It's her post-Oscar comic-teen fright flick

Times Staff Writer

The VOMIT shot out of Megan Fox like water from a geyser. A ghastly movie concoction that looked like a mix of used motor oil, lawn clippings and the slag at the bottom of a Souplantation trash bin, the black puke sprayed actors Amanda Seyfried and Johnny Simmons, whose characters were doing their best to fight off a cannibalistic fiend, an otherwise popular cheerleader named Jennifer Check.

It was among the more gothic scenes in "Jennifer's Body," a closing battle with fewer rules than Ultimate Fighting, pitting Jennifer ("Transformer's" Fox) against her longtime friend Needy Lesnicky (Seyfried, of "Mamma Mia!") and her relatively wimpy boyfriend Chip Dove ("Evan Almighty's" Simmons). The movie's swimming pool location, inside a derelict juvenile hall slated to become a hospital for British Columbia's criminally insane, was forbidding in its own right. The flotsam in the pool's filthy water -- leaves, a wheelchair, beer cans -- made the entire setting for the film stomach-turning, especially since the young actors had to swim in it.

Somehow, though, it wasn't quite disturbing enough.

"The vomit has too much hang time," said Karyn Kusama ("Girlfight"), the film's director. "It's arcing too much." Screenwriter Diablo Cody wondered aloud, "Can't we adjust it, like a shower head?"

So the "Jennifer's Body" special-effects team reset the compressed-air-powered rig, which discharged the artificial throw up from a tube hidden near Fox's mouth. Carrying a lot more momentum, the barf in the subsequent take screamed out with the trajectory of a Manny Ramirez line drive. "That's our money shot," Cody said as the actors toweled themselves off.

Classing it down?

Oscar-WINNING screenwriter Steven Zaillian followed his "Schindler's List" win with "A Civil Action" and "Gangs of New York." After winning his "Forrest Gump" screenwriting Academy Award, Eric Roth scripted "The Insider" and "Ali." Ronald Harwood went from the Oscar-winning "The Pianist" to "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." Cody's post-Oscar path follows a much different direction.

Fresh from her "Juno" triumph, a debut script that not only brought her the 2007 original screenplay trophy but also made her one of the town's most in-demand storytellers, the 30-year-old Cody decided to make a horror film.

"I was just experimenting with several scripts," said Cody, who also has worked on the Showtime television series "The United States of Tara" and the script for the college comedy "Girly Style." "I did not think this would be my follow-up to 'Juno.' But I don't know if I will ever write [another] highbrow, artsy movie."

In fact, Cody tried to get her Oscar out of her mind -- and eyesight. "I literally put it away -- under my bathroom sink with the toilet paper," she said. "It was difficult to look at. I wanted to think of something else."

Just as "Juno" was hardly a standard-issue teen pregnancy film, "Jennifer's Body," which comes out next year, intends to be an equally atypical genre movie.

Yes, several people will die horrific deaths. Of course, a stunning girl will appear wearing very few clothes. A young couple will fumble having sex. Pretty much everyone old enough to pay bills -- police, parents, teachers -- will come across as inept. And then, if Cody and Kusama can pull it off, "Jennifer's Body" will veer off in new directions, trying to bring some girl power to what are almost always damsel-in-distress narratives.

"I want to be faithful to the genre but also turn all of those things sideways," Cody continued. "My biggest priority is putting words in women's mouths -- it just doesn't happen. Women don't get the good lines. They don't get to do anything. And they don't get to be reckless. And I've always been reckless."

A former alternative newspaper reporter, Internet blogger, sex industry worker and memoirist, Cody grew up loving scary 1970s and 1980s movies -- "I'm a horror junkie," she said. Cody was particularly drawn to thrillers with artistic flair -- "Rosemary's Baby," "Carrie," "The Shining," "Poltergeist" and the darkly comic pre-"Spider-Man" films from director Sam Raimi, especially "The Evil Dead."

Yet Cody was equally struck by films that many might not find inherently terrifying, including Sofia Coppola's "The Virgin Suicides." "There's the idea of the adolescent feminine mystique being inherently creepy," Cody said. "Two girls holding hands platonically as they cross a schoolyard -- I find that creepy."

Just girls being bad

The CENTRAL characters in her "Jennifer's Body" script are two classmates whose friendship dates back to slumber parties: Needy and Jennifer. Jennifer is a man-eater in both the literal and figurative sense. Needy has been resolutely faithful to her BFF, but changes course when Jennifer crosses to the dark side and decides that Needy's boyfriend, Chip, would make for a tasty piece of teen jerky. "I am directly influenced by girls I have known," Cody said. "Girls who treated life as a race, and if there was someone or something they wanted, they would stab you in the back. It's a movie about hunger. A lot of teenage girls are starving themselves and a lot of them are psychologically hungry, because they are so misunderstood."

Cody wrote "Jennifer's Body" after "Juno," but before the latter film was released theatrically last December. Producer Jason Reitman, who directed "Juno," and Fox Atomic, 20th Century Fox's since-downsized genre label, joined to buy the screenplay.

"I think the script flummoxes some people," Cody said. "It's a little weird, not what you're used to." In fact, she said, she's a little "worried" about how "Jennifer's Body" might be received. " 'Juno' is a life-affirming movie," Cody said over dinner, with filming wrapped for the day. "And this is a death-affirming movie. The people who really loved 'Juno' -- I don't know if they will love this in the same way. And the people who hated 'Juno' -- well, this will just be more grist for the mill."

While the film, set in rural Minnesota not far from where Cody once lived, tweaks the conventions of the killer-on-the-loose genre, it does so in Cody's familiar pop-culture-reference-laden style. When a poser devil-worshiping rock band named Low Shoulder decides to perform a human sacrifice, they rely on plans printed out from the Internet.

"Do you know how hard it is to make it as an indie band these days?" one of the group's members, Nikolai (Adam Brody), says as he prepares to follow the online slaying instructions. "There are so many of us and we're all so damned cute. If you don't get on 'Letterman' or some retarded soundtrack. . . . Satan is our only hope."

Kusama and Cody face an unusual challenge with "Jennifer's Body": While the film is populated with gorgeous women, they want to make sure the movie isn't lecherous. "That's something you have to grapple with when you are making a monster movie -- the girls have to look hot," said Cody, who describes herself as a radical feminist. "We didn't have to worry as much about ["Juno" star] Ellen Page's lip gloss" as how Seyfried and Fox look in this film.

"But horror is a surprisingly feminist genre," Cody said. "The last person standing is usually a woman. And most of the guys in this movie are vain and insecure. You'll notice there are no fathers in this movie. I didn't want there to be any male role models -- I didn't feel these were girls who were loved by their fathers."

memoiristDirector Kusama, who read "Jennifer's Body" before she had seen "Juno" or heard of Cody, said the script reminded her of a Grimm fairy tale. "What's really special about it is the emotional underpinning of the story, and the idea that your parents cannot protect you," Kusama said.

As she bobbed in the pool wearing a black-and-white prom dress (of course, there's a prom scene -- it's a horror movie after all), the 22-year-old Fox said she knows girls like Jennifer all too well. "I was the Jennifer of my school -- the troublemaker, the anarchist," Fox said. "She has an appetite for destruction."

It's because of people like Jennifer, Fox said, "that I don't have any girlfriends. Because they always want what every other woman has. There's no loyalty among women." Still, Fox said, her character isn't pure evil.

"I hope that people feel sorry for her," she said. "She's a victim before she's a predator."

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john.horn@latimes.com

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