Identical twin sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska are already household named to horror enthusiasts and have developed an adoring legion of fans since the release of their feature film debut Dead Hooker in a Trunk. They have since released a series of successful followup efforts, launched a Marvel comic book and are now the hosts of what is sure to be a hit series on GSN. The ladies took time out of their exceptionally busy schedule to talk about their new show Hellevator and more!
The show is set in an abandoned warehouse. It sees teams of three contestants (one at a time) taking on a variety of increasingly difficult and frightening challenges each time they advance a floor. If a contestant does not make it back to the Hellevator in time, they are eliminated and the rest of their party moves on without them. Contestants are competing for a grand cash prize of $50,000 Dollars!
Wicked Horror: A lot of entities had to come together to make this show happen. There’s the two of you, Blumhouse, GSN. Who approached whom with the original idea?
Jen Soska: We saw a press release from Jason Blum and Blumhouse and GSN for Hellevator and when I read I thought, ‘Oh my God, either it’s going to be my favorite game show ever or I wanna be working on it. And then months later, I didn’t even realize it could be an opportunity. I started reposting it and thinking maybe someone from Blumhouse will see that I’m being super supportive.
Sylvia Soska: Jennifer and I had made a quite a hard statement when we went into directing that we don’t want to appear in front of the camera, maybe here and there. We just don’t want to do the twin thing anymore. So when our people said there’s an opportunity for a reality show, which is how they pitched the game show to us, and asked if we would want to do it, they didn’t know if we’d be into it and we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, yeah’ as soon as we heard what it was. And we were so excited when we had our interview. In a way, Tyler, the show is exactly everything we do, ever wanted to do, all of our interests and all of our personality fits in. It was so serendipitous. And there’s a good way to do the scary twin thing, like in The Shining and then there’s the wrong way, which is almost everything else. And this, I promise you, is the best way to do the scary twin thing. I mean, Blumhouse, they know their shit.
WH: Definitely. GSN sent a screener for the pilot and I was really impressed with it. Do you guys remember Win Ben Stein’s Money?
Sylvia Soska: Ahhhhhhhh! Oh my God, I made that joke–I don’t know if it has ever made it into an edit–that we’re like a really mean Win Ben Stein’s Money.
WH: That’s what I was going to say.
Sylvia Soska: Ahhhhhh!! Brilliant minds think alike.
WH: I was going to say that it seems like you’re channeling Ben Stein’s miserly attachment to his money.
Jen Soska: That’s like one of the only game shows–like Howie Mandell doesn’t give a shit if you make a good deal or a bad deal because it’s not his money. But, yes, I am offended personally if somebody wins.
Sylvia Soska: Yeah, Jen became the bad one easily. They’re like, I don’t know how we’re going to differentiate you and Jen would be saying all these things as if it was personally coming out of her bank account and they were like, ‘You’re the mean one, aren’t you?’
WH: I’m glad to hear that was in inspiration for you. That’s awesome to hear. What is your level of involvement with the contestant selection process? Your contestants in the pilot were perfect. They seemed like they would rather be anywhere in the world other than in the Hellevator.
Sylvia Soska: On that, there is a casting director. There are really strict policies for winning money on a gameshow. It has to be completely fair, so we’re not allowed to have any involvement or any interaction until the show is done, they’ve won whatever amount, and it’s completely a done deal. Although, they did show us a list of the different people they’re going to put in which episodes and Jen and I–this is gonna sound really creepy but you know me, so it’s not as creepy as it’s gonna come off–we would study them, and we’d make little journals of all their fears and look to see what makes them tick. And not everything that we say to them makes it into the final edit, obviously. Like we would bring up something personal that they didn’t know that we knew from an interview and you could just see their whole demeanor drop, like, ‘How does she know that?’ Even though we have casting looking for people, at the GSN website you can actually apply to be on the show with two of your friends.
Jen Soska: They had so many people to go through. And not only did they need to be enthusiastic, they had to be realistic about their fears. They had to compete to face their fears and they have to be the kind of people that read good on camera. When some people get afraid, they just clam up.
WH: So, is the first time that you actually meet the contestants after they’ve finished competing?
Sylvia Soska: Yes. And not all of our contestants do we meet. [We like to meet] the ones that do really, really good or the ones that are really, really scared. We come to meet our favorite contestants.
