British director Rob Savage captured lockdown perfectly in 2020 with his Zoom-based horror, Host. And now that we’re allowed out of the house again, he’s back to scare your pants off with The Boogeyman, an adaptation of the Stephen King short story first published in 1973.
“I remember reading the short story when I was a kid, and it scared the fuck out of me,” Savage tells Den of Geek magazine. “And so when I got an email in my inbox that they were looking for somebody to work on an adaptation of it, that immediately made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up because I thought there was something potentially brilliant there.”
The story sees a distressed man named Lester Billings arrive at the office of a psychiatrist with a tale of the deaths of his three children, which he believes is at the hands of the terrifying “Boogeyman” stalking his family. Savage’s movie, based on an initial script by A Quiet Place writers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, and honed by Black Swan writer Mark Heyman, expands the story beyond King’s tale.
The film focuses on the Harper girls who are grieving the loss of their mother, and their therapist father who isn’t dealing with it very well. He receives a visit from Billings with his terrifying tale and starts to suspect The Boogeyman has taken up residence in his own house.
But what is The Boogeyman?
“The Boogeyman is just the name that a child in the dark gives it,” Savage explains. “I had this idea that this creature is almost elemental. It was the first thing lurking in the darkness when the cavemen were huddling around their fire. It had to feel kind of weathered and eternal, and there had to be something kind of recognizably human about it in a very fucked up, perverted, malformed kind of way.”
Savage is clear that this is a creature feature (and we will get to see the creature) but that it’s also a haunted house movie. He says his points of reference were classic gothic horror movies The Innocents and The Haunting, though his pitch “was Poltergeist meets Ordinary People.”
“It’s going to be a fun, scary-as-fuck horror movie where the drama scenes feel properly meaty, nuanced, and true to the experience of grieving,” says Savage. “It’s a movie that’s hopefully not afraid to dive into the darker aspects of the characters. It’s a fun 90-minute horror movie at its core, but it doesn’t skimp on the drama.”
Meanwhile, his approach to the creature reveal had different inspirations.
“You don’t actually see the creature as much as perhaps you think. We took the same approach as Jaws or Alien. Every single cut of the movie, I was timing the amount of screen time the creature got and comparing it to those movies because I felt like that was about the perfect amount of screen time.”
The creature is a CG creation, but Savage explains he 3D printed a Boogeyman head which he would slather with K-Y Jelly, light, and shoot to give the VFX a reference point. It’s currently sitting on his coffee table.
The Mindy Project mainstay Chris Messina plays Doctor Harper, with The Suicide Squad’s David Dastmalchian as Billings, but Savage says it’s the daughters who have to do the seriously heavy lifting.
“Sophie Thatcher is in almost every single shot of this movie. I don’t think either of us realized how much she had to do day by day, how much she had to carry this film, and what an insane level she has to be at constantly,” he says. “We’re talking Florence Pugh in Midsommar [levels]. She was the most committed actor I’ve ever worked with.”
Savage also describes Vivien Lyra Blair, who was just 9 at the time of filming, as “one of the smartest, wisest, most talented people I’ve ever worked with.”
So could there be potential for a sequel? Savage isn’t ruling it out.
“You can’t leave the cinema feeling as though the evil has been vanquished because then you’re missing the point that the Boogeyman is representative of everything that your mind conjures when you stare into the dark corner of your room when you wake up at 3 a.m.,” he explains. “The Boogeyman has always existed and always will.” Brrr…