How 'The Boogeyman' director scared up a big-screen release for Stephen King film (2024)

The last few years have seen many planned big-screen releases premiering on streaming services. But the horror movie The Boogeyman, about a grieving family tormented by a darkness-dwelling monster, is the rare example of a film that took the opposite route. Director Rob Savage's adaptation of Stephen King's short story was originally set to debut on Hulu, but instead will hit theaters nationwide on June 2.

"It was a Hulu movie when I signed up," the British filmmaker tells EW. "But just through arrogance, [and] with Stephen King's force behind it, I always felt that it was destined for the big screen."

Ironically, Savage's breakthrough film Host was very much designed as a small-screen venture. Shot on iPhones at the start of the pandemic, the found-footage movie about a Zoom seance gone terrifyingly awry delighted horror fans when it premiered on Netflix in July 2020. That film led to the director signing on for The Boogeyman, the initial screenplay for which was by A Quiet Place writers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck.

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"I got a deluge of scripts that I was offered right after Host hit big," Savage says. "I saw the title for this one, The Boogeyman, and I kind of rolled my eyes. Then I remembered reading the Stephen King short story as a kid. The script, which was a draft by Beck and Woods, found this ingenious way of adapting the short story, which I remember really messing me up as a kid, but it's just two people in a therapy session, and there's a twist reveal at the end. Beck and Woods had the genius idea of using that almost as the inciting incident for a larger feature. They said the movie is like an adaptation of the short story and a sequel, all within one movie. I was like, 'Oh, there's a real opportunity here.'"

Savage cast Chris Messina, young actress Vivien Lyra Blair, and Yellowjackets star Sophie Thatcher as the three members of the central family that attracts the attention of the movie's monster after Messina's therapist is visited by a new patient, played by David Dastmalchian. The director recalls swiftly bonding with Thatcher over their mutual fondness for the weird-as-hell 1981 horror film Possession.

"I'd seen her in this movie called Prospect that I liked with Pedro Pascal, and I watched 20 minutes of Yellowjackets, I thought she was fantastic [in that]," the director says. "But the reason I knew she was going to be perfect for this is, I went on the Zoom call, and I had on a T-shirt for Possession, and she said, 'Ah, Possession, I love it!' We spent the whole Zoom talking about niche arthouse horror movies. I was like, okay, we've got a common language here."

For her part, Thatcher recalls thinking, "This man knows everything about horror. You could tell he was very passionate and it was going to be a very special movie."

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Savage's enthusiasm was more than evident to Messina during the film's shoot in New Orleans. "He directed that movie like he was directing Apocalypse Now," the actor says. "He was very passionate, and that kind of love and care trickles down to every department, so we were all fighting the fight to try to make the best movie we could."

Savage reveals that casting a horror fan in Thatcher paid off when they shot the film's scarier scenes. "She understood what it took to put a scare scene together, she was literate to the language of horror, which was so useful," he says.

Thatcher explains that having experience self-taping auditions helped when it came to scenes where she interacted with the film's monster, a CG creation added in post-production. "It was hard having to act to a silver ball for the last couple of scenes, when I'm actually fighting the Boogeyman, and being like, this is the climax of the movie and I'm crying at a ball!" she says. "But that's acting. I grew up in the era of self-tapes, so I've really had to learn to use my imagination, and that ball turned into something very grandiose. I don't know how, but it did!"

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The cast and crew's spirits were kept high by King himself, who had read a new version of the script with input from Black Swan screenwriter Mark Heyman.

"He read Mark's draft of the script and loved it," Savage says of the master of horror. "He was doing a press tour [for] his new book, and every now and then he'd mention how much he loved the script for The Boogeyman. We'd have a particularly hard day, and I'd get pinged on my phone that Stephen King had shouted about our script. I'd read that out to our crew, and it would give us a second wind to finish the week."

Savage admits that King's fondness for the script did add an extra layer of stress to his task of bringing the story to the screen: "I knew that he loved the script, so if he didn't love the movie, it was all my fault!"

King also gave his thumbs-up after seeing The Boogeyman on the big screen. "We rented out his favorite cinema in Maine," Savage says. "He went there with a bucket of popcorn, and he said the film was expletive-terrifying and it made him jump several times. It was a real relief."

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Audiences at test screenings enjoyed the movie as well, and it was those positive reactions that led 20th Century Studios to give it a theatrical release.

"Even our first test screening, which didn't have the CG creature in it at all, scored really high," Savage says. "You could just tell, being in the room, that the audience were with these characters and on the journey. We started hearing mutters from the studio, and I found out just after Christmas that we got the go-ahead to go into theaters."

Savage teases that, should the film's theatrical release prove successful, he has something up his sleeve to entice audiences back into the darkness of theaters. "If people go and see this movie," he says, "then we've got a really exciting idea for a follow-up."

Messina admits that he is "not a big horror guy," but he's also thrilled The Boogeyman is getting a theatrical release, having watched it with a crowd for recent Los Angeles premiere. "It was so fun to see it in a theater," he says. "Because it's not a genre I choose to go to, I forgot that it's such an interactive experience, where people were screaming, and then they'd start laughing. It was such a nice communal experience. To have this in movie theater, it means a great deal to me."

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How 'The Boogeyman' director scared up a big-screen release for Stephen King film (2024)
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