‘The Boogeyman’ Director Unpacks His Ambitions for the Stephen King Adaptation: ‘I Wanted This to Be the Definitive Version’

This man is ready to give you the heebie-jeebies

The Boogeyman Rob Savage

Watch out. “The Boogeyman” is here.

Based on the short story by Stephen King (originally published in a 1973 issue of Playboy competitor Cavalier and collected in King’s 1978 anthology “Night Shift”), the slender story was first adapted by “A Quiet Place” writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods in 2018 for 20th Century Fox.

When Disney acquired the company in 2019, development was canceled, only to be revived in late 2021. That’s when Akeela Cooper (“Malignant”) and Mark Heyman (“Black Swan”) also took a crack at the story and Rob Savage, who had made a splash during the pandemic with his low budget horror film “Host,” was brought on as director.

The resulting film is very different from the King story, following a young girl (“Yellowjackets” breakout Sophie Thatcher) and her family (including psychiatrist dad Chris Messina and younger sister Vivien Lyra Blair) as they death both with the recent death of their beloved mother and a supernatural entity methodically stalking them. That’s a lot to deal with!

TheWrap spoke with Savage about how he joined the project, what concessions he had to make while adapting the source material and what his very favorite Stephen King adaptation is (besides “The Boogeyman,” we’re assuming).

Take me through the development process – it was dead for a minute and then it came back to life. When did you get involved?

Just as it was being resuscitated is where I jumped onboard. I came onboard just after “Host.” There was already a script by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods that ended up being… Our movie ended up being very different, but they’ve laid the groundwork. They cracked the code of how to adapt this very contained short story. It’s just these two characters having a conversation in a therapy office. They came up with this great idea of having that as the inciting incident that basically sets up this new family who are then going to be infected by the evil of this creature. Their movie focused on Will. It took place in the world of adults and it was about this disbelieving father and I came on board and I’d read the short story. I started with all of King’s short stories as a kid and I remembered how that story and all those stories made me feel and how dangerous it made my bedroom after dark feel and every single dark corner and closet. I wanted to put the audience back in that feeling and I wanted to reframe the movie about being more about the kids, being about these two sisters and specifically Sophie’s character – she’s no longer a kid, but she’s not quite an adult. She’s a bit of a go-between, between those two worlds.

Is Stephen King the holy grail for a horror filmmaker?

I think it’s the Holy Grail for anyone who works in horror. I was raised with no scary movies. My parents tried to raise me with no TV. They said, definitely you can’t read Stephen King. It’s too scary for you. Those were all the forbidden fruits. It was all I ever wanted to do as a kid. Any tattered paperback of King I could get my hands on, I’d read it after dark and get that illicit thrill.

What was the first King book you read?

I started with all the short stories. “Different Seasons” was maybe the first one, but, yeah, I just remember I saw some of those fatter King ones. I really wanted to read “The Shining” but I just didn’t have the patience as a kid. I was very short attention span. The short stories really suited me. I’d work my way through those.

Can you talk about the process of adapting the story? Because Akeela Cooper also worked on the screenplay, right?

Well, this is the thing. And me and Akeela developed it off in one direction and that didn’t work. And then we went back. We were always going back to this foundation that Beck and Woods had laid out, which is you’ve got the short story basically wholesale at the beginning of the movie and then this family becomes the next target for this creature, and then something happens.

What was the wrong direction?

It wasn’t so much a wrong direction. We were playing around with the version of Sadie, it felt a bit too modern. And I think especially coming off two pandemic movies that are very much about what it felt like to be in 2020 and 2021, I wanted this to be the definitive version of “The Boogeyman.” It’s got King’s name above the title. This wanted to feel like a classic haunted house movie. You could have plucked it from the ‘70s, you could watch it 10 years from now. It didn’t want to feel beholden to the time it was made. And we played with a version that was leaning into, probably what teenage girls are like now where there’s a lot of online stuff. It felt a lot more 2023. It just felt like it wasn’t the movie that I was excited about.

What were some of your touchstones for this movie?

Well, okay, the movie that we kept going back to was this film called “The Innocents” from 1962, Jack Clayton’s movie, which is I think probably my favorite movie of all time. I think it’s definitely the best haunted house movie ever made. And just the way that Jack Clayton and [cinematographer] Freddie Francis would use the widescreen frame to set up scares, to make things play from these dark pockets that they would build into the space. We took a lot of inspiration from that.

And what is your favorite Stephen King adaptation?

In terms of the best King adaptation, until maybe two weeks ago, I would’ve said “The Shining.” And then I went to the New Beverly a couple of weeks ago to watch “Carrie” again, which I hadn’t seen since I was a teenager. And I think Carrie is hands down the best Stephen King adaptation. I’m a huge DePalma fan and I remembered loving that film, but I remembered the bombastic bits – the knife, the crucifixion, and the burning school. But I didn’t remember how funny it was, how compassionate it is, and it really is. It’s a DePalma movie, but it’s true to the novel as well. That was the first full novel of his that I read. And I remember you’re so invested in that character and it’s such a deep feeling movie.

“The Boogeyman” is in theaters on Friday.