Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2010)

The film opens explosively with a scene of domestic violence erupting in a darkened kitchen. The camera cuts between shots of a man and woman fighting, and of two young girls playing in a bedroom nearby. The fight escalates, a shot is fired, and the woman drops to the floor. The gun is kicked aside, to be picked up by one of the two girls, who are now watching from the hallway. The girl aims steadily at the male aggressor, fires once, and the man is killed instantly.

This flashback scene for Jen and Sylvia Soska’s directorial debut, Dead Hooker in a Trunk, not only establishes a back story for its main protagonists, but could also be read as a statement of intent from the film’s creators. That statement is bold and fearless, commanding attention and declaring war on such filmic stereotypes as the victimised female and the misogynistic male villain, whilst, in a similar vein to Uma Thurman’s ‘Bride’ from Kill Bill, the Soskas offer alternative templates for women in genre films. Played by the sisters themselves, ‘Geek’ and ‘Badass’ are effectively two sides of the same coin, as both characters represent opposing responses to their childhood trauma, delineated in broad, comic-book strokes.

Once into its narrative stride, Dead Hooker… takes the audience hurtling through an insanely outlandish plot, bristling with attitude and pop culture references. Citing his indie film-making manifesto Rebel without a Crew as an inspiration [1], the Soskas go for the boisterous, genre mash-up style of Robert Rodriguez’ El Mariachi or his Grindhouse collaboration with Tarantino. To underline the point, Carlos Gallardo – El Mariachi himself – drops by, in a cameo role as ‘God’(!) Elsewhere, the anarchic, splat-stick violence recalls early Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson, yet despite scavenging from such reputable source materials, the film never quite cuts loose from its influences. Instead, Dead Hooker… careers through a sequence of lunatic, post-modern vignettes before winding up battered and bruised, partially mutilated and minus a hooker.

By embracing a gritty, low-fi aesthetic, the Soskas make a virtue of their obvious budget constraints. Christopher O’Neill points to the film-makers’ youthful exuberance holding the film together [2], and the rough edges are part of its ‘punk appeal’, as Anton Bitel admits [3]. However, whilst the tongue-in-cheek performances and the restless camera work add to Dead Hooker’s overall energy, they do little to disguise an awkward and unevenly paced narrative, and the self-consciously out-to-shock moments sometimes comes across like they’re trying a little too hard. That said, Dead Hooker in a Trunk is still a riotously fun exploitation flick with a wicked sense of humour, which provides a welcome antidote to the more depressingly grim fare of other recent independents. Sit down, Human Centipede… Carefully…

Dead Hooker in a Trunk is available on Blu-Ray Regions A & B and DVD Regions 1 & 2 .

courtesy of

[1] Directors’ Commentary (2011), Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009). Directed by Jen Soska & Sylvia Soska. Written by Jen Soska & Sylvia Soska [DVD]. Eureka Entertainment.

[2] Christopher O’Neill for  accessed 25-02-2015

[3] Anton Bitel at accessed 25-02-2015

© RMRenfield and Blackwood Article, 2015.


Kiss of the Damned (2012)

Joséphine de la Baume in KISS OF THE DAMNED, a Magnet Release.  Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.
Joséphine de la Baume in KISS OF THE DAMNED, a Magnet Release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Ah, February! Mardi gras, pancakes, romance, Eat Ice-Cream for Breakfast Day and Women in Horror Month! In support for the latter, I thought this month that I’d focus on a few of my favourite female directors, writers and artists, and because the best romances come decadently dressed with a splash of violence and gore, this week I’m looking at Xan Cassavetes’ Kiss of the Damned.

Act I: The lovely Djuna (Josephine de la Baume) glides through her lakeside mansion with supernatural elegance, apparently anaesthetised by the impeccably tasteful arias playing continually on her 1970s hi-fi. A loyal housekeeper keeps a watchful eye during daylight hours, whilst at night Djuna can variously be found hunting wild animals to satisfy her vampiric blood-lust, or popping down the shops to pick up handsome young men. Thus begins her affair with Paolo, played by Heroes‘ Milo Ventimiglia. Rugged yet soulful, screenwriter Paolo brings a whiff of excitement to Djuna’s relentlessly bland cycle of opera and bush tucker. When, after an industrial snogging accident, Paolo finds himself unexpectedly nosferatu novitatis, Djuna welcomes her young beau to the liberal vampire lifestyle. Soon, the pair are romping through the woods together and drinking ‘politically correct plasma’ with the well-heeled vampire set, but before long their romantic idyll is knocked into a cocked hat by the arrival of Djuna’s libertine sister, Mimi (Roxane Mesquida).

Kiss of the Damned is beautifully photographed, with a rich palette of warm amber and Prussian blues shot through with visceral reds, and the soundtrack too, is thoughtfully put together. Recalling Angelo Badalamenti’s work on Lost Highway and Fire Walk with Me, fuzz guitars and metallic synths rub up against crackling trip-hop beats, whilst Steve Hufsteter’s ‘Love Theme‘ conjures up a vibe of seventies eurotica. As Tim Lucas notes, the stylish visuals and moody soundtrack give the film a consciously retro feel which evokes the ‘glossy vampires’ of Daughters of Darkness and The Hunger, [1] yet in terms of characters, the dynamic between Djuna and Mimi also shares common ground with the mother – daughter tensions of Neil Jordan’s Byzantium. As in that film, Kiss of the Damned uses vampire mythology to explore the idea of becoming trapped for an eternity in a dysfunctional family relationship, yet it feels as though Cassavetes could have taken this idea further, as her vampire sisters never stray too far from good girl/bad girl stereotypes. More fun and interesting is Cassavetes’ idea of a sophisticated vampire matriarchy. Although it borrows much from True Blood, as Lucas also points out [2], a scene which depicts a group of snobbish vampires bemoaning their disempowerment in human society is sharply funny.

Anna Mouglalis, Joséphine de la Baume and Milo Ventimiglia in KISS OF THE DAMNED, a Magnet Release.  Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.
Anna Mouglalis, Joséphine de la Baume and Milo Ventimiglia in KISS OF THE DAMNED, a Magnet Release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Overall, Kiss of the Damned succeeds as an entertaining tale which puts an interesting spin on aspects of the vampire myth, without trying to reinvent it, and benefits from some engaging characters who are sympathetic without being stripped of their monstrosity (spoiler: no sparkles). The plot isn’t entirely flawless, but the snags are largely forgivable, mainly because it’s very easy to be seduced by the film’s dark deliciousness. Bloody gorgeous.

Kiss of the Damned is available on Netflix, and on Blu-Ray Regions A & B and DVD Regions 1 & 2.

[1], [2] Lucas, T., 2014; Video Watchdog #176

© RMRenfield and Blackwood Article, 2015