Hello Horror Fiends, James J. Coker here letting you all know this is the very first podcast for the hidden horrors you must see blog. Sterling Anno and mysefl discuss a wide range of topics within the horror genre including what makes a horror movie a “Hidden Gem”. Two hidden horror films that we both love to death one being a super scary Japanese found footage film and the other being a batshit crazy Bigfoot film. Two other films we both find very underrated and cant understand why fans shit all over them. Then we spew nothing but love for a little indie film called IT FOLLOWS and finish it off with some new horror directors who we have started to follow there work and the Horror films coming out here most excited for. So have the time fly by with Sterling “the SporkGuy” and myself talking passionately about the Hidden Gems we love. Link down below. you can either listen or Download by clicking the downward pointing arrow icon on the corner of the link.
For those who don’t know, I frequently attend anime conventions, spreading the Gospel of Geek Juice/Hidden Horrors through the handful of panels I do. One of my more popular ones panels is “Japanese Horror: Anime vs Film” where, as the title suggests, I discuss horror anime, or the lack thereof, and the tropes and history of J-horror in general. Inevitably I’m asked questions about my thoughts on Movie A or if I’ve seen Movie B, but there’s one question in particular I love to get asked: “What are your thoughts on modern horror and the state of the industry?” It always provokes great discussion, but no matter the path that discussion takes the conclusion is usually “Indy horror is where it’s at.” However, if you asked me to name a handful of great Indy horror films from the last few years I’d be hard-pressed to think of many. It’s partially because I haven’t seen much, partially because the majority of what’s out there is low quality and derivative, and partially because I rarely even hear names of good horror movies thrown around for me to blindly recommend. In complete contrast to this, American Mary is a title I’ve heard about since its release, and many people I respect have called it an amazing film. Directed by the Soska sisters, American Mary shines brightly as a great example of what Indy horror can and should be, giving me hope for the future of horror.
American Mary‘s titular Mary Mason is a med student who is severely lacking in funds. In desperation she turns to stripping, but doesn’t even get the chance to do that before her would-be boss Billy whisks her off to save the life of a friend of theirs, of course compensating her $5,000 dollars. Beatress, a… shall we say “unique” individual obsessed with looking like Betty Boop, hears about Mary’s skills and commissions her to perform some body modification on a friend. From here on Mary finds herself teetering on the edge of the wild world of extreme body modification, but isn’t pushed in until she’s drugged and raped by her professor, Dr. Grant. Mary and her world are now forever changed as she sets out to be a successful surgeon in a drastically different way then she had planned.
Ignoring all eloquence on my part, let me simply put that American Mary just works. The premise works. The characters work. The film itself works. The Soskas clearly have an understanding of the technicals of cinema and use various techniques to create effective and unique scenes. At the beginning of the film when Mary saves the life of the criminal, she rushes home, pausing when she enters. After the chaos and fast editing of the surgery sequence, the Soskas give both Mary and the audience a second to take in everything that just happened and in that moment we understand every thought and emotion running through Mary’s head. They take the very weird surgeries that make up body modification and pull them into the realm of horror, not through gore as most would, but by concentrating on the violation done to a body in the process.
Mary herself is the crowning achievement of the film, easily being one of the finest horror protagonists I’ve ever seen. She’s not only more human than almost every character I see in horror films these days, but also far more likeable and realistic than most modern protagonists in Hollywood films. Katherine Isabella brilliantly brings Mary to life, but unfortunately she’s not in good company because while the other actors play their roles just fine, they lack the certain energy that Isabella/Mary have.
The film is fairly well paced, cutting off the fat and showing us the essentials of Mary’s descent. Like in a Scorsese film the scenes feel like episodes that all add up together to create a completed story. Unfortunately, American Mary doesn’t hold up its pacing forever and in its second half stumbles, leaving you with an anti-climatic ending. For some this would ruin the film, but if you keep in mind the Japanese philosophy (going back to the beginning) that the journey is more important than the destination, then you’ll most certainly find the rest of the film worth it.
One may want to push a feminist agenda onto this film due to the creators behind it and its content, but I never once thought about examining this film through that lens while I was watching it. Plot wise it feels like a standard, albeit improved, rape/revenge film and there are few scenes that provoke further analysis. There has been a notable lack of female directors in horror, but the solution to this problem is not to make feminist horror movies or prove that female directors are better. Rather, we need more movies like this one. Movies that prove nothing more then that the director, who happens to be a woman, can make a damn fine movie.
I may not have seen the largest number of Indy horror films, but I’d wager that American Mary stands out not just from all indy horror, but from all film. It’s cold without losing emotion, clinical without losing passion, and sophisticated without losing the rawness we expect from horror. There has come to be a large difference between the standards we judge modern Indy horror by and the horror classics by, but American Mary holds up against all standards. It’s one of the finest modern horror movies I’ve seen and one I’ll be returning to even when it’s considered a classic. It’s the kind of film I’m proud to bring up in discussion and I hope that inspires more directors to create films in its spirit, eventually leading us into a world where indy horror can stand tall and proclaim that it really is where good horror’s at.
What are your thoughts on American Mary or modern horror, Indy or otherwise? Sound off in the comments below!
This review and others like it can be found over at my internet home Mental Multiverse, for more movie and TV talk head on over to Buck On Stuff, and for all kinds of geeky goodness head over Geek Juice Media– Justin Widerski
This film does indeed count as a Hidden Horror because though it is getting a lot of love in the horror community normal people don’t even know of its existence. Anyway back to “American Mary.” It really is a damn good and well made little film. What’s special about it is that there’s nothing supernatural about it. It is a very realistic kind of horror film.
It’s about a medical student studying to be a surgeon who is having financial problems and ends up doing a back alley plastic surgery for extra money and promises to never do it again. However after getting drugged and raped by her own professor, don’t worry ladies she gets her revenge BIG TIME, she cracks and quits medical school and goes full force into the seedy world of body modification. Once there she thrives at body modification but we see her spiral downward into a emotional staleness and psychological damage though still incredibly likable. We as the audience watch as she goes from a starving student to a whole other person because of what happened to her. Her getting her revenge in a delightfully gruesome way and her foray into body modification surgery.
The directors “the Soska Sisters” do an incredible job at writing and directing in this. It’s incredibly well shot, the placing flows (at least for me) and Katharine Isabelle plays Mary in a realistic way but also incredibly sexy, psychotic, emotionless and in a very likable way for her character. My only real gripe with the film is that the ending is very depressing and comes out of left field. It leaves you in a bum mood, very reminiscent of “Pay it Forward,” but altogether this is one hell of a damn good movie. It can even be seen as feminist movie and a movie portraying people in the field of surgery as people fucked up in the head. Please, out of all the more modern “Hidden Horrors” i’ve posted on here do yourself a favor and see this one as soon as you can. Hopefully you will thank me
-James J. Coker