it is really disheartening to hear of the same bullsh*t in film that I received in my early legal career.
I have noticed that certain women who have reached a position of power - often by acting a certain way to get where they are - are often highly critical of other women and actively stand in their way.
Especially if they don't exhibit the same qualities.
This can be personality traits - like my own - but disturbingly it seems to apply more often to women of colour.
There seems to be a tenancy of those with privilege virtue signalling by 'championing' people of colour but then standing in their way when they speak up and express further need for change instead of being grateful for the opportunity. *facepalm*
Horror is supposed to be about breaking down taboos. Exposing the shadow side of the human psyche via story telling. Every new voice gives a breathtakingly different perspective that brings something new to the audience. Horror needs LGBTQ+ voices, Latinx voices, BIPOC voices, female, non-binary and gender queer voices.
How else are we going to challenge the real life horrors faced by marginalised groups in real life?
Everyone breaking into the industry - whether its from film school or a mature career changer like me - needs a lot of love, practical advice, and support. Not people stealing ideas, bullying them, or turning would be fans or colleagues against them.
My thoughts on it all.
I believe the Soskas have become a topic of discussion for two reasons; Firstly, they are industry leaders and an inspiration to many. Therefore, in our current culture they are going to be called out on behaviour before anyone else. Secondly, they are directors who are seen to actively promote women in film. Therefore, any behaviour that contradicts the camaraderie of women in horror is likely to be seized upon.
I cannot ignore the evidence that there has been significant backbiting within the film industry by the Soskas - and others. It needs to end. Period. It actually contributes not only to a sense of hostility but to a negative perception of women that will only fetter our careers.
I think it is right to call-out this behaviour. But I would rather it be done in a timely way. I note the apologies in the open letters for staying silent. Others remain silent. I am sorry its not good enough.
How many newbie film-makers have been exposed to bullying simply because it suited individuals to stay quiet?
This both angers and scares me.
Imagine what kind of world you are creating by sitting on such toxic behaviour in silence and turning a blind eye because it suits your own career?
It is made worse when people add to the perpetual drama triangle by sharing stories without fact checking etc, making exaggerated claims, or sharing stories without consent without regard for the person concerned. I really have to question the motivations in those cases. Its classic cancelling under the guide of supporting 'victims' when all it does is undermine those voices which need to be heard.
Do your research and stick to the facts. They speak for themselves in most cases.
I actually believe that by partaking in this behaviour and stepping into the drama triangle we attract more of the same. I don't want this. I have scripts to write and films to make.
I was incredibly nervous to even write this blog.
But It was important to voice my own perspective.
It seems there are some within the industry that only treat you with respect if you agree with them without question. If you don't, you get a sh*tload of abuse.
I concluded that I don't want a career based on appeasement of others.
I definitely don't want to work with people who talk sh*t behind my back rather than giving me constructive feedback. It lacks integrity and is completely against my values.
This may seem an idle threat from someone who is just breaking into the industry. But you will be hearing about me.
My first short film - J-horror inspired Lift A- is already in pre-production.
I am gathering a team who reflect my values of inclusivity and respect. From equal pay and opportunity to being open to trans and gender-queer actors playing available roles. To ethnicity and body size of my actors and crew not being an issue.To stamping out bullying and harassment and offering oodles of support.
And to listen and grow when I inevitably f**k it up in some way.
Because I have the strength to own my mistakes and apologise for it.
So I promise to play my part in creating a true community that respects each other and bonds over a mutual love of horror.
Thanks for listening. Respectful debate and comments are always welcome. If you want to feature this article on your own blog please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure you tag me in any shares. Its taken a lot of work.