Jen Soska: There was one contestant. I never feel bad about any of this, I’m like, ‘Oh, you signed up for it. You knew what was happening.’ I think I saw her turn into a different person on the show. There’s a point where I think we destroyed who this person was coming in and a new stronger person has come out. It was like a real final girl moment. I can’t wait for people to see that. I think people have heard that contestant on one of the TV spots they have. It will be interesting to see the reaction to that.
WH: The sets that are used on the show are incredibly elaborate. Really impressive and well done. It made me curious if that was constructed on a GSN backlot or did you guys set up camp in an existing warehouse space?
Sylvia Soska: Tyler, it was like a legit slaughterhouse. That’s no joke, whatsoever. The room where we had the weighing second challenge, that’s the room where they would kill the animals. There is such a dark vibe, especially on the bottom floor where the labyrinth is. You couldn’t build that kind of feeling. You actually have to go to a location that has that kind of creepy feeling.
Jen Soska: I also have to add that the people that produced it consists of a lot of the people that ran Fear Factor. And you can just imagine how seriously they take their craft. So, this is like this generation’s Fear Factor but so much more intense because it is like surviving a horror movie. I mean, we’re all guilty of it. We sit there and say, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t go in there.’ Or ‘I’d get out of there.’ Well, Hellevator actually puts that to the test.
WH: It is very much like putting your contestants in the shoes of the final girl or guy from a horror film. The tension is palpable. I actually got scared watching the pilot. That doesn’t usually happen to me when watching a gameshow.
Sylvia Soska: Tyler, you have to promise me you will watch episode two with Steve [Editor’s Note: Steve is my partner.] with the lights out.
WH: It was just strange because I don’t usually get scared watching a horror movie, let alone a gameshow. I was actually on edge watching it. So, you’re clearly doing something very right with the editing and with the challenge selection and all of that.
Jen Soska: Thank you so much. The team at Blumhouse and Matador and GSN, it was amazing. I’ve never worked on a project where you get the full support of everyone. I know they have other things going on. But it didn’t feel like that. The level of support we got on this show was amazing, everybody is pushing each other. There was no too far. It was like, ‘How about we do this?’ There was no, ‘How can we do that?’ Knowing your experience with it and the stuff that you watch and how scared you got with it, that’s a huge compliment.
WH: Well, it’s the truth. The challenges are really elaborate. They really seem to encompass what the contestants are afraid of and what translates to being scary for viewers. How many hours would you imagine go into creating an episode of the show?
Sylvia Soska: Many, many days. There is a test team that goes through before the real team goes through and it’s almost like a dress rehearsal for a play. We do it exactly like we would do it for the show. We haven’t found anybody to say that’s too far.
Jen Soska: The creative process for Hellevator is quite incredible, too. I mean, we do treat each episode as an individual horror movie. Our creative team comes together and we have different storyboards going on. Every episode has a villain. So, we go through how to defeat the villain. Each of them is going for weeks out on end. We have different traps going on and different creatures we are bringing in. This is going to sound crazy but it’s kind of educational. One episode is about Dr. H.H. Holmes who is America’s first serial killer. We go into how he killed people and why he did it. I guess H.H. Holmes is super popular right now because Martin Scorsese is doing a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio playing him and he’s also featured on American Horror Story: Hotel.
WH: I was just going to ask about the villains. Particularly where some of that inspiration comes from and how much of it is going to be based in reality versus fictitious.
Sylvia Soska: Like with a lot of horror, it takes things from real life that could happen and that used to happen. There’s an insane asylum one that’s really dark. Everyone knows the kind of travesties that happen. It’s a very fertile field to plant in.
Jen Soska: A lot of the episodes are actually based in fact and reality. There are stories that we pull from the headlines and there are also things that happened in World War II. But we also go into fantasy. This show’s also very inspired by horror movies, ones that we all love. An avid horror fan can watch episodes of Hellevator and be like, ‘Ohhh, I get that. That’s a Shining reference.’ In episode one, the first challenge is called Dead Ringers.
WH: That’s great. I definitely picked up on that.
Jen Soska: I knew you would.
WH: Well, that’s about all I’ve got for you. Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to speak with us!
Both: Thank you!