DEAD LINE
SFX|January 2022
IN THE NEW HORROR FROM THE MAKERS OF SINISTER,THE BL ACK PHONE , A BOY IS TRAPPED INSIDE A CHILD KILLER’S GHOSTFILLED BASEMENT
DAVID GROVE

AFTER COLLABORATING ON Doctor Strange and the Sinister films, filmmaking partners C Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson decided to adapt the 2004 horror short story “The Black Phone” into a feature film, by combining the elements of the tale with Derrickson’s own traumatic childhood memories.

Written by Stephen King’s son Joe Hill (find it in his 2005 short story collection 20th Century Ghosts), it tells the story of a 13-year-old boy named John Finney who is kidnapped by a serial killer. When the Galesburg Grabber locks Finney inside his soundproof basement, the boy discovers a seemingly disconnected black phone, through which he’s somehow able to speak to the killer’s previous victims.

“One day in 2005, I entered a book store and found Joe Hill’s book of short stories with ‘The Black Phone’, not knowing who he was at the time,” says Derrickson, who co-produced and co-wrote the film with Cargill. “I read ‘The Black Phone’ while standing in the store, and I immediately recognised that the story’s concept would make for a good horror film.”

Cargill and Derrickson toyed with the idea of turning the story into a feature for more than a decade. They finally moved ahead with the project in early 2020, when the pair decided to step away from the Doctor Strange sequel over creative differences with Marvel Studios. “Back when Sinister was in production, about 10 years ago, before that film was released Scott and I talked about The Black Phone as being our next film,” says Cargill.

“However, it wasn’t the right time. We felt like there was no first act and a thin third act. However, we never let it go, and kept on developing the story. With the Doctor Strange sequel, it was a case where we wanted to make one kind of film, and Marvel wanted a different kind of film. At that point, we knew that it was time to finally make The Black Phone.”

HAWKE THE SLAYER

For the purposes of incorporating Derrickson’s own childhood history into the film, they decided to move the original story’s setting of Galesburg, Illinois to the northern part of Denver, Colorado in 1978 – Derrickson’s home turf.

“I grew up in a violent household and a violent neighbourhood,” he says. “When I was eight years old, a friend of mine who lived nearby knocked on my door and told me that his mother had just been murdered.

“There was also a lot of domestic violence – in my home, and in the homes of the children who I grew up with. It was a scary, violent place to grow up in, and I tried to bring the reality of that to the film.”

Instead of beginning with the first interaction between the boy, now called Finney Shaw, and the killer – who the filmmakers renamed simply The Grabber – Cargill and Derrickson decided to open the film up by exploring Finney’s everyday boyhood existence. “In terms of inserting my own childhood into this film, I was very much influenced by Francois Truffaut’s great New Wave drama The 400 Blows. Like that film,

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