As a fan of Stephen King and of indie horror film, I was excited to hear about a project underway to turn King’s story “Rainy Season” into a film. First published in Midnight Graffiti in 1989, “Rainy Season” also appears in King’s third collection of short fiction, Nightmares and Dreamscapes (Pocket Books, 1993).
The story is a kind of surreal piece of American Gothic. Evocative of the earlier “Children of the Corn” (1977), and yet much more uncanny, it follows a couple (John and Elise Graham) who have driven across the country to spend the summer in the small town of Willow, Maine. Arriving at the strangely deserted town center, they are warned away by two residents because for one night every seven years, it pours toads in Willow. Needless to say, John and Elise don’t heed the locals’ warning, and the story follows them on their first eventful night in the town.
The writer and executive producer of Rainy Season is Vanessa Ionta Wright. She obtained the non-exclusive rights to the story through King’s Dollar Babies program, by which King grants student and aspiring filmmakers the opportunity to take one of his short stories that has not been previously produced and adapt it for the screen. Wright says that Rainy Season will be approximately 25-30 minutes running time—under the 45-minute limit allowed by the terms of King’s program.
Wright allowed me to read the screenplay—and it offers some provocative interpretations of King’s story, deepening and enriching both the relationship between Elise and John and the historical and ethical context of the day’s events. As Wright said in our interview:
That was the thing that director, Grant McGowen, and I wanted to focus on…the subtext. What’s not being said? My feeling is that this ‘Rainy Season’ period is as old as the town if not older and that there is something much darker behind it. This story is very dialogue heavy so the challenge was finding a way to get that information across visually rather than putting our actors together and having them engrossed in a long conversation.
Wright also plays up a fleeting part of King’s story to get at that “something much darker”—its reference to Shirley Jackson’s classic American Gothic story, “The Lottery.” Wright’s choice to develop this reference adds significantly to the dread induced by the narrative.
Wright’s interest in getting meaning across visually depends a lot, of course, on location, and Wright says she knew instantly when she saw the house where they plan to shoot in Senoia, Georgia, that it was perfect:
The location was absolutely meant to be! We looked at over 25 locations throughout Georgia. Each one had something great that could work, but logistically too many obstacles to try and overcome and we didn’t want to have to pick multiple locations and ‘cheat’ them to look like a singular, cohesive location. I was told about this house that was built for the film Lawless starring Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf. I contacted the owner of the property and he said that they built the home for the film and he asked that they leave it on his property when they wrapped. We checked it out and it was exactly what I had in mind when writing the script.
Wright told me that after she wrote the screenplay, she began to assemble the crew—and soon alighted on Grant McGowen as director. Wright says she knew from the first conversation that she and McGowen (whose credits include directing the short, The Voyeur ) were on the same page about everything from the color and tone of the film to casting and location.
She then added a couple more producers to the team—Stephanie Wyatt and Samantha Kolesnik, making Rainy Season a wholly female-produced effort, perfect for Women in Horror Month.
Wright and her crew have already gathered the cast: Tyner Rushing will play Elise, Brian Ashton Smith her husband, John, while Amber Germain and Alpha Trivette play the locals, Laura and Henry, who are intent (perhaps) on warning the visitors away. Wright speaks about how all four actors bring something to the film—a capacity for a particular emotion—that, again, adds a depth that is only glimpsed in King’s story.
I have to admit that as I read King’s story, I was a little wary of the toads—and Wright seems to have the perfect approach to the amphibians at the center of the film. She told me:
I wanted to take the focus off of the toads; that really isn’t the meat of the story. We want the audience uncomfortable, we want them yelling at the scream for John and Elise to turn around and just leave. We also didn’t want to reveal the toads in their entirety or even much at all. We want to play on the senses more with sound and shadows, making the audience and the characters question ‘did I really see that? Did I really hear that?’ Alfred Hitchcock said it best, ‘There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.’
Rainy Season is currently in preproduction. The crew is crowd funding through indiegogo and are (as of today) 23% funded of their $30,000 goal. Wright says they are set to film this spring. Anyone interested in learning more can check out the short video on the indiegogo page explaining the project.