Another Body of Work: The Soska Sisters to Direct Painkiller Jane

It is easy to say that horror is a moralistic genre. After all, we all know what happens when adolescent characters have sex — or at least once upon a time — in a horror film. But over time, and under the guidance of particular writers and directors, horror can also become something that observes certain moralities:  even creating commentary on them. Likewise, superhero comics have also been historically seen as vessels of “good” and “good laws” triumphing over “evil and immorality”: while nowadays they can be used to look at human nature in a very sophisticated and literary fashion.

Superhero comics and horror both use relatively iconic characters to represent particular ideas and tell stories with them. Of course, many of these stories are exaggerated, dramatic, and over-the-top. Body horror — a sub-genre of horror itself — utilizes bodily functions, dysfunctions, sexuality, mutilation, torture, infection, death, and the mind’s alienation from the flesh to add spectacle and say something about the human condition. And women’s bodies add a whole other context to this dynamic when you consider how they are often depicted as objects for the desires of others, belonging to others, in conflict and contrast to the idea they belong to women with their own thoughts and feelings.

So what happens when you take a female superhero, whose primary superpower is an accelerated healing factor that does nothing to cancel out the pain of her injuries, and allow her to make the acquaintance of two female directors with film backgrounds in body horror?

What you get is Jen and Sylvia Soska directing the new movie of Painkiller Jane.

It might sound strange, at first, to know that the directors of Dead Hooker in a Trunk and American Mary are involved in creating a superhero film until you consider their backgrounds and that of Painkiller Jane herself. The Soska sisters have been vocal about the rights and issues of women and LGBTQIA individuals both in and out of their films: while possessing a fascination with body modification, grindhouse gore, and pain. And Jane Vasko — created by Jimmy Palmiotti and Joe Quesada in 1995 — was a sarcastic and brusque undercover police officer, markswoman, and bisexual woman who, after a failed mob infiltration was left critically injured until she realized her power. However, even though her healing power is the only superhuman ability that she has, the fact that Vasko can — and is willing — to use it to her advantage despite feeling all the pain of her injuries — to maintain agency of her body after another character alters it against her knowledge and will, and in the middle of violent situations — says something about her strength of will and her drive for justice or vengeance.

Unfortunately, I have not read the Painkiller Jane comics, or watched the videos or television series already based on the character: so I know there are a few iterations of her origin story. I haven’t even had the opportunity to see the work of the Soska sisters themselves. Nevertheless, I’m interested to see how they will use their background and experience in fleshing out the pain and drive of this character. The Soska sisters talk a little bit about the aesthetics and the antagonist of Painkiller Jane in their interview with William Bibbiani of CraveOnline.

As for the rest, I’m intrigued to see how they choose to retell her story, how close they stay with the original source material, and how they might critique and subvert certain audience and reader expectations. And in case any of you comics fans might have any doubts as to what they might do with Jane Vasko, consider this:  the Soska sisters are also comics and superhero fans.

And one of their heroes is Deadpool.

Vuckovic and Headey Explore Jacqueline Ess: Her Will And Testament

Clive Barker’s short story “Jacqueline Ess: Her Will And Testament” is not only being adapted into a horror film by the Canadian and Torontonian film director Jovanka Vuckovic, but Lena Headey will be playing the role of Jacqueline Ess.

While until this announcement I was unfamiliar with Jovanka Vuckovic or her work, and I only know of Headey through her roles in Game of Thrones and 300 as Queens Cersei and Gorgo respectively, I have read “Jacqueline Ess” and it is a fascinating story. Beware my friends, if you intend to read this story there will be spoilers.

Books of Blood

“Jacqueline Ess” is a story found in Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. It is about a woman by the same name who, after being neglected and passive-aggressively abused by her cheating husband and being dissatisfied with her overall life, attempts to kill herself only to be brought back from death with–for lack of a better word–some strange, flesh-crafting abilities. Think of it as telekinesis that can only affect human flesh and organs. Now imagine all that rage and pain that she has suppressed her whole life in being the good wife or woman and patronizingly being told what how she feels by men.

But the story is so much more than simple revenge. It subverts stereotypes. It changes Ess from a victim to an accidental instigator of manslaughter, to a murderer, and into someone who examines the very nature of power. Her sexuality, which was used by men, becomes her most overt weapon. However, again, she is not simply a monster or a villain, or a Carrie that lets her repressed emotions completely rule her powers. She is an intelligent woman that not only wonders about this power and what it means, having gained it by temporarily piercing the veil beyond death, but she also truly examines what the meaning of life is in light–and despite of–the discovery of her powers.

The very weapon that is her power, that is her sexuality, that is her body, becomes a weapon that ultimately turns on her. What this might say about social perspectives with regards to female gender and sexuality is a whole other subject entirely that will hopefully be explored in further depth, but I will say that the story manages to move this power from the place of the stereotype into the dark, red realm of the archetypal: of that primal place where life comes from, where it is changed, in that plane suspended between sex and death and, when you get right down to it, even a sense of enlightenment and acceptance.

Clive Barker has an interesting sense of horror: at least in his earlier stories such as those found in The Books of Blood. For him, horror is not only your fear of the unknown, but your secret desire for it and that place where your anxiety is forced to meet your sense of anticipation in the language of the flesh.

Lena Heady

I suppose you can tell that I really took a lot away from this story. Certainly, I can see Lena Headey making an excellent Jacqueline. Not only does Headey have a sense of portraying women of power in Game of Thrones and 300–characters that exist in traditionally male-dominated spaces–but particularly in the first Season of Game of Thrones to me she actually portrays a more sympathetic version of Cersei Lannister: someone who has power, and knows she has power as a woman in a traditional role, but who was never trained to understand it to its fullest extent or to protect those that she loves.

Headey’s Cersei understands just how subjugated and micro-managed women in Westeros truly are and even in Season Four you can see just how powerless and vulnerable she can be when her father takes her son from her. To me, it’s almost as though Headey’s Jacqueline may well be a parallel to the character of Cersei: both start out with affluence but are limited by the men and patriarchal structure of their lives, but while Cersei stays with the trappings of power and never seems to explore their origins, hopefully Jacqueline will portray her vulnerability and continue to explore her more literal and supernatural power and its nuances on the environment around her.

As I said before, I didn’t even know who Jovanka Vuckovic was before news about her film came out. However, if she can explore the details of Jacqueline’s evolution and its effects on the men and society around her, while keeping in mind Barker’s own horror genre sensibilities we will definitely see an interesting multifaceted blood-soaked gem of a strong female character and what she says about our own world: as a master of the horror genre, the sub-genre of body horror, and the medium of film tends to do.

Given the fact that Jovanka Vuckovic was an Editor-In-Chief for Rue Morgue magazine, author of Zombies! An Illustrated History of the Undead, founder of She Wolf Films, studied physical anthropology, and the fact that she made The Captured Bird, a horror-fantasy short film about a young girl that discovers a black-inky evil underlying her world only adds to the fact that I very much look forward to seeing what she does with this film. I know that many of her friends in the Toronto geek community–including some here at GEEKPR0N–wish her and her endeavours well.