Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chapter 9: "Children of the Corn: Revelation"

Worried about a lack of communication between the two, Jamie goes to Omaha, Nebraska to search for her grandmother, who has lived her whole life in Nebraska.

In the run down building, Jamie finds the most unlikely set of people. A cripple, a junkie, a stripper, even a paranoid man who packs a lot of heat. Associating only with the stripper, Jamie finds other strange characters: a lonely convenient store employee and a scared priest who walks the streets.

Jamie tries to do the most logical thing: go to the local law enforcement. Even the law enforcement (who also serves as a potential love interest) can’t find much information on Jamie’s grandmother. However, a mysterious cornfield is growing outside of the hotel.

One after another, Jamie is experiencing ominous occurrences. Pale children come up to her and stare. She finds out that her grandmother - a life long atheist - is keeping a Bible on her night stand. Jamie has nightmares of a young girl with resemblance to her grandmother going up a flight of stairs and spewing out corn kernels.

When she goes back to the police, Jamie finds out that when her grandmother was a child, there was a corn cult which at the time of most uncertainty due to law enforcement engagement, burned themselves in their tent in the local corn field. Only one person survived. Just happened to be Jamie’s grandmother.

As all of this is happening, the children - who are more like ghosts now - are killing the residents of the hotel one by one. However, when they are killed, the adults turn into children themselves. Once an adult is killed, a corn reef is placed onto the door.

When Jamie is the last one, the priest comes and gives her communion, in hopes that she will be safe. She makes it back down stairs safely, surviving an explosion and some attempts of killing by the kids. But one a cornfield starts growing on the main floor and it grabs a hold of Jamie, it is the potential love interest which saves her. As the smoke billows, the souls of the children snared by the corn cult are finally placed in peace.

I am not too keen on this one. By this time, it has been proven that nothing can reach the level which the original three films reached. The fourth film was a stand alone, the fifth film really was a big WTF in your face, and the sixth film has so much potential which was wasted since you can tell it was geared towards a teen audience and not fans.

The acting here is across the board, and it should come to no surprise that it is Michael Ironside as the priest which makes off with the best performance. Claudette Mink as Jamie is an ok performance of a character who seems a little stuck up. Everyone else is just across the board.

The direction by Guy Magar offers some interesting looks, but offers nothing really new to the film. Just another standalone film which while using some of the material which the original source had, totally reconstructs the whole Children of the Corn mythology.

Production Notes:
Production details about this film were luckily released by those few who had a website dedicated to "Children of the Corn" at the time. With that, it is known that one of the original concepts for this film was that two FBI agents are tracking down a serial killer to Gatlin, Nebraska where they learn of the killer’s roots in the corn cult. The title for this concept for the film was "Children of the Corn: Resurrection", but it never came to pass. Though along with this information came a rumor that on March 12, 2001 that the film was in post-production, but that was proven false. However, a detail proven true was that the film was filmed in Vancouver, Canada and some clips in Los Angeles, California (the film takes place in Omaha, Nebraska, mind you).

Coming up to the director’s plate was cult director Guy Magar, who made a successful career out of doing bit director parts for many TV shows and movies, including having some experience in horror direction an installment in another cult horror series, "The Stepfather 3". Guy was hired because Bob Weinstein was a fan of his and they were looking for a project they can co-head together. So was chosen this installment of the "Children of the Corn" series. When interviewed about it, Guy said that Bob’s final idea for the film was, "a ghost story in a tenement building a la The Shining," (in another interview, Guy worded it as, "The Shining as a low budget film in a tenement building.)" Guy Magar interpreted this as a chance to make a suspense film rather a horror film.

Guy Magar worked with Sally Smith to write the screenplay for this film, which was prepared in Los Angeles, California. In an interview, "First off, when you take on a picture that is a sequel, especially one based on Stephen King material, you are walking a fine line between staying true to the original concept and making it fresh for the new audience of the picture. Sally Smith, the writer, and I focused as much as we could on keeping that very fine balance. The picture used to have a much larger opening before the girl arrives to find her missing grandmother -- and when we were editing the picture, we found that we had given away too much information in the beginning and not kept enough of a mystery, yet we couldn't get rid of all of it because the story was based on the grandmother, what happens to her and the history behind it." The script went through six weeks of revisions.

When asked more about his director/writer relationship with Sally Smith, Guy Magar said that everyone was happy, which was a sign that everyone’s vision was achieved with the film. But also he talked about how writer/director interpretation worked out, "All of those things were my choice and here is why. First off, for the reveal of the head in the freezer ... in the script it says she leaves the store, and we move to the freezer and find the head of the guy who ran the convenience store. Now this is a very interesting question in how a director interprets the writer. The writer here in L.A. may not have had a very specific location in mind, and one of the problems a director has is to visually interpret that location. Where is the camera? How can we build up the suspense? I decided to take something as innocent as a gallon of milk, show blood on it, and then reveal the man's head above it on the freezer. This is an example of directing and interpreting the visual story as the milk was not scripted. For the train, in the beginning of the screenplay, it says the grandmother comes out looking for the whispering children. She gets run over by a truck. Location scouting in a new city like Vancouver, this Gothic sinister-looking building (which was the primary location) was not easy to find. So when we found one that would set the mood for evil forces lurking inside, we had to make the decision to deal with train tracks twenty feet from the building (trains would go by every hour, and sometimes twice an hour) or keep our three location scouts looking. It became a big decision to put up with this incredible problem that could cost us a lot of money if we don't make our days. Finally the decision was made by my producers (Michael Leahy and Lauren Feige) and myself that it was worth it. Then I thought, why can't Hattie get hit by a train versus a truck? The train ended up adding production value and weirdness that this apartment building was so close to the tracks. In reality, it is a storage house, no one lives there. The train became part of the story and part of the geographic mood of the movie. So no, it wasn't scripted."

