Behind ‘Boogeyman,’ the Stephen King-based horror movie that’s terrorizing audiences and critics

THE BOOGEYMAN, from left: Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina, Vivien Lyra Blair, 2023. ph: Patti Perrett /©  20th Century Studios / Courtesy of Everett Collection

Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina and Vivien Lyra Blair The bogeyman. (Photo: Patti Perrett /© 20th Century Studios /Courtesy Everett Collection)

As 20th Century Studios ran screenings for their new horror movie The bogeymandirector Rob Savage was left with a definitive “good problem” to have.

Audiences were screaming in such fear at one of the film’s perfectly executed jump scares that they spent the next minute getting over it – mumbling, turning to friends, conversing, reenacting their fear.

The problem? They weren’t paying attention to the movie, and the very next scene after that scare relayed information that would be key to following the movie’s plot.

“The audience was screaming all over the place in the next scene,” Savage (Host) tells us during a recent press junket in Los Angeles. “They totally missed the next scene, which is a pretty big scene. So we had to stuff it [making the next scene twice as long] just to make sure the audience has time to calm down after being so terrified.

THE BOOGEYMAN, director Rob Savage, on set, 2023. ph: Patti Perrett /©  20th Century Studios / Courtesy of Everett Collection

The bogeyman director Rob Savage on set. (Photo: Patti Perrett /© 20th Century Studios /Courtesy Everett Collection)

“People had such an intense reaction that they had to find a balance,” says actor David Dastmalchian.

Even the trailer was too much. “They had to pull out the trailer from before The ant Man [and the Wasp: Quantumania]. I heard a bunch of kids were too scared,” says 10-year-old co-star Vivien Lyra Blair. (surprisingly, The bogeyman maintained a PG-13 rating.)

Those early reactions, along with a call from famed author Stephen King, whose beloved 1973 short story the film is based on, changed The bogeyman‘s the whole trajectory. After it was originally slated to premiere exclusively on Hulu, Disney — which owns 20th Century Studios — shifted gears and decided to open the film in theaters instead.

“He supported it the whole way through,” Savage says of King, noting that they hosted a private screening at King’s local theater in Maine, where the director got live updates on how whose author reacted to it. “He was instrumental in bringing it to the big screen. He wrote an essay about it and said, “They’re gonna be fucking idiots if they stream it.”

King’s short story – first published in the magazine Rider in 1973 and later included in his 1978 collection of shorts, night patrol – centered on a distraught man who tells a therapist about the murders of his three young children by a supernatural force. Adapted for the screen by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (The quiet place) and Mark Heyman (Black Swan), The bogeyman opens with a similar interaction (with Chris Messina as therapist Will Harper and Dastmalchian as desperate patient Lester Billings) before expanding the story to focus on Will’s daughters Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and Sawyer (Blair), who are reeling from the death of their mother when their own home is terrorized by the eponymous spirit.

THE BOOGEYMAN, David Dastmalchian, 2023. ph: Patti Perrett /©  20th Century Studios / Courtesy of Everett Collection

David Dastmalchian in The bogeyman. (Photo: Patti Perrett /© 20th Century Studios /Courtesy Everett Collection)

“You can’t have big scares without worrying about the characters”, Messina (The Mindy Project, Air) remembers Savage telling him in his speech to the actor. “King writes such delightful characters that are so deep and expansive…We talked a lot about everyday people and heartbreak and that whole combo made me want to do it.”

Savage made sure to keep his cast nervous throughout filming. He would randomly shout and create sudden loud noises to scare the actors.

“He was clapping, and he had this book that he was slamming on a chair,” Blair says (Bird Box, Obi-Wan Kenobi). “He keeps us on our toes. But he did it so many times that eventually I came to take the book from him and said, ‘Rob, no more books.’

“He’s such a passionate director,” says Messina. “He achieved this as he led Revelation now.”

It worked. The bogeyman proved to be one of the hottest horror movies of the year, in part because of stories from test screenings – not to mention reactions from media professionals, at least one couple who admitted to having had afraid of a premiere screening of the film at CinemaCon in Las Vegas in April.

“That’s the goal, we did our job then,” says Thatcher (Yellowjackets, The Book of Boba Fett).

“Just as a testament to the fear of the film, we did a screening test the other night,” Dastmalchian (Ant-Man, Dune) begin. “A friend of mine, he’s about 6’7” and very big and intimidating. At one point he yelped and rang about 7 o’clock.

“I didn’t watch everything,” Blair admits. “I’m terrified to see the whole thing. So I watch the beginning scene and the end scene. And then I kind of sit outside for the rest.

The bogeyman is now in theaters – where it belongs.

Watch the trailer:

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