Set Report Part 2: FX & the Aftermath of Case 39


Opening in theaters this Friday

Read part one of our visit right here.

Trial By Fire

In a little area outside the Riverview building, a young Canadian named Dustin dips his whole forearm into a bucket of translucent goo, then takes a plastic squeezable ketchup bottle filled with gasoline and sprays the gooey arm down, then lights it on fire.

This is a friendly demonstration of a liquid developed by Dustin called “Cool Gel” that can be used for doing controlled burns on bare-skin without harming the stunt person.

“We started playing with it and developing it on ‘Final Destination 3′,” said Dustin. “If you watch the DVD extras there’s a section called ‘Boobs & Burns’. This is a different fuel, this isn’t alcohol.”

As Dustin gives us this spiel, he is still on fire.

“It’s not even warm right now. I can still articulate it. We put a thickening agent into our fuel so it’s not very runny. The flame stays on the fuel, so we’ll put the gel up to here but only put the fuel up to here. The flame will just stay where the fuel is set.”

The longest they have tested their concoction is 40-to-50 seconds on a bare back, and almost a minute on a bare arm. Today they will be lighting a stuntwoman on fire using this practical technique as opposed to CGI to “make it as real as possible”.

Kerry O’Malley plays Margaret, the institutionalized mother of Lillith, and she is locked in a rusty, hellish cell, walking around crying and hyperventilating. There is a patch of green screen, and she appears to think she is surrounded by something. The shot goes right into the green screen window which she pounds on. It will probably be a giant oven, but whatever they replace the green with in post could not possibly be more frightening than what we can imagine there. After the crew finishes with Kerry, they bring in the stuntwoman in white hospital gown with make-up scars covering her arms.

“For safety reasons we use doubles,” said Dustin. “This shot is one person in a cell, on her face. We know we can make it safe enough, we know she’s confident because we’ve rehearsed, and in the cell there will be two safety guys with fire extinguishers. We’re gonna use that first fuel that I showed you earlier, the thick stuff. I’ve actually developed another fuel that goes inside that with a red dye. As the burning starts the dye will kick up and it’ll actually blister, go a dark red, change colors inside. Actually give that burned look.”

I give the stuntwoman a cautious thumbs-up as she goes into the cell set. She gives me a smile back that lets me know everything is going to come off smashingly. They do several rehearsals sans-goo, then the fire guy zips himself into a black protective suit. They dip her, fuel her, and light her.

“Very quiet, please.”

They are rolling. The burning arms and hands flail. The footage looks haunting, stunning. The stunt comes off without a hitch, and you can feel in the room that everyone is relieved.


The fire witnessed on October 13th 2006 would prove nothing compared to the one that would take place on Halloween just two weeks later when, with none of the cast present, the special effects crew started a blaze that got out-of-control and burned down the entire set as well as the studio it was housed in and the adjacent offices. No one was injured, and shooting continued the next day.

After Case 39 was completed, is was given the usual round of test screenings, and based on audience reaction a new ending was shot. In an interview with Fangoria, Alvart claimed that tests with the new ending “went great”, with the film being pushed for a release in August of 2008, when it received the first in a series of delays, including to April of 2009 then to January of 2010. In 2009 an official site opened up which included an effective trailer, and the official Facebook fanpage currently lists the intended release date as March 10th, 2010. It has already been released to some international territories like Australia, where to-date it has received poor reviews and made a little over $6 million-dollars worldwide.

In the Fangoria interview the director remarked, “People always assume that the filmmaker is in the middle of things, but honestly, you’re onto your next movie. You expect the previous one to come out, and all of a sudden you get a phone call saying, ‘Oh, we changed marketing plans and it’s not in that slot.’ So I’m on the receiving end of these decisions.”

With the film finally arriving in theaters this Friday, October 1, the aftermath of Case 39 is impossible to gauge at this point. The jury is still out. However, it is illuminating to track the career paths of those involved:

-Renée Zellweger has since lost a good deal of her cache after starring in several low-profile disappointments such as Miss Potter, Appaloosa, New in Town, and George Clooney’s Leatherheads, but was a featured voice in the hit animated films Bee Movie and Monsters vs. Aliens.

-Jodelle Ferland has completed over 15 appearances in film and television since finishing her work on Case 39, including two films for schlockmeister Uwe Boll, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse as well as a major role in high-profile potential blockbuster The Cabin in the Woods.

-In late 2006, Alvart had this to say about supporting castmember Bradley Cooper:

“I’m just a fan. I saw him on a late night talk show when he was doing ‘Failure to Launch’ and I thought, ‘This guy will be a star soon.’ I loved him in ‘Wedding Crashers’, and he’s just intense and I wanted to have his intensity on the screen.”

Alvart’s words have proved prophetic, as Cooper starred in Summer 2009’s surprise hit The Hangover. The raunchy Todd Phillips movie became the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all-time, and made Cooper a household name. He has parlayed that fame into a starring role in this year’s big-budget revamp of ’80s TV show The A-Team.

-Producer Kevin Misher discussed with this author the delays of Case 39 on the New York set of Fighting in late 2007, mentioning the re-shoots for the ending that had taken place and a probable summer 2008 release date. Since then his production of Fighting has been completed, released to theaters and eventually to DVD. He also completed and released Michael Mann’s star-studded Public Enemies, which performed respectably at the box-office. Misher’s many current projects in-development include a remake of Dune and a big-screen version of Marvel’s Sub-Mariner.

Case 39 was to be director Christian Alvart’s English-language debut, but he has since made the $40-million-dollar sci-fi horror film Pandorum starring Dennis Quaid, which was released in September 2009 to poor box-office and dismal reviews. Aside from an in-development English-Language remake of Antibodies, he plans to return to German cinema with a film titled Liebe (Love) currently in pre-production.

There is hope yet for this scrappy little thriller. In late-2009 Paramount released the micro-budgeted horror film Paranormal Activity to unprecedented business for a movie that cost less that $100,000 dollars. Like Case 39, Paranormal Activity had sat on Paramount’s shelf for a few years, and if their marketing department can pull off a Hail Mary of over $100 million-dollars for that film, it is certainly possible for them to work magic with Alvart’s film too.

While the ultimate fate of Case 39 has yet to be decided, it will surely be remembered by those who made it as a film that had a long, tortured road to reaching its audience, maybe for the worst, perhaps for the best. Could all this bad juju be attributed to some kind of supernatural curse caused by the disturbances made by the filmmakers at Riverview Hospital, or is it simply the Hollywood “dream machine” grinding another piece of celluloid into the proverbial ground?

Let us end on an appropriate note as Alvart, the former journalist-turned-director, waxed philosophically in between takes on the set of his first big Hollywood feature:

“What journalists sometimes seem to forget is that as soon as it’s in the paper it’s the magazine that says it, it’s not them, it’s not a human being anymore, and it can hurt. Having been there, it doesn’t hurt as much because I know, ‘Okay, it’s just a guy with an opinion.'”

Source: Max Evry