Though when asked about the casting, Guy tried to pick cute kids since he claimed that the kids in the original films looked "hardened". Plus, along with the fact that they were shooting in Canada, also had to have the kids be from Canada. Guy also talked about the table read of the screenplay, "The entire cast had to come from Canada due to the financial breaks. The table reading was the day before shooting! We got a green light 3 weeks prior to the film. This was the shortest prep I have ever had. We also had to wait for Bob Weinstein to look at the casting tapes to approve the lead actress, Claudette Mink. We then did a table reading where the writer was not present as she was in L.A. Any script changes or notes I made quickly that evening myself with my producer's approval because they were minor and we were under the gun." But also in the interview question something comes up: how Guy interpreted the original Stephen King story, claiming that he thoughts it was, "children overtaken by evil forces." This seems to be questionable.

Though the biggest actor in this film was Claudette Mink, who plays the main protagonist. "The first scene in the movie, she gets dropped off by a taxi cab driver who happens to be me (I play the same cabdriver in every one of my features. Why should actors have all the fun?) I look at the tenement building and say "Lots of luck" to her. As an inside joke, as the director, I am saying lots of luck to the actress for what she's about to go through. Claudette Mink is an unusual actress I met in a "Welcome to Paradox" episode and then she guest-starred for me in a "Sliders" episode. She has such a wide range as an actress. She brings to the table no fear, and is very rugged. So I was not worried about going through the paces with her. As I knew she would, she rolled up her sleeves and pushed through nailing a lot of emotional scenes, and uncomfortable action sequences. It is part of the director's job to nurture and inspire the actor at any moment in any scene to give their best performance. If she had to do ten takes of screaming, then it was important for me to make her comfortable enough during the day and remind her 'what this was about', to keep her focused. The rest is her great talent and concentration. The great part about working with actors the second and third time is that you build a bond there, a trust, and a lot of what happens on the set between an actor and a director is based on that trust. If you say "That was really great ... but I need it three times bigger," you get it. The actor trusts that you do need it three times bigger and you are not pushing them for no reason."

Guy also talked about the positives about him being hired as the director, mostly because of the $2 million and below budget. "You have to be real careful about how you plan on doing effects. You have to sit down with your production manager and budget it out. What is best for the story? What can be eliminated or changed? What can be done physically if that is cheaper than CGI. Making those decisions, you almost need as a director to have a producing background to know what things cost, and the quickest and faster way to execute. I have an advantage in doing so for two reasons: first, I come from television and in TV you have to think very quickly on your feet and on set. Second, I have also produced my previous films, so I come from an indie producing background, and therefore I have worked on my own budgets and know how to juggle and what things cost. Once you have made those decisions of what will be done on set or not, you sit down with your DP. I am very camera oriented, so I have a visual feel for the picture. What is the mood I am looking for here? Do we want shadows? Do we want backlight? There is a lot of communication involved and I guide the DP in what directions to go including the moody visual effects you mentioned."

Another one of those decisions was the filming of the death of the drug addict in the film. "This is one of the moments where you think about pacing the picture as it can't be scary the whole time. Your story won't have any depth and it will become boring. The first thing is to humanize the characters and you do that so people really freak out when they are disposed. In this BBQ scene, pothead Jerry is relaxing, drinking, smoking a joint, listening to music, and waiting for this beautiful girl he invited to come up for a BBQ (in the film's case, grilled Corn). The mood and the setting had to be in such a way where you had no idea what the scene was going to develop into. The more you do that as a visual director, the more interesting your movie twists are and the more interested the audience is going to be getting sucked into the story."

Which brings up another interesting part of the film: the cast for the other people in the hotel with Jamie. Guy Magar had this to say on the matter, "When I came aboard, there were a lot more characters living in the building in the script and that was one of the reasons I liked the screenplay. But we got rid of some characters in the last revisions and then in the editing process as the storytelling focused to the few you mentioned who all were wonderful. The great thing about filmmaking is, you start with a screenplay, the writer's vision, but the translation of that vision to the screen becomes a different process. Some of the moments that worked on paper didn't work on film, or some of the moments not emphasized on paper become vital to the film. There is a big difference between enriching the story with a lot of details, and staying "on story." Usually, if you don't catch it at the screenwriting stage, you are going to catch it at the editing stage. In the world of independent filmmaking, where budgets and schedules are so crucial, you try and streamline the screenplay as close as humanly possible to what scenes and characters are absolutely necessary and will focus and pace the story. Try to answer these questions in the script stage because by the editorial stage it will have cost you a lot more money."

The film would be released onto VHS and DVD on October 9, 2001 - just in time for the Halloween season.

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